Magical Ideas

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I know I will get some disagreement on this point, but the editorial page of The Oklahoman in recent months has seemed to subtly lessen its reliance on false comparisons, rhetorical subterfuge, omissions, ad hominem attacks and its trademark put-down interjections and needless, snarky intrusions.

Is there an actual attempt underway at consistent logic and argumentation under the new ownership of Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz, who took over the newspaper last year? Maybe so. Or maybe it's just a temporary respite. The newspaper's anti-Obama hysteria does continue in full throttle, but what does that even mean in this state at this point?  
I get the sense the newspaper's editorial page under the leadership of Christy Gaylord Everest was really just a tribute to her archconservative father, the late Edward L. Gaylord. In short, she probably didn't care that much, and eventually the newspaper was sold to someone who supposedly cares more about media, though Anschutz's conservative agenda seems quite clear.

The issue for many of us who are critical of the newspaper is not so much that its editorial page is conservative, but that it doesn't allow consistent, dissenting views and that its unsigned editorials engage in sophomoric rhetoric. It promotes a mistrust of intellectualism and reasoned debate.  

Does The Oklahoman reflect the views of the state's conservative residents or did it create those views? Of course, the answer is both. What would the state be like politically if the newspaper would have published liberal columnists through the years, especially since the 1980s? It's a hypothetical question and can never be answered, but I would argue that not only would the state be a much more moderate place politically but also the newspaper itself would be doing better financially.

Note that I used the term "seemed to lessen" in the first paragraph. One example of a decent commentary was an editorial during the tax-cut debate that heavily criticized one plan despite the newspaper's allegiance to the conservative code, but the qualifier is necessary because the newspaper continues-perhaps less so?-its rhetorical deceit.

That deceit is on full display in a recent editorial published July 6 on titled "Proposing reduction in Oklahoma lottery mandate is a ticket to controversy." On the surface, the editorial is about the argument to eliminate the mandate that 35 percent of Oklahoma Lottery proceeds go to education. That would be a "controversy," according to the newspaper, and that's true enough. But the editorial's real argument is to diminish education funding in Oklahoma while supporting the conservative and, really, magical idea that tax cuts increase state revenues.

The editorial argues that the idea to eliminate the mandate "has merit" because it could increase prize money and thus attract more money and thus make even more money available to education. The editorial neatly skips over any type of numerical or logical argumentation on the issue itself. How do the numbers break down? How much more money would education get if the mandate is eliminated? How does that work? Will the 35 percent be lowered to 20 percent, 10 percent?  To its credit, the editorial argues that this argument with "merit" might be wrong, anyway, because of the plethora of gambling opportunities these days in the state.

But then comes this whopping false comparison that is both ludicrous and laughable:

Lowering the mandate could spike lottery sales. Of course, that's also true of income taxes - lower rates could encourage greater economic activity and produce increased revenue. Oddly, those who support repealing the lottery education mandate haven't made that connection, even though tax rate reductions might provide far greater revenue benefit for schools.

Follow the logic: Eliminating or reducing the Oklahoma Lottery's educational contribution mandate is the same as reducing taxes. Good things are probably going to happen.

Here's my response to this anti-education funding argument:

(1) Comparing the lottery to the state's tax base is a false analogy. For the record, a lottery is not like a government. To compare the two as if they were the same is rhetorically deceitful. The basic missions of a government-based lottery, which is raising limited money for a government, and the state, which provides core services like education, social services and public safety, are remarkably different. One is a gambling game. The other is the state's future and the health and overall well-being of its citizens.

(2) Is there no doubt that given the newspaper's history that the editorial is, in fact, actually arguing for at least the possibility for a reduction in education funding? Note its own qualifications, such tax cuts "might" provide more funding for education. But then it might not, right?  Note, as well, that there's no supporting evidence that shows us reducing taxes in Oklahoma will increase revenues. Conservatives here, including The Oklahoman and Gov. Mary Fallin have simply not made a convincing argument about eliminating or reducing the income tax. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a think tank based in Tulsa, has detailed how important the income tax really is to core services in the state. Why won't the newspaper argue the tax-cut case with numbers and evidence like OK Policy? How much money will a 1 percent cut in the income tax generate for Oklahoma? How will that money be generated? What specific companies will relocate here because we have a lower income tax rate? The newspaper simply can't argue the case with any authenticity, and thus we get false analogies.

Eliminating or lowering the educational mandate is extremely controversial, but that's not what the July 6 editorial is about. It's about the newspaper's own robotic indifference to education funding and its own style of deceitful argumentation.


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