Keeping Score

Brian Reich says he had a tough time in Economics 101 at the University of Michigan. There were 550 students in the auditorium, and the professor didn't really like to explain concepts like supply and demand. He figured the concepts were self-evident. Reich even kept a scorecard on how often his professor dismissed a question. Every time he said, "Come on, this stuff is really simple," Reich checked off a box on a piece of paper. At the end of the class, Reich would show his friends how many marks the professor had gotten.

Did keeping score help Reich learn? Well, not entirely. He failed the course. "I will never become an expert in economics," he admits. Still, he says he picked up something about markets, the Laffer Curve and trade in general.

"The scorecards kept us awake while we were learning," says Reich, who's now 26 and a Boston-based director of the Internet strategy firm mindshare.net.

Now he wants you -- and about a million other Americans, or as many as he can get -- to keep score on President George W. Bush during the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 20. It's not that Reich thinks you need to stay awake during the president's speech. It may not be as engrossing as The Sopranos. But it'll be shorter and easier to follow than a class in microeconomics. Still, he thinks it's a good idea to keep track of how well the president understands the major issues concerning Americans -- including, yes, economics. As Reich explains it, there is a real state of the union and there is the president's version, which is full of "half-truths and misleading statements and generalities without any real solutions."

So Reich and a group of writers and editors at TomPaine.com, an online policy journal, have put together a scorecard (http://i.tompaine.com/scorecard/scorecard.cfm) for you to determine how well the president does. Use it to track how many times the president tries to mislead or tell an outright lie. Or, if you prefer, how often he gets things right.

Checking things off on a scorecard, Reich says, allows you "to watch what the president says and decide for yourself whether or not he's avoiding the issue. My hunch is he won't be speaking very accurately about many of them."

The scorecard has six categories, including health care, jobs and education, with data on each of the subjects. You can check a box, saying whether the president addresses the issue to your satisfaction, provides "different numbers" (inaccurate facts and figures) or doesn't address the issue at all. Of course, you can also write in the margin every time Bush makes a "verbal ["verbal"?] foible," as Reich says though these categories aren't included.

Staffers from the campaigns of former Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.), retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) have contributed comments on the president's record to the scorecard. So have experts from the National Resources Defense Council, the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Campaign for America's Future, the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress.

After you're done scoring, you can send the results off to TomPaine.com, where they'll be tabulated and posted. Reich doesn't know what the final results will be, of course, but says he has a hunch that the president won't do much better than he himself did back in Economics 101.

Tara McKelvey is the Prospect's online and senior editor.

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