This is a relatively minor irritation, but a recurring one. You get handed a set of facts in a news story, but with no context to put them in perspective. I'm moved to write by an example in the New York Times regarding Sam Brownback, governor of Kansas, now facing an insurgency in the midst of a reelection campaign. It's a clear example of what I'm talking about.
More below the Orange Omnilepticon.
Brownback is a conservative Republican governor in a Red State; he's been hewing to the ALEC/Tea Party holy gospel of smaller government and big tax cuts. (He's also a bit of a paranoid A-hole "who sucks".)
Well, after one term of Brownback and his policies at the helm, the Kansas ship of state is sinking so badly a number of Republicans have actually come out and endorsed his Democratic challenger. The New York Times published a quick report July 15, 2014: Democrat is Governor Pick of GOP Group in Kansas.
In a stark challenge to the re-election prospects of Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, more than 100 Republican politicians and former elected officials on Tuesday endorsed Paul Davis, his Democratic challenger.The report by Julie Bosman cites the drastic effect on state revenues from the tax cuts, the downgrading of the state's credit rating, and how the state's economy is struggling, but then closes with three paragraphs giving the response from Brownback's side including this:
Governor Brownback, who swept into office with more than 60 percent of the vote in 2010, faces an unexpectedly tough re-election this fall after spending much of his term pushing sharply conservative policies that have unsettled some members of his own party. Mr. Davis, a state legislator, has criticized Governor Brownback for his support of the largest income tax cuts in state history, cuts that sent revenues plummeting.
John Milburn, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement that under Mr. Brownback’s leadership, “Kansas has created 53,400 new private-sector jobs, Kansas kids have 676 more certified teachers in the classroom, and recently provided $84 million in property tax relief for hard-working families.”And that's the problem. What do those numbers mean? Let's just look at the job creation numbers. If 53,400 people showed up for a party, that would be a huge number - but what does that mean in a state the size of Kansas and its job market? Paul Krugman had already written on Brownback and Charlatans, Cranks, and Kansas a few days ago, to devastating effect, and one of the links he gave provides that missing context. Here's what the Kansas City Star had to say:
The Star compared the Kansas employment statistics with those of six neighboring states as well as the U.S. average. We used the Bureau of Labor Statistics nonfarm employment data, which cover the large majority of jobs in America.From this context, it's plain to see Kansas is not seeing a huge rise in employment compared to its neighbors, and as the Star goes on to note:
One key takeaway is to look at the percentage of job growth from January 2011 through March 2014:
• Colorado up 8.2 percent (183,000 more jobs)
• Oklahoma up 5.6 percent (88,000 jobs)
• U.S. average up 5.5 percent.
• Iowa up 4.2 percent (62,000 jobs)
• Nebraska up 4.0 percent (38,000 jobs)
• Missouri up 3.7 percent (97,000 jobs)
• Kansas up 3.4 percent (46,000 jobs)
• Arkansas up 2.2 percent (25,000 jobs)
Brownback in July of 2012 had predicted, “Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.”This information would have changed the whole import of Bosman's article. It's a shame some copy editor let it slide through without it. The Times editorial board did a bit better job with Kansas’ Ruinous Tax Cuts July 13, 2014 two days before Bosman's piece.
However, the promised rapid addition of jobs has not occurred. Using federal data, here are the job growth rates from January 2013 through March 2014:
• Colorado up 3.2 percent
• U.S. average up 2.0 percent
• Missouri up 1.7 percent
• Oklahoma up 1.7 percent
• Kansas up 1.4 percent
• Iowa up 1.4 percent
• Arkansas up 1.1 percent
• Nebraska up 1.1 percent
Kansas still isn’t on par with the national average or with Missouri, where legislators just last week passed their own tax-cut bill, partly to “keep up” with Kansas.
“Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy,” he wrote in 2012. “It will pave the way to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, bring tens of thousands of people to Kansas, and help make our state the best place in America to start and grow a small business.”The Times followup by David Firestone on July 16, 2014 The Moderate Revolution in Kansas fills in the political aspects to a greater degree.
But the growth didn’t show up. Kansas, in fact, was one of only five states to lose employment over the last six months, while the rest of the country was improving. It has been below the national average in job gains for the three and half years Mr. Brownback has been in office. Average earnings in the state are down since 2012, and so is net growth in the number of registered businesses.
With less money to spend, Kansas is forced to chop away at its only hope for real economic expansion: investment in public schools and colleges. While most states began restoring education funding after the recession, Kansas has cut K-12 spending by 2 percent over the last two school years, and higher education by 3 percent since 2012.
But the group’s bill of particulars against Mr. Brownback (pdf) — a mini-Declaration of Independence for moderates — goes far beyond what it calls a “reckless tax experiment” that actually raised middle-class taxes and pushing the state’s economy below all of its neighbors. It points out that the governor’s refusal to expand Medicaid had hurt Kansas hospitals and driven people out of rural counties. It accuses him of trying to end the state’s merit selection process for judges so that he could install his own appointees.The only question I have from this follow up is, are there really moderate Republicans staging a revolution, or just a bunch who've finally realized they're taking a hit in their own wallets? It would be nice if the Times could provide some further context by looking at other governors who've emulated Brownback, and how well it has worked out for (cough, cough) them…
And most powerfully, it says he damaged the Republican party by purging those who disagreed with him — exactly the method favored by Tea Party leaders across the country.
Of course, the New York Times still has a long way to go to catch up with Charles P. Pierce.