September 20th, 2011
07:29 PM ET

Letters to the President: #974 'It's math? Really?'

Reporter's Note: President Obama has been talking endlessly about our budget issues, and so have his Republican opponents. Fair enough. But when they start invoking the sciences, as my letter points out, I get a little twitchy.

Dear Mr. President,

Here’s an old joke. How many accountants does it take to change a light bulb? Well, how many do you want it to take?

I was listening to you defend the idea of slapping higher taxes on wealthier Americans by suggesting it’s a fundamental step in taming the deficit. As you put it, “It’s not class warfare. It’s math.” Whether it is class warfare or not is something I’ll let you and your foes hash out, but I must say I just don’t buy the math line, because I’ve seen how, just as that joke implies, math can be twisted to suit almost anyone’s needs.

Math can tell us that we are spending too much for the comparative amount of revenue we are taking in, but it can’t really instruct us on whether the problem is the income or the outgo. Math can tell us how much is going to the military, and to Social Security, and to the Department of Agriculture, but it can’t tell us if the money is well spent. Math can help us compare our government purchasing power with that of other nations, but again, it can’t tell us if we are using our cash wisely.

And when you introduce notions such as everyone paying a “fair share” for government, I think the math really gets onto shifting sand. I remember only bits of the math I learned in school and was never particularly good at, but I am pretty certain that none of those exhausting equations we tackled ever used the word “fair” to describe a sum. Let’s see…”Add 19, carry the 4, multiply by fair…” Nope. Never saw that.

“Fair” is certainly a value, but it is a value of humanity, judgment, justice; that sort of thing. It is not math.

Again, I’m not saying you are wrong. I’m just saying that you can’t call you conclusions or ideas “math,” because they are not. Math is a pure science. It doesn’t care about your political views, the deficit, the unemployment rate, or anything else. Used properly, it can truly help us measure our failings and successes, track our progress, and prepare for our future. But used improperly, it becomes like so much else in D.C.; a false tool of ideology and spurious claims which will never add up….to math.

Not trying to wreck on you. Give me a call if you want to chat it over.



soundoff (One Response)
  1. MasterOfNone

    YES! YES! Where's the "Like" button on this one? Dead on target. Obama tries to make it sound like he has "the answer" by equating his opinion to universal law (he would really like THAT!).
    Math is math. Pure and simple. Obama's assertion that some citizens should pay more than other citizens must never be mistaken for fact.

    September 23, 2011 at 2:47 pm |

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