Did you know that one-third of children in Ohio are enrolled in Medicaid? Neither did I, until last week when I picked up a copy of the Bucyrus (Ohio) Telegraph-Forum and read down to the seventh paragraph of a story headlined, "Study says more children have health insurance."
The positive spin in the headline was undercut by the statistical facts of the story: "The increase in children on insurance comes as median incomes across the state were relatively flat, and the percentage of families in poverty -- especially those with children -- rose slightly." An increase in poverty, in other words, actually reduced the number of uninsured children by qualifying them for coverage under a government program for the poor. Such was the substance of the explanation by Angela Krile, spokeswoman for the Ohio Children's Hospital Association, who said: "Really, this just shows the importance of Medicaid in our state for children."
Americans have become accustomed to this sort of "good news" in the Obama era, and there was more of it in that small-town Ohio paper. "Unemployment remains the same," declared the headline across the top of the front page. The story explained that, although the official unemployment rate in Crawford County, Ohio (population 43,389) declined from 9 percent in July to 8 percent in August, it wasn't because more people were working. "Since the number of employed stayed the same, 200 people went off of unemployment because their time limit is up and they have not found work yet," Dave Williamson, director of the Crawford County Economic Development Partnership, told the Bucyrus paper. "We have no more people working than we did last month."
Extrapolate such statistical hocus-pocus at the local level across the entire state of Ohio, or nationwide, and you understand how some people might be deceived into believing that the Obama administration has actually produced an economic recovery. Yet it doesn't take much effort to discover how grim the situation really is. Right there on the same front page of the same newspaper was another headline that made this unfortunately clear. "Local children are going hungry," was the headline on the story about a local charitable effort to help feed the shockingly large number of poor children in Bucyrus. A spokeswoman for the project said "more than 70 percent of our students require assistance with food by receiving free or reduced lunches." That percentage has risen in recent years, and this evidence of increasing poverty in a small Ohio town (Bucyrus has a population of 12,253) may come as a shock to anyone who has bought into the Obama administration's claims that the president's policies have meaningfully improved the economy in Ohio or anywhere else.
Convincing voters that President Obama's economic policies have been an abject failure -- and that another four years would only make this failure worse -- is the primary task Mitt Romney must accomplish in tonight's debate. Conservatives who have opposed the Obama agenda all along are understandably exasperated by recent polls indicating that most Americans either think the economy is improving or else don't blame the president for the continuing malaise. How could it be, for example, that Obama has led the 14 most recent polls included in the Real Clear Politics average? How could a Roanoke College poll show Obama ahead 47-39 -- eight points! -- in Virginia? How could a Columbus Dispatch poll show Obama leading 51-42 -- nine points! -- in Ohio?
Skeptics who detect evidence of bias in these polls have been denounced by Jonathan Chait as "poll denialists," one of those accusations, like "homophobia," by which those who disagree with liberals are casually diagnosed as mentally ill. If the polls are not biased, however, conservatives must confront the question: Who's really crazy here? Us, or the surprisingly large percentage of people who think it's a good idea to re-elect this miserable failure of a president?
One alternative to what might be called the Mass Insanity Theory of Obama's mysterious poll advantage is to fault Romney himself for having failed to attack the incumbent with sufficient stridency. The "Blame Mitt" school of thought is fairly sizeable among conservatives with less-than-fond memories of 2008 Republican nominee John McCain's kid-gloves approach to his Democratic opponent. However, having attended several rallies at which both Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan slammed the president pretty hard in their speeches, I am reluctant to believe that the GOP candidates are guilty of being too nice to Obama. As much as some of our friends may wish to hear the president excoriated as a lying Marxist who is deliberately trying to destroy the American constitutional republic, it's unrealistic to expect that kind of accusation to be made directly by his Republican challenger.
If these theories -- biased polls, mass insanity, or a "too nice" GOP candidate -- are all inadequate to explain why Obama appears to be taking a substantial lead into tonight's debate, what's left? Ah, yes: The damned liberal media!
This was the topic of a remarkable open letter last week from the Media Research Center's Brent Bozell III and other conservatives who charged that the media "are rigging this election and taking sides in order to pre-determine the outcome," and that, in doing so, biased journalists "have breached the public trust by willfully turning a blind eye to the government's public policy failures, both domestic and foreign."
What could explain such a dereliction of professional duty except partisan loyalty? A number of studies have shown that Democrats in the press corps outnumber Republicans by margins of at least 4-to-1 and perhaps as much as 12-to-1. One of the best-known of these studies, based on a survey of Washington-based reporters after the 1992 election, found that 89 percent voted for Bill Clinton, more than twice the 43 percent vote Clinton got from the electorate at large. Citing particular proofs of this bias (we all have our favorite examples, including Nina Burleigh's infamously lascivious praise of Clinton) seems at this point redundant, and efforts to counteract this bias by exposing it seem futile. The reporters and editors whom former CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg accused of a "slobbering love affair" with Obama four years ago have no sense of shame about serving as stenographers for the Democrat's re-election campaign, and liberal journalists tend to reject all conservative criticism as "whining" from disgruntled wingnuts.
Thus, tonight's debate offers Romney a rare chance to make his case to a national audience directly, absent the distorting filter of a hostile media. Yet even then, as George Washington University political science professor John Sides points out, research shows that voters may be influenced less by the debates themselves than by how the debates are covered by the media. So it may be that nothing Romney or anyone else says can overcome the partisan prejudices of those pro-Obama journalists whom Rush Limbaugh has compared to a Praetorian guard protecting their imperial president.
Is there yet any room for hope, or are we utterly doomed? Well, there are still honest reporters in America, or else I never would have been able to find those disturbing facts on the front page of the Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum. And if this election were only about the fates of a couple of politicians, the disgrace of the national press -- their refusal to hold Obama responsible for the self-evident failures of his policies -- might not trouble me as much as it does. However, there are others whose futures are at stake, others who have been cruelly betrayed by the president's glib promises of Hope and Change. But I don't expect any network anchors will lose much sleep tonight over those poor children in Ohio.