Why has the GOP been so loose with truth – and ever more so in the 2012 Presidential Campaign? It is a legitimate question to ask given the ever more blatant lies, falsehoods and simpleton deceptions leading up to and during the GOP convention. Even Fox News noted the blatant lying trend with Chris Christie and even more so Paul Ryan’s VP acceptance speech. David Firestone, in analyzing VP-candidate Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, gets at one of the core issues:
An army of fact-checkers swarmed around Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech last night, and the verdict was swift and unanimous: lies, omissions, a sweeping rewrite of recent history. But there’s one question no checker can answer: Why was it necessary to lie in the first place?
Mr. Ryan could have made a sharp critique of the Obama years without changing the underlying facts. That he chose not to do so suggests he isn’t sure the facts are on his side.
Take the GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, which he suggested closed because of President Obama, when it really shut down in 2008, before he took office. More importantly, he failed to mention that the Obama administration’s bailout of the auto industry saved most of the GM plants and hundreds of thousands of jobs….
With a few tweaks and a little more courage, Mr. Ryan could have made a speech that wouldn’t set off truth-meters and might have explained the foundations of the party’s thinking. The only conclusion to draw is that he really doesn’t want the public to know what he’s thinking.
Paul Ryan didn’t even need to shade truth so often and so much. Charles Blow catches the trend in his article – The GOP Fact Vacuum.And the GOP lie-making is not just blatant but pervasive. The Janesville deception by Ryan is reminiscent of the Fox News Channel where words there a)have to be fact checked and b)are often reversed but well after the offending remarks have been made or c) are defended as legitimate “opinions” of their fair and balanced commenters. Republican pundit David Frum catches this dynamic in his story How Lies Spread.
But even the GOP Intellectuals have been incoporated into this regimented voice. See the assessment of On Being A Republican Intellectual which shows how little independent thinking and analysis is allowed. Andrew Sullivan in debunking Niall Ferguson’s sloppy screed against Obama shows how again deceptions and omissions that normally would just not be accepted in works of scholarship are part and parcel of an analysis that can only be called official GOP messaging instead of a critical work to be expected of Mr. Ferguson. The piece simply has no originality but rather adopts the GOP “Blame Obama” whine:
By Niall’s own admission, that proves nothing except the vagaries of prediction. But he still wants to use it to indict Obama. I cry intellectual foul. Even more amazing, this is his assessment of Obama’s record on jobs…but Obama didn’t become president until January 2009? Or did that fact also elude the fact-checkers? Most fair assessments of Obama’s employment record give the guy some slack for his first twelve months because of the enormity of the crisis he inherited. But Niall insists not only on judging him by job growth after February 2009 but after January 2008! Almost the entire recession is on Obama’s watch, including Bush’s last year! And that, alas, is roughly the quality of the entire piece…
Then there are the glaring omissions. Niall simply pretends the cost-control pilot schemes in the ACA do not exist at all. This is Simply. Not. True …. but the idea that there is no attempt to unravel fee for service or try to get cost control in the ACA is something even the lowliest fact-checker should have caught. This is absurd propaganda, not journalism. It may be that the cost-controls fail. Fine. Make that case. But don’t pretend there wasn’t the most ambitious effort to control healthcare costs in decades.
So why all these Republican lies and deceptions?
One can think of a number of reasons:
1)The GOP politics of fear , smear and deception works. It has been perfected over dozens of years so why curtail a ruthless but working strategy finely tuned by the likes of Karl Rove and Lee Atwater;
2)In the short term smear and lies really scores. Hours or even days later when the fact checkers set the record straight there is a much smaller audience and after a thousand and one video replays, tweets and posts have broadcast the falsehood across the Web and target audiences. Yes there is the danger of a lying politician losing credibility but the immediate rewards and use of a delayed correction or later apology can reduce that risk enough such that a Paul Ryan VP Candidate did multiple lies and smears.
3)Smear and deception works even better today because fact checkers have become more diverse, many being less well known and respected. And the major players, the national newspapers, magazines and TV networks having lost readership or viewers so they have become less vigilant. For example, none of the major TV news networks including PBS did a thorough vetting of Chris Christie or Paul Ryan speeches reinforcing the 12-24hour time delay before the record is set straight. And the GOP has been attacking the fact checkers accusing them of bias – “We’re not going let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” Says Neil Newhouse, the Romney campaign’s pollster;
4)All the GOP has to say is that the Democrats do it too. And a “balanced” press has to acknowledge that both sides have used questionable tactics . But the issue of frequency, stridency, or depth of departures from the truth or even accepted norms are rarely discussed. So for example, in a posting today even the NYTimes settles on the “the both sides do it” sentiment. The NYTimes report fails to look at the shadings. To wit, the GOP’s blatant lies and deceptions are matched with less frequent and less questionable Democratic attacks on Romney. For example Romney’s view on abortion a)have been subject to continuing change and b)fit on 3 of the 4 points made by the Democrats in their ads. The question, of whether Romney would support abortion in the case of rape, incest or the health of the mother was subject to doubt and interpretation. But the NYTimes found this equivalent to the string of lies, deceptiions, and ommissions, made by Ryan in his GOP Convention Speech. With Mitt Romney making it clear in the past week that he does support abortion in the case of rape, incest, and the health ofthe mother – all the wind has gone out of the issue.
5)Finallythe GOP has already adopted the Big Lies of 21st Century – “Global Warming is only a temporary phenomenon certainly not caused by human produced CO2 and other petroleum wastes, so we don’t need to do anythng about it”; although every Republican Presidents from Ronald Reagan through George Bush added huge increases to the National Debt as a % of GDP while Democrats Carter and Clinton reduced it during their terms, “we in the GOP are the ones to handle the debt and economic crises we created with continued tax breaks for the wealthy but cutbacks for middle class entitelments'”; “corporations are people” so they should be allowed unlimited lobbying and political campaign contributions; and “guns don’t kill, people kill people” so go with the NRA flow and allow huge gaping loopholes in background checks on gun purchases and the use of semi-automated firearms. In sum, if you are already committed to big policy lies, the GOP strategists have evidentally concluded why stop during the Presidential campaign?
In effect, the GOP has adopted the Goebbelian maxims – ” If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State….The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”. So to prove that Obama is the worst President in History the GOP keeps repeating the idea over and over again using fear invoking lies and blatant smears in the styles noted above.
And for the term of Obama’s presidency offer no co-operation or comprimises; obstruct his administration and judicial appointments 3 1/2 years after his inauguration, and defeat by any means his budgets and programs. This is a scorched earth policy of extreme partisanship – and it is reflected in the workings of Congress and the political process which the American Public has grown to disgust. But as long as the message that “both sides do it” gets echoed like a metronome – then extreme partisanship will prevail.
So in describing the Paul Ryan’s Web of Lies Michael Tomasky gets at the precarious nature of the Democratic situation and their response:
So the Democrats have to raise their game. They’ve never encountered this kind of buttery demagoguery before. Their campaign is going to have to be almost as much against Ryan as against Romney. … They have to rebut his lies, and they have to do it without sounding bitter or afraid or superior or haughty. That’s not easy to do. But it’s the challenge of this campaign. If they can’t win the Ryan war, they’re done.
Indeed, Michael gets it right – refuting the GOP Big Lies requires finesse as well as frankness. In a week we will see if the Democrats have the requisite skills.
The Big Picture
Moody’s was castigated by the Financial Press for downgrading the US debt rating because of its mounting level but also notably because US political processes had become so partisan. Given the US Financial Cliff upcoming in December of this year, Moody’s is looking prescient. The problem is that when one major party, the GOP, has adopted The Big Lie strategy while preventing the President from succeeding at all, then indeed Moody’s is substantially right and you now have a fundamental problem is US Governance.
Forget the fact that the US Supreme Court has allowed unlimited deployment of not just campaign funding but also lobbying contributions all with delayed disclosures and in some case none on who are making funding contributions to party coffers, PACs and SuperPACs. Forget the fact that the Senate Special Filibuster Rule is being used so often that a 60 to 40 majority vote is required for any Senate legislation of consequence. Forget the fact that nearly two dozen GOP state legislatures are making voting more difficult for students, minorities, and lower classes. But do remember the fundamental flaw – one party has taken a no co-operation and no compromise position that is enforced by ever tighter Republican party discipline This iron stricture has moved the GOP to become ultra-conservative as those GOP-ers who dare to stray are cut off from direct party support or eliminated by proxies like Grover Norquist’s no-new-tax pledges and NRA funded defeat of candidates who dare to cross the NRA line on gun control.
This means the US governance is at a near standstill. The country has lost the ability to cope with domestic problems like the economic recovery, immigration policy, jobs creation given tough international competition, energy management and health care cost control. But the US also has increasingly lost the ability to handle problems with an international component like Iran’s Nuclear problem, response to global warming, international financial controls and regulation[most recently LIBOR rates have been manipulated by British, US and other international banks- how do you control this cross border financial malfeasance?], IP pirating and patent stealing from Asian countries, etc. This weakness in US governance will be seen as an opportunity to be exploited by a variety of bad players like China, Iran, North Korea, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. The US has made itself vulnerable not just domestically but on the world stage as well – globalization of business gives the US much less room to act in .
Now government policy solutions to contentious issues are either none-at-all or draconian such as the across the board cuts in the Fiscal Cliff legislation. But the GOP Big Lie and Obstructionist strategy will exact a huge price. And what a price to pay – no matter who wins the US Presidential and Congressional elections, expect 4 more years of divided and sub optimal government. One is reminded of the Pogo complaint – “We have met the enemy and they is US”.