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Ehrlich trades in mendacity

I may be influenced by a recent performance of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," but the first word that came to mind after reading Robert Ehrlich's recent column was "mendacity" ("Disability insurance entitlement explodes under Obama," March 3). His depiction of the Obama administration's goals and the current economic and policy environment is long on hyperbole, but noticeably short on facts.

Contrary to his assertion, numbers can lie. Mr. Ehrlich begins his column with the oft-repeated canard that a majority of Americans are "on some form of public assistance" and, based on this dubious statistic, asserts that President Barack Obama wants to transform the U.S. into a European-style welfare state.

It's not clear, however, who he includes in his calculations: The majority of elderly Americans who rely on Social Security as their primary source of income and Medicare as a major bulwark against destitution? Millions of hungry American children who receive food stamps or school meals? The working poor who receive Medicaid because their employers do not provide health insurance? College students whose Pell grants enable them to afford rapidly rising tuition? Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who receive benefits to care for their wounds? Domestic violence victims sheltered by government-funded nonprofits? Working families who make ends meet through the Earned Income Tax Credit or who lost their homes due to hurricanes?

Clearly he's not referring to hedge fund managers who benefit from tax loopholes, or energy corporations whose coffers are swelled by the oil depletion allowance, or the 1 percent of Americans whose incomes have risen during the weak economic recovery. Mr. Ehrlich lacks compassion for "those who game … the system." Yet he still has compassion for those who benefit from how the game is already rigged.

Finally, Mr. Ehrlich forgets that Americans receiving government aid, whom he cynically contrasts with "hard-working taxpayers," are nearly all hard-working taxpayers or their dependents. This is another attempt to divide those Americans facing increased economic vulnerability and divert attention from a political-economic system that has stacked the deck against them. Our policy discourse today would benefit from a little less mendacity, especially from former office holders who should know better.

Michael Reisch, Baltimore

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