I’m sitting at dinner with six amazing young friends and one amazing older friend, Barney Frank, then chair of the House Financial Services Committee.
All of us of like progressive mind; all of us in T-shirts on Fire Island.
Having consumed a glass or two of value-priced wine (you know me), I am making some political point we all agree on — waving my arms around with perhaps a tad of flourish and hyperbole (think columnist Dave Barry but not as funny) — happily holding court (it is my value-priced dinner table, after all), when Barney cuts me off —
If you’ve never been on the wrong end of Barney’s disapproval, let me explain what happens: You suddenly want to die. You know he’s smarter. And that even if he’s wrong (this has happened!), it’s not likely to end well.
But he was not wrong.
By exaggerating the otherwise airtight case, he explained, I had weakened it, handing the opposition a factual error easy to seize upon.
That there was no opposition at the table — that I was just having fun and would not have presented the case the same way in public — was something I foolishly, if lamely, voiced, opening the door for Barney to lambaste me two or three times more in different ways, as I slunk deeper and deeper into my value-priced folding chair.
I tell you this because it’s surely a mistake I still make from time to time — and that we progressives make too often.
(Our friends on the other side are significantly worse — e.g., when they argue Trump won by a landslide or that Democrats drink the blood of children or that we want “open borders” or to take away everybody’s guns.)
I thought of this when I heard our wonderful, effective, decent president call Georgia’s new voter-suppression law “worse than Jim Crow” — “Jim Eagle.” As noted Monday, here’s What Georgia’s Voting Law Really Does. It does not require prospective voters to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar (Jim Crow), let alone “worse.” Indeed, the opposition can fairly say that the law allows more days of early voting than states like New York. So while it would have made for a less crisp sound bite, would it have been better to home in on a couple of the truly awful provisions of the law and/or say, “C’mon, man. Does anybody think Georgia Republicans passed this law to make it easier to vote? More likely for the will of all Georgians to be heard? Give me a break!”
Or take the “19 million jobs” that the President’s proposed infrastructure bill would create. As reported by the Washington Post — which fact-checks Democrats as well as Republicans — the real number of incremental jobs may be more like 2.7 million. Which is still a lot of jobs. And, whether the number impresses you or not, wouldn’t it be great to have good roads and rural broadband and a smart grid and more competitive R&D and modernized schools and ports and airports — and sewers that didn’t back up and bridges that didn’t collapse?
There is no need to oversell.
I don’t blame the President for any of this. He is a busy guy. He relies on staff to read the Georgia voter-suppression bill and Moody’s job-creation analysis.
And I can sympathize with the staffers who, pressed for time and filled with passion, put these exaggerations into the Party talking points.
As I say, I’ve overstated a case or two myself. I’ve jumped to a conclusion or two before first checking the underlying facts.
But this is not some casual dinner at the beach.
In my view, we are on the right side of almost every policy issue. The facts — unadorned — are our friend.
I’m hoping all who share progressive views will heed Barney’s excellent advice.