I've spoken at length about polarization before, most thoroughly in my posts Ideology as opinion and The politician and the open mic. It is, however, a topic that keeps rearing its ugly head. This video is a perfect example of what is wrong with both sides of the polarized political spectrum. Those on the right are posting this video feverishly all over the internet to bash Obama. Clearly, some on the left see this issue as a reason to vote for Obama. Now, I'm the one that said that ideology is opinion, so why am I pointing this out as a bad thing? Why am I so annoyed by it that I take a break from my busy schedule to rant about it here?
Because the Obama phone is a myth. The program in question is the FCC's Lifeline Assistance Program. It has its roots in a law passed in 1934 to help ensure that all Americans had access to affordable landline service. The issue was less about providing subsidies for the service, and more about making sure that the lines reached everyone. It was expanded under Clinton in 1996 with the creation of the Universal Service Fund and the Universal Service Administrative Company. During this time, subsidies for landline phones were created. In 2008, under Bush, the program began to cover cell phones.
So what is happening is that people are blaming Obama based on a lie and people are supporting Obama based on a lie. This is a problem because if our support, or lack of support for a candidate comes simply from bias and hearsay, then our opinion of that candidate isn't an actual reflection of that candidate. Electing someone, or failing to elect them, based on things that they did not do prevents us from getting leaders in office that will do the things that we want or that won't do the things that we don't want.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, you can't trust major media or random internet posts to always present the whole story, or even not to tell outright lies. But fortunately, we do have the internet to track down actual facts. We have a greater means than any generation before us to perform due diligence on the candidates in an election and the politicians in office. But you can't simply find the first website that confirms your suspicions and believe it. The internet is full of more half-truths and full lies than conventional media will ever be. I've provided a list of actual events that led to the creation of this program. That is what you want to look for when doing your due diligence, when checking to make sure that the reason you dislike a candidate, or the reason you like a candidate is based in reality and not fiction. If you find a website that claims something about somebody, but provides no specifics to back it up, keep searching. If they do present specifics, verify those specifics with another source, preferably and official one. You don't owe it to the candidate to find out the truth, you owe it to yourself. The candidate is representing you.
We've seen the same issue with the recent barrage of attack ads by both sides concerning Medicare. Both Romney and Obama were telling falsehoods about the other guy's stance on Medicare. Even after they both were revealed to be "stretching the truth," the ads continued. Politicians and TV's talking heads think you are stupid enough to believe whatever they say. Prove them wrong.
As far as my opinion on the program goes, as a libertarian of course I am against it. At least in its current form. Cell phones are cheap enough now that anyone can afford a basic plan with a basic phone. I'm not, however, against the original intent in 1934 to help build the infrastructure. I'm sure many libertarians would disagree with me on that. But I believe that access to things such as wireless telephony and broadband internet is something that a country is judged by. Imagine a country where there are neighborhoods without electricity, or even neighborhoods without landline phones. You will undoubtedly think of some poor, third world country. I believe that the U.S. has a vested interest in ensuring that our infrastructure matches that of the rest of the civilized world. But making sure that everyone has the option to purchase something, and giving them the funds to do it, are two completely different things. I have no problem with government building roads. That doesn't mean I want government buying people cars to drive on them with.
And to further clarify my position, I believe that the money to fund these infrastructure advancements should come solely from usage tax. The money for the Universal Service Fund comes directly out of phone bills, not income tax. If we fail to uphold that standard then we end up with something like Social Security and Medicare, which paid out about twice as much as the related taxes brought in. Which is especially bad because unlike phone service fees Social Security and Medicare aren't optional. Of course, as I stated above, the USF isn't a shining example because it isn't being used merely to provide infrastructure.