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OnWords: Analyze This!

Keith Springer / Flickr / Creative Commons

What passes for political analysis these days is often really just opinion.

The relatively low standards for evidence required of pundits has already been much discussed, but proper analysis ought to be about breaking something down into its constituent parts, which I have yet to hear a pundit do.

From its roots in an ancient Greek word for loosening or unraveling, an "analysis" should lay an issue bare. Instead, we get a slathering of rhetoric rendering the issue opaque.

Our continual national debate about the nation’s debt is a case in point. A genuine analysis would look at the budget’s constituent parts—at all the things the nation spends money on from defense to entitlements to various subsidies—and it would do this before pronouncements were made about whether or not we’re spending too much or too little. Further, a true loosening of the apparent bounds of the matter would go into why we spend that money—why the debt has been taken on in the first place.

This all implies some kind of system. A biologist can divide a body up into its various organs to understand how they all work together, for example. But a kindergarten teacher, in order to make the body understandable to young children, might be satisfied to name the visible parts. The biologist and the kindergarten teacher have different reasons for their analyses, different aims.

What if a conservative commentator, instead of just saying that we need to support “job creators,” said, “from a supply-side point of view,” and analyzed the process by giving us a step-by-step rundown of how a tax break becomes a job?

Thus equipped with both system and analysis, we might better see the true motives behind his opinion.

Lael Ewy is a co-founder and editor of EastWesterly Review, a journal of literary satire at www.postmodernvillage.com, and a writer whose work has appeared in such venues as Denver Quarterly and New Orleans Review and has been anthologized in Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh.