election day

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It being election day and all, we thought this breakdown from last year's Republican debates would be interesting, if not topical:

Stanislaw Ulam once challenged Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson to name one theory in all of the social sciences that was both true and nontrivial. Several years later, Samuelson responded with David Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage:

That it is logically true need not be argued before a mathematician; that it is not trivial is attested by the thousands of important and intelligent men who have never been able to grasp the doctrine for themselves or to believe it after it was explained to them.

With that in mind, and the next Republican debate scheduled for June 5th, we thought it’d be fun to read over the transcript from the last one and apply a similar challenge.

We were looking for truthful supporting statements not based on Adages, Common knowledge, or the candidate’s Personal record; in other words, evidence that could be cited (and was done so correctly); indicated something more than a superficial understanding of the issue; relevant; and true.

Unfortunately we quickly found that analyzing the entire 90+ minutes would take much more time than our attention span would allow, so we restricted the sampling to each of the candidate’s answer to the first line of questions, which, if it’s not evident from their responses, concerned the Iraq War.

Of the supporting statements, we defined each as follows:

Adage a traditional saying expressing a common experience or observation

Common knowledge – the criterion we used for this was news that was both widely known and fairly recent – we tested for the former by confirming that it was headline news on at least three large newsproviders – in this case CNN, MSNBC, and FOXNews; and we tested for the latter by limiting our search to news articles between January 1, 2001, and May 14, 2007.

Personal – i.e. drawn from the candidate’s campaign platform/promises, and/or personal record.

Of course not all statements fell within those three categories, and in fact, very few ever did; the most frequent statements, by far, were those that needed evidence, and which we defined thus:

Assertion a positive statement or declaration, often without support or reason.

Speculation conjectural consideration of a matter; conjecture or surmise.

And many times the candidates simply offered their opinions:

Opinion a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty.

And the rest we classified as rhetorical devices.

Exclamation an animated or passionate utterance

Rhetorical question a question asked solely to produce an effect or to make an assertion and not to elicit a reply

We've done our best to reread the statements many many times, and we believe our conclusions to be very, even painstakingly, fair. Some classifications may seem out of place, and often Assertions may seem like Opinions may seem like Speculations, etc. So we’ve tried to classify “If…then” and similar statements as Speculations; statements including “I think; I believe; I feel” and so on as Opinions; and the rest, for the most part, as Assertions.


  1. We have to continue because it's not just the Iraqi vital national security interests that are at stake here Assertion; … it's America's vital national security interests Assertion
  2. If we fail in Iraq, we will see Iraq become a center for al Qaeda Speculation; chaos, Speculation; genocide in the region Speculation; and they'll follow us home. Assertion
  3. After we lost the war in Vietnam, we came home Assertion, they didn't follow us homeAssertion.
  4. You read Zarqawi, you read bin Laden, you read al Qaeda, they'll tell you they want to follow us home. Assertion
  5. I believe we have a new strategy and a good strategy. Opinion
  6. Only four of the five brigades that are -- that we need to implement the strategy are there. Assertion
  7. It's long Assertion; it's hard Assertion; it's tough Assertion; it's difficult. Assertion
  8. Americans are frustrated because of the mishandling of this war. Assertion
  9. But our national interests -- the United States' national interests are at stake. Assertion
  10. I believe the Maliki government has got to improve. Opinion
  11. They've got to pass certain laws that we all know about. Assertion
  12. But we must succeed Assertion; we cannot fail Assertion; I will be the last man standing if necessary. Personal


  1. There is no question that the al-Maliki government needs to step up and do what is right.Assertion
  2. The United States government has been there for four years. Common knowledge
  3. We've lost many individuals -- 3,400 individuals as of today Common knowledge; it's time for the al-Maliki to vote whether or not they want us in the fifth year to stay in their country or whether or not they want us to go home. Assertion
  4. Secondly, if in fact they do allow the 18 territories, which, geographically defined, allow them to elect their leaders like we elect the 50 governors and 50 legislatures in the United States, they will elect individuals that they would feel -- are comfortable with them, that they are -- feel that they have a stake in their government. Speculation
  5. And if you split the oil revenues -- one-third to the federal government, one-third to the territories, and one-third to every man, woman and child -- every man, woman and child will feel they have a stake in their government, stake in their country.Speculation; they'll start using that money for peace and for building businesses and making sure they build their country. Assertion
  6. That's why my plan will work. Assertion; it will win the peace in Iraq. Assertion


  1. Well, I'm certainly not going to project failure. Assertion; those kind of circumstances that you would suggest would be projecting failure. Assertion
  2. It is critical for us to remember that Iraq has to be considered in the context of what's happening in the Middle East and throughout the world. Assertion
  3. There is a global jihadist effort. Assertion
  4. Violent, radical jihadists want to replace all the governments of the moderate Islamic states, replace them with a caliphate. Assertion
  5. And to do that, they also want to bring down the West, in particular us. Assertion
  6. And they've come together as Shi'a and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda with that intent. Assertion
  7. We have to recognize that what we're doing in Iraq has enormous impact on what's going to happen in this global struggle. Assertion
  8. that's why it's important for us to understand thatAssertion; if we were to just walk out precipitously, we could conceivably see the border with Turkey be destabilized by virtue of the Kurdish effort Speculation; …we could have the Iranians take over the Shi'a south Speculation; … you could have al Qaeda play a dominant role among the Sunnis Speculation; you'd have something far worse than Afghanistan on their hands.Assertion
  9. And so we recognize that it's critical for us to provide the stability to allow a central government to survive and thrive. Assertion


  1. I think we've got to pull together here to win over there. Opinion; I think it is a way for us to pull forward. Opinion
  2. I mean, we've got far too many divisions in this government here. Assertion
  3. And we will win if we can pull together. Speculation; we can win the war. Assertion
  4. I think as well, if you look at it, it's difficult for democracy and particularly for the United States, for us to win with one party for the war and one party against the war. Opinion
  5. I condemn the statements of Harry Reid, the majority leader of the Senate, saying we've already lost. Personal
  6. We haven't lost. Assertion
  7. That's his declaration. Common knowledge; we've got to pull people together here.Assertion
  8. When we can do that, and when we do that, we will win. Speculation
  9. The other thing we have to do -- a much more aggressive political solution on the ground in Iraq. Assertion
  10. That has to take place. Assertion; that's why I've been pushing a three-state, one-country solution where you have a Sunni region, a Shi'a region and a Kurdish state that already exists, within a weak federation. Personal
  11. That form of political solution aggressively pushed there, without Iraqi politicians going home for the summer but then working through these difficult political problems, can get a solid political solution on the ground there as we pull together to win here. Speculation


  1. First of all, that isn't exactly what I said. Assertion
  2. I was talking about the timetable for retreat that the Democrats passed in Congress. Personal; they did something extraordinary and that I've never heard of in the history of war, which is to give your enemy a schedule of how a retreating army is going to retreat. Assertion
  3. That was irresponsible, highly irresponsible. Assertion
  4. What the Republicans did, or suggested, I don't think is the right approach either.Opinion
  5. And I think Senator McCain is correct, these people do want to follow us here and they have followed us here. Opinion
  6. Fort Dix happened a week ago. Common knowledge
  7. That was a situation in which six Islamic terrorists, who were not directed by al Qaeda but claimed to have been inspired by them, were going to kill our military in cold blood at Fort Dix. Common knowledge
  8. It was a 16-month investigation done by the FBI and the United States Attorney's Office. Common knowledge; thank God they caught them. Exclamation
  9. But we have to remind ourselves that we are facing an enemy that is planning all over this world, and it turns out planning inside our country, to come here and kill us.Assertion
  10. And the worst thing to do in the face of that is to show them weakness. Assertion


  1. I think that we have to understand that we are going to be in Iraq or at least in the region for a long time. Opinion
  2. Our national interests dictate that. Assertion
  3. We are not going to be removing our troops from the area. Assertion
  4. We can't, for all the reasons that have been identified here. Assertion
  5. The question is, in what capacity we will be there and what capacity those troops will be there? Rhetorical question
  6. Will they be a constabulary force, which I do not believe they should be? Rhetorical question
  7. Will they be a supporting force for the Iraqi government and for the Iraqi forces themselves, which I believe they should be?Rhetorical question
  8. The president is the one, in his state of the war message to the nation, that said, "I am establishing a benchmark of November," he said, "and by November, the Iraqi government will be in control of all 18 provinces of Iraq." Common knowledge
  9. I believe that that is a good benchmark to set. Opinion
  10. I will support him in that effort. Personal; I will support our troops while they are in the field in every single way I can. Personal
  11. That is my responsibility as a member of Congress, by the way. Assertion
  12. It is not to general the war. Assertion; it is not to micromanage it. Assertion; it is to support the troops that are in harm's way. Assertion


  1. But you have to realize that the base of the Republican Party shrunk last year because of the war issue. Assertion
  2. So that percentage represents less people. Assertion
  3. If you look at 65 to 70 percent of the American people, they want us out of there.Assertion
  4. They want the war over. Assertion
  5. In 19- -- 2002, I offered an amendment to International Relations to declare war, up or down, and it was -- nobody voted for the war.Personal
  6. And my argument there was, if we want to go to war, and if we should go to war, the Congress should declare it. Personal
  7. We don't go to war like we did in Vietnam and Korea, because the wars never end. Assertion
  8. And I argued the case and made the point that it would be a quagmire if we go in.Personal
  9. Ronald Reagan in 1983 sent Marines into Lebanon and he said he would never turn tail and run. Assertion
  10. A few months later, the Marines were killed, 241 were killed, and the Marines were taken out. Assertion
  11. And Reagan addressed this subject in his memoirs. Assertion
  12. And he says, "I said I would never turn tail and run."
  13. He says, "But I never realized the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics,"; he changed his policy there. Assertion
  14. We need the courage of a Ronald Reagan. Assertion


  1. Well, Chris, because the Iraqi forces that were running a couple of years ago in places like Fallujah are standing and fighting. Assertion
  2. We've got to get all 129 Iraqi battalions into a three- or four-month military operation -- most of them have been in there by now -- and then we rotate them into the battlefield and we rotate out the American heavy combat forces. Assertion
  3. But you've hit the nail on the head. Assertion
  4. One of us is going to be a commander in chief in a few months with a tough military operation and situation to deal with. Assertion
  5. I've been the chairman of the Armed Services Committee for the last four years. Personal
  6. I served in uniform in Vietnam -- didn't do anything special, but I served. Personal
  7. My son has done two tours in Iraq. Personal
  8. I can look at the American people and say, we are in this together. Personal
  9. I think the other guys ought to lay out their credentials to be commander in chief. Opinion


  1. A president had better be open to listening to the generals who are going to lead people into battle and put their lives on the line. Assertion
  2. That's one of the problems we face now, Chris. Assertion
  3. We listen to the diplomats Assertion; we listen to the civilians Assertion; we listen to the people running the Defense Department -- more worried about the budget than worried about the blood that might be spilled by our own kids. Assertion
  4. That's why I think it's critical that if you're going to be commander-in-chief, you make tough decisions. Opinion
  5. But you'd better get the best advice that you possibly can get. Assertion
  6. And that advice comes from the people who have earned the right to say to the president, Mr. President, this is what it's going to take to do the job right. Assertion
  7. There's an old saying in the South that I'm sure people in South Carolina are familiar with. Assertion
  8. "It takes more money to do it over than it does to do it right." Adage
  9. We're now seeing that in the United States. Assertion
  10. We're doing a lot of things over. Assertion
  11. Maybe we should have just done it right. Assertion


  1. Well, I appreciate the question about Iran, because I think it is one of the real emerging problems. Opinion
  2. And you have to look at this Middle East issue beyond just the Iraq issue. Assertion
  3. You have to look at all the complexities of Israel and Palestine and Iran and Iraq and the entire issue of the Middle East. Assertion
  4. With respect to Iran, I think that there is no choice at this point other than to join up with people across the world in order to put on serious mandatory sanctions against Iran and to do everything that is going to be necessary to try to bring them to the notion that it is better for them to give up this sort of plan rather than to proceed the way we are. Opinion
  5. However, I think that we have to have an honest discussion with the American people about this. Opinion
  6. We have to ask ourselves this question: Assertion
  7. Are we prepared to have Iran have a nuclear weapon? Rhetorical question
  8. What will be the consequences of that when Saudi Arabia says, "The people on the other side have got a nuclear weapon, we have to have a nuclear weapon." Rhetorical question
  9. What if they go to Pakistan and ask for assistance in that? Rhetorical question
  10. What about Egypt? Rhetorical question
  11. And I think the American people have to at some point come to a real serious conclusion about the tough decision that has to be made when we may have to in fact strike.Opinion


Bulldog John McCain drops the A-Bomb with 16 Assertions, five more than the runners-up Romney and Huckabee, and ends up tied with Romney and Sam Brownback for the Speculation high score, with 3 each. His response was 73% Assertion; 14% Speculation; 9% Opinion; and 4% Personal

Tommy Thompson is tied with Duncan Hunter for fewest statements (9). His response was 56% Assertion; 22% Common knowledge; and 22% Speculation

Mitt Romney has the least diverse response, answering only in Assertions and Speculations; and percentage-wise he bests even McCain’s in Assertions, which account for 79% of his response; 21% Speculation. Both Romney and Jim Gilmore also hold the dubious honor of making no attempt to support any of their statements.

Sam Brownback ties with Giuliani as being the most diverse speaker, omitting only Adages, Exclamations, and Rhetorical Devices from his response, and is tied with former VirginiaOpinions: 3. The senior Kansas Senator’s answer was 40% Assertion; 20% Speculation; 20% Opinion; 13% Personal; and 7% Common knowledge. governor Jim Gilmore as having the most

Rudy Giuliani, the God-fearing former mayor of New York is not only the sole candidate to praise the Almighty, with 1 Exclamation, he’s also the undisputed champion espouser of Common knowledge with 3 nuggets of dubious fact. 42% Assertion; 25% Common knowledge; 17% Opinion; 8% Personal; 8% Exclamation.

Tom Tan”Colorado”: 47% Assertion; 20% Rhetorical device; 13% Personal; 13% Opinion; 7% Common knowledge.

Ron Paul is the record holder for citing evidence with 5 supporting statements, 2 of which being the only two to fulfill my criteria: Both And he says, "I said I would never turn tail and run." and He says, "But I never realized the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics," could be cited (and were done so correctly); indicated something more than a superficial understanding of the issue; relevant; and true. 67% Assertion; 20% Personal; 13% Nontrivial and true

California Rep. Duncan Hunter proves the most Personable of the candidates with a record 4 references to himself. 44% Assertion; 44% Personal; 12% Opinion

The wise old sage Mike Huckabee leads the crowd in Adages with 1, which accounts for 8% of his response. 8% Opinion…and he leaves not just McCain, but also front-runner Mitt Romney in the dust with an astonishing 84% Assertion!ed response

And Jim Gilmore has the very notable distinction of being the ONE candidate whose response isn’t overridden with Assertions, which account for a meager 30%; with the record number of Rhetorical devices, 4, making up 40%; his speech rounds out with 30% Opinion.