This is an editorial. As always, The Ithaca Voice is eager to reprint dissenting and alternative viewpoints.
Ithaca, N.Y. — Sometimes, when following local politics, we at The Voice are reminded of the sagacious words of an astute critic of modern Machiavellian machinations.
Says Q-Tip, a member of the rap group “A Tribe Called Quest,” on the track “Youthful Expression:”
“Politicians are magicians/
Make your vote, they hope you’re wishin/
Ambiguous words, senseless verbs/
They all amount to crap that’s heard.”
Well said, Q-Tip.
With the rapper’s advice in mind, here are 10 laughable, misleading or otherwise false lines from the Ithaca area’s Congressional contest between Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning) and challenger Martha Robertson (D-Dryden).
(Sometimes, we’re not sure which of the two possibilities is worse: 1) That the candidates actually believe these statements represent fair portrayals of the truth, or 2) That the candidates know that what they’re saying is misleading, and are cynical enough not to care.)
1 — Robertson takes credit for Tompkins County’s unemployment rate?
Robertson’s campaign released a statement on Thursday.
It said: “Martha Robertson has been a leader in Tompkins County, creating the lowest unemployment rate in New York State.”
Let’s deconstruct this. The first part is certainly true: Martha Robertson has been a leader in Tompkins County. It is also true, as noted in the second part of the sentence, that Tompkins County has a very low unemployment rate.
The problem is that tricky word “creating,” used here to describe a causal relationship involving the candidate.
Now, it may be fair for Robertson to take credit for — at most — a small measure of the county’s jobs rate.
Unless Robertson had an undisclosed role in helping Ezra Cornell and A.D. White 150 years ago, taking credit for “creating” Tompkins County’s low unemployment rate is — yes — laughable.
2 — Reed uses bizarre cultural symbols to distract from the issues
A key part of Rep. Reed’s campaign strategy has been to portray Robertson as an “Extreme Ithaca Liberal” divorced, he would say, from the concerns of American reality.
We take no issue with Reed trying to argue that Robertson has policy leanings closer to Ithaca than the rest of the NY 23rd District.
The problem is that Reed has resorted to blaring — over and over and over — bizarre and misleading cultural symbols designed to provoke emotional, tribalistic reactions.
In doing so, Reed moved his attacks out of the realm of legitimate political discourse and into Hunter S. Thompson-esque farce.
Here are just two examples that struck us as particularly asinine:
A — The swirling “psychedelic” color swirl attempts to give the baseless impression that Robertson is a deadbeat hippie who likes hitting the bong. Nothing in her record or history comes close to justifying such a characterization.
B — The above video ad shows Robertson as an astronaut floating in outer space. UFOs carrying peace flags then fly over Robertson’s head as a female narrator speaks.
“Martha Robertson’s extreme Ithaca agenda is way out there,” the woman says. “…she’s just not one of us.”
Like the psychedelic color swirl, Robertson’s moon-landing is intended to evoke images of “getting lifted.”
We find this “attack” to be not only trivial but actually at cross-purposes with its intent: Going to the moon, after all, is an example of the height of American ingenuity and innovation.
That’s not what Reed means to say about Robertson, right?
3 — That “Bowzer from Sha Na Na” has relevant political opinions
In August, the Robertson campaign proudly proclaimed that “Bowzer from Sha Na Na” would be coming to Ithaca to help present an endorsement for the candidate.
For those of you who don’t know, Sha Na Na was a TV show from the 1970s about a rock and roll group. The show itself harkened back to an earlier era.
Robertson posed for a photo with “Bowzer” and held an event centered around him.
A statement from her campaign said:
“I love the music of the 50’s – but that doesn’t mean I want to return to a time before Medicare, when 35% of American seniors lived in poverty … This is a clear choice. Vote for Martha!” said Jon Bauman, aka Bowzer from Sha Na Na.
Let’s piece together this logic as best we can:
A — “Bowzer” was part of a TV show aired in the 1970s connected to the culture of the 1950s.
B — The 1950s were a long time ago.
C — People alive a long time ago now care about issues like Medicare.
D — An actor on a show on a long time ago can therefore speak credibly about Medicare.
Yeah, we don’t get it, either.
4 — Wacko-birds
A wildly misleading attack from Rep. Reed accused Robertson of devoting taxpayer funding to give “panoramic” views to jailed inmates.
“Investments in our local communities can come in many different forms, and Martha Robertson thinks that she has the best idea for using the money of hard working Tompkins County families – improved views for jailbirds ….
Rather than putting our families and community first, she is recklessly wasting taxpayer dollars on new prison designs to ensure inmates have a panoramic view.”
Money for jailed inmates! Liberals like criminals! Run for the hills!
Some facts are in order:
— The jail expansion was opposed by those on the left side of the local debate about the jail. We can only imagine what Reed would have said if Robertson opposed the expansion — that she didn’t believe in sending people to jail?
— At least one of the votes to expand the jail was unanimous.
The vote to authorize the bonds for the expansion was 11-3. Local Republicans supported that vote, too. Only Democrats opposed it.
— The expansion was strongly backed by the sheriff.
— County jail expansions are happening across the state amid the closure of several state-run prisons.
— By state law, recreational facilities must be created for inmates. Reed’s campaign, to our knowledge, made no attempt to recognize this crucial bit of context.
5 — Martha Robertson freaks out over Burger King’s corporate tax inversion
Burger King is an international company with overseas holdings. In August, the chain announced that it would be moving its corporate headquarters to Canada in a merger with Tim Hortons.
Robertson responded by slamming Burger King with an emotional statement with more sizzle than substance.
She said: “Burger King would effectively cheat taxpayers out of taxes on profits made from American consumers … Burger King is an American company, and it’s downright unpatriotic for them to abandon the country that allowed them to succeed in the first place.”
We find Robertson’s brain-fried attack to be misleading — at best — for two main reasons:
A — The corporate inversion was not actually about lowering the corporate tax rate.
The LA Times noted that Burger King’s effective tax rate is roughly consistent with the Canadian tax rates.
“We don’t expect our tax rate to change materially,” a Burger King official told the LA Times.
B — Even if the deal were about lowering corporate tax rates, is it really fair to accuse Burger King of being “downright unpatriotic?”
Does a 0.7% lowering of a corporate tax rate — which, remember, wasn’t even the point of the merger — really amount to cheating American taxpayers?
Precision of language matters. Overheated rhetoric, like an overcooked burger, leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
6 — Reed freaks out about Robertson freaking out over Burger King
The food fight over Burger King escalated when Reed struck back.
“If Martha Robertson was really concerned she would divest her personal financial interest in Burger King,” said a Reed spokesperson, Katherine Pudwill.
Wow, that’s interesting! So Robertson was criticizing Burger King’s finances even as she had a financial stake in the company?
Not exactly. It turned out Robertson and her husband had invested in a TIAA-CREF mutual fund for retirement savings since 1978. Burger King makes up .11 percent of that fund, according to records. There are 2,029 companies in the whole fund.
You’d never know that from Reed’s statement and subsequent attack.
When pressed by a Voice reporter on the question, Pudwill said: ““Whether it’s small or large, they have interests in the companies they’re calling out … So, legally, we can say she has a financial interest in Burger King.”
We aren’t exactly thrilled that a politician’s representative has to resort to a legal — as opposed to moral — justification to back up a statement. But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.
7 — Robertson ad misleads on retirement age vote
It’s a powerful cudgel for Democrats: Republicans, they say, want to raise the retirement age to cut funding for Social Security.
Robertson took such a tack when she trotted out this line in an attack ad against Reed in August: “(Reed) voted to raise the Social Security retirement age on us.”
Politifact did the heavy lifting for us on this one:
In an ad, Robertson said Reed “voted to raise the Social Security retirement age on us.” That’s a stretch.
While the Cooper-LaTourette budget proposal was based on the Simpson-Bowles report, which did support an increase in the retirement age, the actual measure considered by the House (and voted for by Reed) was significantly more vague on that point.
Meanwhile, even if you agree that Reed was effectively voting for a retirement-age increase, it’s an exaggeration for the ad to say that such a hike was “on us,” since a large majority of the district would not have been affected by a policy that was only designed to take effect in 2050.
On balance, we rate the claim Half True.
8 — Reed weirdly misses point about Tompkins County’s economy
We noted in our first point that Robertson has bizarrely taken credit for the above-average economy in Tomkins County.
What may make just as little sense is the apparent response from Reed, who does nothing to grapple with what really is the county’s strong growth.
“My opponent instead has chosen to reiterate the Obama-Pelosi agenda and preach about income equality while the income gap in the county she represents has grown at an alarming rate. According to the Census Bureau, 1 in 5 residents of Tompkins County live in poverty, the highest rate in the district. According to the New York State Department of Labor over the last year 1300 private sector jobs have been lost in Tompkins County. Behind these numbers are real people who have been unfairly victimized by a county government that has doubled taxes during my opponent’s tenure.”
This leaves a totally false impression of the economic growth in Tompkins County. It’s here that employment figures are stronger than anywhere else in the district.
At last night’s debate, Reed called jobs the “number one” issue for him. His statement about Tompkins County, however, shows a surprising ignorance on the topic.
9 — The saga of the fat photo, part I
Tom Reed was fat. Now, he’s thin.
For some reason, Robertson’s campaign decided to use photos from Reed’s days as an overweight person in its campaign ads.
Why would they use the fat photo? Here’s what the campaign said when asked by Buzzfeed:
“Congressman Tom Reed is trying to distract voters from his record, but that’s what we’re focusing on.”
Hmmmmm. That doesn’t exactly answer the question.
Clearly, someone connected with the Robertson campaign made a conscious choice to use a photo of Reed when he was fat, instead of one of him being skinny.
When asked why, Robertson’s campaign ducked the question completely. The answer above doesn’t come close to addressing the question.
10 — The saga of the fat photo, part II
We get that Reed could be legitimately offended by the Robertson campaign’s conscious use of photos of him while he was fat.
Reed’s campaign, however, spoke of the photos as if Robertson had inflicted a grave moral injustice against fat people everywhere.
“Robertson’s first ad out of touch and offensive to millions,” the headline of the Reed statement said.
“Robertson included dated photos of Reed, clearly aiming to exploit a struggle millions of Americans face each day.”
To summarize: Reed believes that the use of old photos of himself represents an attempt to exploit the struggle of millions.