Newsweek contributor Niall Ferguson is getting a lot of heat this week for a new cover story titled "Hit the Road, Barack," in which he details broken promises and policies that, in his opinion, justify the need for a new president.
Ferguson, who served as an adviser to Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, and is a Harvard professor, takes a jab at the effects of President Obama's stimulus program, Affordable Care Act, foreign policy agenda and other issues — and concludes his piece with plugs for Republicans Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan.
The latter alone might give some readers pause. Journalists, after all, are supposed to at least feign objectivity. But Ferguson's support for the Republican ticket isn't what's got his critics and fellow writers taking aim at him — it's the lack of facts to support his claims.
Ferguson had this to say about Obama's now infamous utterance "you didn't build that," which was a stumble on the president's part, but has repeatedly been taken out of context by his opponents:
"In his notorious 'you didn't build that' speech, Obama listed what he considers the greatest achievements of big government: the Internet, the GI Bill, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam, the Apollo moon landing, and even (bizarrely) the creation of the middle class. Sadly, he couldn't mention anything comparable that his administration has achieved," Ferguson writes.
The Atlantic's Matthew O'Brien, who did a complete fact check of the article and accuses Ferguson of getting "things wrong, again and again and again," had this to say about that:
"It's bizarre that Ferguson thinks government policies didn't help create America's middle class. America was the first country to make high school compulsory. It was also the first country to make college widely accessible with the G.I. bill. This democratization of education went a long way towards laying the foundation for broad-based prosperity. And as for big things the government has achieved lately, surely moving to near-universal healthcare coverage counts?"
On taxes, Ferguson wrote: "Welcome to Obama's America: nearly half the population is not represented on a taxable return — almost exactly the same proportion that lives in a household where at least one member receives some type of government benefit. We are becoming the 50-50 nation — half of us paying the taxes, the other half receiving the benefits."
According to The Atlantic's fact check, there's a good reason why some people don't pay federal income taxes — they don't have any money.
"Here's the breakdown from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Half of these households are simply too poor — they make under $20,000 — to have any liability. Another quarter are retirees on tax-exempt Social Security benefits. The remaining households have no liability because of tax expenditures like the earned-income tax credit or the child credit," O'Brien wrote. "In other words, the poor, the old, and children. Not exactly the "50-50 nation" of makers and takers — or "lucky duckies" — that Ferguson imagines."
Brad DeLong, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, offered the simplest and harshest solution to deal with an author who has allegedly produced such a fact-challenged piece of work.
"Fire his a--. Fire his a-- from Newsweek, and the Daily Beast. Convene a committee at Harvard to examine whether he has the moral character to teach at a university," DeLong wrote in a blog post. "There is a limit, somewhere. And Ferguson has gone beyond it."
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