Since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the Republican Party has forsworn governance for something it believes to be far more effective -- lying.
The party has lied consistently and unapologetically about matters large and small, whether in grossly mischaracterizing the president and his policy initiatives or in committing to work with Democrats on a variety of issues, including the congressional supercommittee to fashion a deficit-reduction package, and then pulling the rug out from under the table. While the strategy of lying is shameful when considered in the perspective of the long arc of American political history and its many honorable practitioners, it has been brilliantly successful, so successful that the GOP's cavalcade of lies could conceivably put it within hailing distance of recapturing the Senate in the November elections.
The Republican playbook has been simple:
* Avoid abstract ideas and appeal to the emotions.
* Constantly repeat just a few ideas by using stereotyped phrases.
* Always give only one side of the argument.
* Continuously criticize your opponents.
* Pick out one "enemy" in particular for special vilification.This playbook would be immediately recognizable to students of the Third Reich. It was employed, almost word for word, with insidious effectiveness by Joseph Goebbels, Adolph Hitler's minister of propaganda.This is not to compare Republicans with Nazis. I do not. But like Hitler and Goebbels, Republicans have seized on lying as an effective tool for getting the attention of a restive electorate not unlike that in Germany in the early 1930s.
In a contemporary American context, these are most notably "low-information voters" to use the polite pollster catchphrase to describe working-class whites still smarting from the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression and deeply distrustful of the Big Government that nevertheless has kept many of them afloat. It is this group that could make the difference in several states where Republicans have a shot at picking up Senate seats.
* * * * *Among the biggest Republican lies are these:
The Affordable Care Act Will Result In The Loss of 2.3 Million Jobs. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported last month that the act will reduce the total number of hours worked by about 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely as a result of workers being able to choose to supply less labor because of the benefits the act provides. (Then there are other hard-to-kill ACA lies, including claims the act creates death panels and pays for abortion as contraception.)
Obama Has Doubled The Deficit. In fact, his administration has reduced the deficit by a nearly one trillion dollars in five years, and is one of only just three administrations in the last 50 years that will leave office with a lower deficit than when it began. (In case you're wondering, the last Republican to manage that feat was some guy by the name of Eisenhower.)
The Keystone XL Pipeline Will Create 120,000 Jobs. In fact, the State Department estimated in its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that 16,100 direct and 26,000 indirect jobs would be created over the two years of construction.
Tax cuts stimulate the economy. In fact, Moody's Analytics estimates that every dollar spent on unemployment benefits generates $1.61 in economic growth and every dollar spent on food stamps generates $1.74 in economic growth, while every dollar spent on rolling taxes back to Bush-era levels creates a measly 32 cents in economic growth, a whopping 68-cent loss on investment. So much for trickle-down economics.
Voter Fraud Is A Serious Issue That Requires Strict New Laws. In fact, an estimated one one-hundredth of one percent of the votes cast in general elections are questionable as the extremely rare prosecutions for voter fraud cases abundantly show. In Ohio, for example, a GOP-inspired war on voter fraud netted 20 possible cases out of nearly six million votes cast in 2012. This was just one of many attempts by the party to suppress turnout of minorities who reliably vote Democratic.
Man-Made Climate Change Is A Hoax. In fact, while a tiny minority of scientists remain skeptical that humans are causing climate change and failure to address it will be catastrophic to the planet in the long term, NASA states the evidence that global temperatures are rising at an alarming rate is overwhelming. And record cold and snowfalls in the Eastern U.S. over the past winter were a consequence of record temperature increases in the Arctic.
It Is Safer to Have A Gun In Your House Or On Your Person. In fact, having a gun doubles the risk that household members will kill themselves or family members. (The figures for suicide risk is substantially higher.) Meanwhile, someone is 50 percent more likely to be shot dead by their own hand than by a criminal assailant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And my favorite: Obama Is Giving Away Free Cellphones For Votes. In fact, there is a program offering low-cost phones to people who can’t afford them. The program was created with the support of that great conservative god, Ronald Reagan, in 1984, and is paid for entirely by phone companies and not taxpayers.
* * * * *It is tempting to blame the news media for rarely fact checking even the most egregious Republican claims, but in the 24/7 news cycle world, that would be nearly impossible.
As it is, the fact-checking organization PolitiFact has found Republicans to be "less trustworthy" than Democrats. In one study, PolitiFact found that 52 percent of Republican claims were "mostly false," “false” or “pants on fire,” versus 24 percent of Democratic statements. Some 54 percent of Democratic statements were rated as "mostly true" or "true," compared to just 18 percent of Republican statements.
Los Angeles Times economics columnist Michael Hiltzik is the rare media maven who has fact checked the litany of woes attributed to the Affordable Care Act in Republican-backed advertising and has yet to find any real "Obamacare" victims.
"What a lot of these stories have in common," he has written, "are, first of all, a subject largely unaware of his or her options under the ACA or unwilling to determine them; and, second, shockingly uninformed and incurious news reporters, including some big names in the business, who don’t bother to look into the facts of the cases they’re offering for public consumption."
* * * * *Of course, fudging the truth, if not outright lying, has a long and dishonorable place in American politics. (Heck, even George Washington was being disingenuous when he is said to have uttered, "I cannot tell a lie.") But credit Republicans with raising lying to an art form, as well as calculatedly using lying as a substitute for actually engaging in governance. You know, articulating policy positions and sticking to them for longer than a press conference, and helping fashion compromises for the common good, as opposed to shutting down the government when they don't get their way and vilifying the president, sometimes in terms that are unmistakably racist.
Michael Tomasky quotes Paul O'Neill, who was prepping George W. Bush for a presidential debate, as telling him that "The public prefers spending on things like health care and education over cutting taxes. It’s crucial that your remarks make clear that there is no trade-off here."
"Put more bluntly," Tomasky writes, "what O'Neill was saying here is: You have to lie. By definition, you have to lie. You can't tell people that tax-cutting will result in less money for these programs, which is the truth, so you/we Republicans have to invent a fiction of no trade-offs, of a free market that can deliver everything. What Bush delivered to us was essentially no net job growth in eight years and the worst crisis in 80."
Which certainly didn't stop Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan from peddling that same lie in 2012.
* * * * *While Republican bashing may seem like good sport for commentators like myself, in reality it is a deeply depressing state of affairs when a political party abandons advocating serious policy positions.
Exhibit A in this regard is that the GOP has yet to float a credible alternative to the Affordable Care Act in the five years since Obama presented it to a joint session of Congress in February 2009. It is so much easier to simply lie over and over. And declare that the so-called free market is the best mechanism for managing health care. This is perhaps the biggest lie of all because it is the very reason the U.S. leads the industrialized world in infant mortality, obesity and anxiety disorders, and is last in life expectancy despite having by far the highest health-care costs.
The Democrats, mind you, have not been exactly lie-free, notably President Obama's whopper that under the Affordable Care Act people would be able to keep their health-insurance plans no matter what. (Actually, the vast majority will be able to do just that, but an embarrassed Obama nevertheless had to backtrack on the claim.)
But the truth (pardon the term) is that when a lightweight like Ryan -- himself a Pinocchio of staggering dimensions -- is viewed by the GOP as its leading intellectual, it simply is easier to try to scam voters than educate them. (Ryan qualifies for additional scorn for his thinly-veiled attacks on inner-city blacks whom in his and the GOP's view are undeserving layabouts.)
We are all -- and I include Democrats, as well -- losers when the Republican Party delegitimizes itself because it cannot stop lying.