Fun With Facts

05/05/2015 02:10 pm ET | Updated May 05, 2016

A few years back, a friend of mine was hoping to get hired by a local Los Angeles talk radio station, KABC, for a host job, and was given a one-day audition. Let's call her Beth. Another friend (we'll call him Stu) decided to play a trick on her. On the one hand, it was sort of a miserable thing to do under such conditions. On the other hand, if she handled it well (which she did), it could help liven the on-air content which risked lagging when there's a new host none of the audience has heard of.

My caller-friend, Stu, who was good with voices, put on thick Southern accent and phone in as one of the most far-right wing, sexist, nut jobs you could imagine, though very controlled, and reasoned in his presentation. My host-friend, Beth, who was extremely liberal and a strong feminist, (yes, KABC allowed them, back then...) handled him well, though it tried her diplomacy when the caller would start spouting his awkward, uncomfortable opinions. Beth, being smart and informed, always had an answer for him, but could never really pin him down, since he would keep quoting statistics and studies back at her. It was difficult for Beth -- after all, as a first-time host, she didn't have research material available at her finger-tips to refute what he was claiming, and had to pull up from her memory other research that she was aware of. Making this all the more difficult for her was -- everything Stu was throwing at her was made up. There were no studies, no "facts." He didn't even believe a word he was saying. He was just trying to screw with her, albeit for the sake of creating a debate. Whenever she'd impressively contradict him, he'd just pull some other totally-fictional, fake information out of his butt from non-existent studies and throw it out, sounding extremely informed.

Because I knew Stu was friends with Beth, and because I knew some of his voices, I was aware that it was him calling. And since I knew everything he was saying was against his own politics -- and new he wasn't that political anyway -- it was clear to me that he was just making it all up. And I have to admit, much as I could hear the controlled-anger and near-desperation in Beth's voice, I couldn't help laughing (obnoxious as it was) -- because I knew he was sort of was trying to help her with great radio (which is sure was) and mainly because happily she was holding her own. And he skill was all the more impressive because: there was No Way on Earth that she could win the debate. When the person you're debating with has utterly no compunction to make up whatever he's saying, you will never be able to come out on top. The most you can hope for is a scrappy draw, and even that's incredibly tough. (After the fact, Beth found out that it was Stu who had been calling, and she found it somewhat funny, though that's largely because she'd survived. Alas, she did not get the job, but it wasn't for lack of impressive effort under powerfully difficult circumstances.)

There's a point to all this.

As we've seen for the past six years, Republicans like to slam and undermine President Barack Obama, and as we've seen often, as well, facts and reality don't necessarily need to play much of a role in the angst. "Death Panels" and foreign-born are only the two most prominent efforts. To be fair, I do understand such things -- it makes criticizing so much easier. Not only are you not burdened by any limits, but it's near-impossible to be argued with As my friend Stu had showed.

Sometimes though, there is a rare circumstance when you can argue back. And that's when math is involved. After all, no matter how hard you try to refute it, two plus two always equals four. True, a conspiratorialist may not accept it and find your results a sinister plot Or bring up Base Three. But it still equals four, and pretty much all other people get it.

Which brings us to when Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) slammed the president and the Affordable Care Act from the House floor a month ago, on March 24. In an effort to blast its cost, he said --

If you just do simple multiplication, 12 million [insured individuals] into $108 billion, we are talking literally every single [Obamacare] recipient would be costing this government more than $5 million per person for their insurance. It's staggering....$108 billion for 12 million people is immoral. It's unconscionable.

Now, damning as this sounds -- $5 million for every person is horrifically high -- the reality is that if you actually do "simple multiplication" (okay, to be fair, he got that wrong, it's really long division), the truth is incredibly different.

For starters, $108 billion divided by 12 million works out to $9,000 per person. Not five million. It's a whole lot less than five million. (1/500th, in fact. And I use "fact" in its literal sense.)

But it's worse than that for Rep. Sessions. As the Washington Post pointed out, the Congressional Budget Office reported that very same month (March) that the cost of the Affordable Care Act was only $95 billion, not the $108 billion which the Republican representative was trying to pawn off. And worse still, the "reduction of uninsured Americans" was, actually, 23 million. Not Mr. Sessions' 12 million. That means the real cost per American was a mere $4,130. Even more less than five million dollars.

When the Post contacted Rep. Sessions for a comment, his office admitted they got some numbers mixed up -- but even with their new numbers, the figure came to $60,000 per person...which is still massively less than $5 million -- $4.94 million less, "in fact" than the $5 million he had originally tried to flim-flam the public with

(And there's yet an additional problem, since the new "numbers" Pete Sessions' office was trying to use came from a long-since discredited article in the London Daily Mail, which had used inappropriate figures. (The paper had taken a 10-year estimate and divided by individual users for just a single year. If you did the math correctly in that case, it would work out to only $4,500...almost the exact same as the real numbers as provided by Pete Sessions, had he done the math correctly.)

No doubt there are some on the far right who are still willing to belief Pete Sessions and his fake math. (Math is just a part of science, after all, and, hey, who believes science?!) But if you want to close your mind to reality, and if you just want to believe what other people tell you as long as it supports your bias and fear and hate, you don't really need an excuse. I have no doubt there were people listing to KABC on that noted-broadcast as my friend Stu made up every single thing he was saying, for a joke.

Alas, though, I'm sorry, even if you have your original numbers totally wrong, 108 billion divided by 12 million is 9,000. Not five million. Even a five-year-old can figure that out with a calculator.

Then again, I suspect what Jeff Sessions said was perfectly calculated, too.


To read more from Robert J. Elisberg about this or many other matters both large and tidbit small, see Elisberg Industries.