Facts actually do matter

In the New American Century, politicians heckle the hecklers.
In the New American Century, people make whatever you say they make

Last night Marco Rubio said something factually incorrect about welders and philosophers:

During the fourth Republican debate, Marco Rubio picked up a point touched on by Rick Santorum in the undercard debate earlier in the night. “Welders,” Rubio said, “make more money than philosophers.” Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler looked at the idea, but we thought it could use a visual.

Using data from the Web site PayScale, we can look at the introductory and median incomes of both professions. In 2008, philosophy majors started at about $40,000 a year — about the same as what the Bureau of Labor Statistics says first-year welders make.

But over the longer term, philosophy majors make more. Mid-career welders make $22 an hour, according to PayScale, compared with over $80,000 for philosophy majors.

His full statement was that, in order to raise wages, we need to “…make higher education faster and easier to access, especially vocational training. For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” While “philosophy majors” isn’t necessarily the same thing as “philosophers,” if Rubio didn’t mean “philosophy majors” then his overarching point about the value of vocational school makes no sense.

There are two explanations here: either Rubio was lying or he made a factual statement without knowing the facts. At Vox, political science professor Hans Noel argues that Rubio’s trouble with the facts is “irrelevant” in the sense that the policy issue (again, the value of vocational schools) doesn’t actually turn on whether or not welders make more than philosophy majors. He’s right (and for that matter so is Rubio, in my opinion: as a matter of policy and society America does stigmatize vocational training and related occupations, and we really shouldn’t do that). Noel’s argument is that the emphasis on whether or not Rubio got the factual part of his remarks right obscures the more important discussion about his policy ideas, and that the media deliberately plays into that because it’s much easier and less thorny to “fact check” Rubio than it is to analyze what he’s saying about the policy. These are all fair arguments…to a point.

But the thing is, Marco Rubio isn’t running to be elected Secretary of Education, so there’s more at stake here than whether or not he gets education policy right. Regardless of what I or anybody else may think of his position on vocational schools, it’s actually very relevant to know how a would-be president uses facts, and things that sound like facts but aren’t, to make an argument and inform his or her own thinking. If Marco Rubio is the kind of guy who’ll lie to help make his point, then I think that’s pretty relevant to the question of what kind of president he’d be. If he’s the kind of guy who just utters statements that sound like facts but doesn’t really give a shit whether or not they’re true, then that also seems relevant to the same question. America spent eight years under a president whose aides believed that the “reality-based community” was passe, and I don’t know if Hans Noel noticed, but those eight years sucked. If you ask me, a basic insistence that our leaders operate in the realm of fact is not at all irrelevant.

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