Archive for the ‘Bias’ Category

John Birch, Big Tobacco, Young Republicans and the Birth of the Tea Party

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

The John Birch Society

The John Birch Society was founded in 1958 in Indianapolis, IN. One of the founding members was Fred Koch, founder of Koch Industries and father of David and Charles Koch. The Birch Society was viewed as a radical right wing organization because it espoused fundamental changes in government, eliminating institutions that they felt threatened their values or economic interests, and prosecution of those people who disagreed with them.

They opposed civil rights movement and subsequent legislation calling it communist. They opposed the United Nations calling it “one world government”. They opposed immigration reform and all free trade agreements. They accused both Eisenhower and Kennedy of being communist agents. They espoused a particular form of “frontier mentality” which incubated a virulent strain of reactionary thought.

Now, fifty years later, the Koch brothers are still the major funders of conservative and libertarian political movements including the Tea Party. The difference is that these organizations, who continue to advocate for smaller government, elimination of civil rights legislation, opposition to the UN, opposition to immigration reform, elimination of free trade agreements, and support of an unregulated free market; are now regarded as part of the mainstream political fabric. When they call a democratically elected President a socialist, a fascist (not sure how you can be both), or an illegal alien; it’s now accepted as part of normal political discourse.

What happened?

Big Tobacco

One of the lobbying strategies of the Big Tobacco in the 70’s was to assert that big corporations should have more political power. This strategy is reflected in the “market fundamentalism” that is one of the major pillars of Tea Party philosophy – unfettered capitalism is the best economic philosophy. This libertarian philosophy was embraced by Big Tobacco in an effort to prevent the sort of regulations that eventually limited their right to promote an addictive drug that kills people. One of the groups supporting this position and the Tobacco industry was Citizens for a Sound Economy founded by the Koch brothers in 1984. The primary funders of the Tea Party include FreedomWorks which is a spin-off of Citizens for a Sound Economy and Americans for Prosperity founded by David Koch.

Young Republicans

Karl Rove rose to fame in the Republican Party because of his reputation as a master of dirty tricks. Among other things his campaign for chairman of the College Republicans is legendary. It was during this period of time that he because friends with both the Bush family and Lee Atwater. Lee Atwater was an expert in the Southern Strategy that was the bulwark of successful national Republican campaigns starting with Nixon. That strategy was in stark display in the 1988 Bush election when Atwater said he would defeat Dukakis by making “Willie Horton his running mate”. Late is life, Atwater apologized and asked forgiveness.

In 1991 Rove began to work for Big Tobacco. In that role, he spearheaded a tort reform movement to weaken the ability for states attorney generals to litigate against the Tobacco industry. It was these legal cases that eventually brought down Big Tobacco. Rove’s activities included setting up state chapters of a tobacco industry funded astroturfing organization called Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. The Texas chapter of this group under the direction of Tom Delay was particularly effective in getting conservative judges elected and ultimately pushing through the gerrymandering that supported the 2010 Republican Congressional landslide.

The CALA blueprint honed in Texas included running TV and radio ads warning that the legal system was out of control, affecting the economy and the pocketbooks of average people. This blue print included generous funding from the Texas Chamber of Commerce and corporations seeking protection from consumer law suits. The Chamber of Commerce was running ads supporting Big Tobacco as late as 2002. This followed classic Tobacco Industry public relations rules – When your side is unpopular, as the tobacco industry is, seek to redirect public ire toward other villains – in this case, trial lawyers, taxes and big government. When the words “trial lawyers” are spoken in a spot aired by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the screen shows a black stretch limousine passing by the Capitol.

Finally Rove was also credited as the architect of the wedge politics that propelled George W. Bush into the White House. Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas, summarized those politics.

Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.

It was this policy of “deceive, divide, and conquer” that also sowed the seeds which later grew into the Tea Party.

Summary

The Tea Party and to a large degree the dysfunctional politics that the Tea Party represents were a long time coming.

It started with Big Tobacco’s desperate attempt to save themselves from the inevitable outcome of selling an addictive drug that kills people. They developed many of the political techniques now in common use particularly by movement conservatism. Those include Partners in Crime, Astroturfing, Junk Science, and Lobbying.

Radical conservatism in the form of the John Birch Society eventually joined forces with the Tobacco Industry. The common interest here was a particularly twisted form of libertarianism called free market capitalism. This appealed to the Tobacco Industry because they wanted to be able to continue to sell their products even though they were addictive and deadly. The libertarian capitalists liked the money that the Big Tobacco brought with them. They and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce were happy to make a deal with Big Tobacco if it meant advancing their own cause of smaller government and fewer regulations.

The Koch family has been underwriting libertarian and conservative causes for two generations. They are really the invisible hand manipulating this whole political movement. Fred Koch was a founding member of the John Birch Society. David and Charles Koch have become the bankers of the Tea Party movement, major funders of the movement to oppose climate science, and promoters of libertarian free market philosophy. Their fortune is closely tied to the fossil fuel industry.

Karl Rove became the chief apparatchik of this new philosophy of politics. He refined the political use of the tools that Big Tobacco created. He added Lee Atwater’s racial politics and expanded it with social issues which appealed to the evangelical right. He wrapped it all up in the flag and the Bible (even though he himself is an admitted agnostic) and used it to win two national elections for George W. Bush. In response to Obama’s election in 2008, Rove went to work for Fox News and helped start the astroturfing opposition movement that later grew into the Tea Party.

Next up, we’ll try to connect the dots to show how these historical forces have twisted an otherwise completely predictable populist uprising into what has become radical conservatism and the Tea Party.

Big Lies and Big Tobacco

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

I am a big believer in democracy. What often baffles me though, is why we go through periods of time when a large number of people believe things that aren’t true.

I can appreciate how people might have believed that the world was flat, because until people were able to sail around it, astronomers where the only people with personal experience to dispute what the senses told us. Very few people could actually read and fewer still had access to a telescope.

But science and the personal experiences of sailors soon convinced everyone else that the world was in fact round and orbited around the sun. Those who continued to dispute that fact were ridiculed.

That’s not the case today. Information is widely available. Most people, at least in this country can read. And most people in this country get a basic education that includes mathematics and science. Yet we seem to be living in age when facts are optional and science is relative.

What happened?

I believe that it has a lot to do with politics and in particular the strategy called the Big Lie.

John Boehner’s quote about the US health system being the best in the world is an example of the Big Lie. It works because those who already agree with his position that Obamacare is ruining the country will accept also accept this lie without question. It also works for those who inherently fear change, because Obamacare is all about change. Finally it works because those who stand to lose money or power as Obamacare rolls out are happy to support the claim that the current system is a better choice.

It didn’t use to be this way though. In the 50’s when the John Birch Society claimed that Eisenhower was a communist agent, the vast majority of the country just laughed. Now when the Tea Party (direct decedents of the Birchers) claimed that Barack Obama was born in Kenya – almost half the Republican Party agreed with them.

This is going to take a couple of posts to work through, but I think the train started to jump the track, in terms of these Big Lies, when tobacco companies realized two things – their products were killing people and if voters found out, they were out of business.

Background

Excerpts from a Stanford study by historian Robert Proctor

Cigarettes are “the deadliest artifact in the history of civilization” – more than bullets, more than atom bombs, more than traffic accidents or wars or heroin addiction combined. They are also among “the most carefully and most craftily devised small objects on the planet.”

“The industry has spent tens of billions designing cigarettes since the 1940s – that’s from the industry’s own documents,” he said.

The cigarette represents the perfect business model. “It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It’s addictive,” says investment guru Warren Buffett. Proctor notes that “by artfully crafting its physical character and chemistry, industry scientists have managed to create an optimally addictive drug delivery device, one that virtually sells itself.”

Operation Berkshire

In 1977 the CEO’s of all of the major tobacco companies met in secret in the UK to “develop a defensive smoking and health strategy, to avoid our countries and/or companies being picked off one by one, with a resultant domino effect.” They created a front organization first called International Committee on Smoking Issues (ICOSI) (renamed the International Tobacco Information Centre, INFOTAB, in 1981), to prevent efforts to reduce smoking. That included not only identifying opposition, but promoting research supporting their position, and rebutting the claims of research opposing their position. This organization, code named Operation Berkshire, continued to operate in secret for twenty years. In 1998 as part of a Master Settlement Agreement between tobacco companies and states attorney generals the activities of this organization came to light.

The plan formed when major tobacco companies met together to form a unified defense against anti-smoking legislation. They agreed that they would not voluntarily make certain concessions about smoking and, if legislation was passed to force them, they would agree to sue. In particular, they decided that they would not concede the point that smoking has adverse health effects and would instead attempt to create controversy, lest they be held legally liable for the deaths of smokers. They also formulated coordinated activities to promote the social acceptability of smoking.

Similar behavior was demonstrated by the top seven biggest U.S. tobacco company CEOs, dubbed the “seven dwarfs”, testifying together before the U.S. Congress during a hearing on the regulation of tobacco products on April 14, 1994, in which they collectively denied, under oath, the addictive nature of nicotine, despite at least one published New York Times report at the time claiming that it has the ability to be more addictive than heroin, cocaine or amphetamines.

Here are some of the strategies described in the documents shared with the courts.

Partners in Crime

Co-operation between the manufacturers of tobacco and candy cigarettes to effectively promote smoking in children is described by Klein and St Clair. They show that some tobacco companies granted confectioners permission to use cigarette pack designs, tolerated trademark infringement and suppressed research showing the potentially harmful effects of candy cigarettes in promoting smoking to children.

Astroturfing

This is the process of creating fake grass roots organizations to suggest that a particular political position has strong support among the people.

As health advocates began winning legislation to raise taxes and increase regulation of smoking in the US, Philip Morris, Burson-Marsteller and other tobacco interests created the National Smokers Alliance (NSA) in 1993. The NSA and other tobacco interests initiated an aggressive public relations campaign from 1994 to 1999 in an effort to exaggerate the appearance of grassroots support for smoker’s rights. According to an article in the Journal of Health Communication, the NSA had mixed success at defeating bills that were damaging revenues of tobacco interests.

Junk Science

A small group of retired cold-war libertarian nuclear physicists pioneered the political use of junk science. They developed their techniques in defense Reagan’s seriously looney Strategic Defense Initiative. Their techniques included demanding equal air-time in the media every time a mainstream physicist or engineer criticized SDI. They also published fear mongering articles in conservative publications suggesting that within 5 years the US would suffer an ICBM nuclear attack. As a result of their success, several including Fredrick Seitz were hired by RJ Reynolds. They perfected their doubt-mongering strategy defending smoking. They insisted that the science was unsettled and therefore that it was always premature for the US government to act to control tobacco use.

As one tobacco company memo noted: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the “body of fact” that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

Lobbying

“My own view is that in many ways, the tobacco industry invented the kind of special-interest lobbying that has become so characteristic of the late 20th- and earlier 21st-century American politics,” said Allan Brandt, dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Tobacco companies not only spent boatloads of money supporting politicians. They also sponsored game shows, cartoons, and sports. They hired celebrities, dentists, and doctors to endorse their products.

Altria (Phillip Morris) has spent more money since 1998 lobbying Congress than any other single business. In 1998 the Tobacco industry spent $125M lobbying for the defeat of the McCain Tobacco Control Bill.

Conclusion

The result of this campaign is that the rate of smoking in the US did not start to decline until 1985. It was as high as 45% in 1955. It is now at 19%. 2011 was the first time a majority of people supported banning smoking in public places.

In 2013, tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death in this country. Tobacco kills more people than AIDS, Alcohol, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combines. The 400,000 people who die and the 8.6M more who are ill cost the US $96B in healthcare costs and $97B in lost productivity.

But the tobacco industry was able to continue to produce and sell its products for decades AFTER the Surgeon General’s first report that smoking caused disease. Millions of people died. Several Trillion dollars were spent caring for those whom these companies killed. And they are still killing people today even though, at least in this country, their activities are severely limited.

That’s how effective their strategies have been.

These strategies are part of the reason why the Tea Party and movement conservatism exists today.

Next up, how some of those who learned these skills working for Big Tobacco, used them on behalf of the conservative political movement.

Personal Responsibility

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.  Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.  Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Matt 25:31-40

For Christians, I don’t know how the message could be any clearer.  This is about salvation.  In my reading, those that provide for the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the sick, and those in prison will be welcomed into heaven.

It is also instructive that Jesus directed this advice specifically at those he called “the righteous”.  These are the people who aspire to perfection, go to church, and keep the commandments.

During Jesus time, many pious Jews thought that bad things happened to bad people.  So they felt no compassion for those that Jesus described.  Instead most blamed the poor, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, and those in prison for their plight.  The self-righteous Jews figured that these people were being punished by God for something.  And clearly who are they to question God.

Jesus was very clear in what he said.  He didn’t qualify those in need in any way.  Instead he said that their NEED is the only relevant qualification.  It doesn’t matter why someone was hungry or sick or homeless or in jail.  Our response is all that is important.  That response will determine how we are judged in the afterlife.

We find ourselves in a very similar situation today when we attempt to have a conversation about race, poverty, and crime.

First a few facts.

According to the Census Bureau, fully 38% of African-American children under 18 now live in poverty.

67% of African-American children live in single parent households, and nearly all of those doing the actual parenting are women.  The courts, according to HHS, have awarded child support to 45% of these African-American mothers, but less than half actually get any money.   Doing the math, that means that 80% of those custodial mothers get no funds from the fathers of those children.  About half of white women actually receive the support the courts have awarded.

This raises the obvious question of where the African-American men are.

A million of them are in prison.  That’s 43% of our prison population even though they represent only 13% of the population.  One out six African American men have at some time been incarcerated.  Even that is a decrease from the past decade.

Maybe because they commit more crimes?

Not exactly.

African-American defendants are more likely to be given jail or prison time for the same or similar offenses for which white folks are given probation. African-American men also receive longer sentences than white men sentenced for the same or similar offenses.

This is, in part, the sorry legacy of our failed war on drugs.  In the 80’s, “ghetto” drugs like crack cocaine carried penalties up to 100 times more severe than a similar offense for a similar amount of the “yuppie” powder version of cocaine.  When these drug laws were originally passed in 1986, the thought was that crack was more potent and addictive.  Studies have since disproven that claim.  The U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled the sentencing disparities unconstitutional.

On the employment front, only 52% of African-American students graduate from high school and the rate for African-American boys is even worse according to the Department of Education. The economic consequences of that lack of formal education are well known – lousy jobs with lousier pay and a downward economic spiral from which there is no escape.  The economic consequences of an arrest record are also severe.  70% of employers run criminal background checks and 50% won’t hire those with a criminal record.

New research also suggests that children raised in poverty actually suffer physician damage to their brains which impair their cognitive abilities as adults.  Testing has already discovered that rich kids perform better than poor kids at a number of standardized cognitive tests.  Researchers have now discovered at least one cause.  During the first couple of years of life, our brains “wire” themselves based in part on the stimulation that we receive from our environment.  Stressful environments inhibit the full development of this wiring.  Even the tone, language, and vocabulary that a young child experiences during the first weeks and months of life can have a profound effect on later academic success.

It’s a statistical avalanche of negativity – grinding poverty, early developmental deficits, poor educational opportunities, failing schools, few jobs, and way too much interaction with the criminal justice system.

We cannot and should not ignore that some of this is self-inflicted even while we acknowledge the historical and socio-economic hurdles faced by African-Americans. Whether or not you respect the women trying to raise you and the young women around you, or if you stay in school, or take responsibility for your own children are all choices that can be made regardless of external pressures.

But it most certainly is not all self-inflicted.

There has to be some other reason why, for example, if a white man and African-American man with the same educational credentials apply for the same job the white man is twice as likely to get the job. Or why, when both African-American and white little girls were given a choice between a white doll or one of color, even the African-American girls preferred the white doll. Or why we still have such a profound ignorance of Africa and African-American history.

There also has to be a reason why race and poverty have become so politicized.  Why African American voters, for example, voted in higher rates than whites in the last two elections.  One opinion is encapsulated in a Romney quote that became a pivotal moment in the 2012 election.

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Romney was correct in suggesting that 47% of those who file income tax forms pay no net income tax, though that doesn’t mean that they aren’t tax payers.  Two thirds of those paying no income tax did pay payroll taxes (FICA and Medicaid) and virtually everyone pays some state and local taxes/fees.   He was also wrong in suggesting that this cohort votes primarily democratic.  55% of the “47%” are elderly.  They voted 56% to 44% for Romney.  Roughly 60% of the “47%” had incomes above $50,000 a year.  They supported Romney 52% to 46% and those with incomes above $90K supported Romney 54% to 44%. 

So what segments are left that voted for the president no matter what?

The voter segment that gave Obama the largest margin of victory was African Americans (93% – 6%).

Even though Obama won two elections, this open issue has not been resolved.  It remains the most difficult one that I think our democracy faces.  One only need look at the range of responses to the Treyvon Martin killing to understand the depth of the division.

What do we do as a country to deal with the stark realities of institutional poverty, crime, and violence in the African American community?

One choice is to blame African Americans for their condition.

This view was summarized by Ted Nugent in his comment about problems of crime and violence in the African American community.  He said African Americans could “fix the black problem tonight,” if they would put their “heart and soul into being honest, law-abiding, [and] delivering excellence at every move in your life.”

And

“racism against blacks was gone by the time I started touring the nation in the late [19]60s” and by the 1970s, “nothing of consequence existed to deter or compromise a black American’s dream if they got an alarm clock, if they set it, if they took good care of themselves, they remained clean and sober, if they spoke clearly, and they demanded excellence of themselves and provided excellence to their employers.”

There is great risk, at least for Christians, in this choice as Jesus explained.

The other choice is to follow Jesus recommendations.  Feed the hungry.  Help the stranger.  Clothe and shelter the homeless.  Heal the sick. Care for those that are in prison.

That’s not to say that these aren’t complex issues.  They are.

This is also not to say that all people need to develop individual responsibility.  They do.

But Jesus said clearly that the individual responsibility He is concerned about is that of the righteous.  THAT responsibility is to care for the less fortunate regardless of how they got there.

Jesus never said this would be easy.  But he did promise that the reward for those willing to take on this task would be great.

He provided every righteous Christian a choice.

Just like any other issue of personal responsibility, how you respond is up to you.

Clown Politics

Monday, August 12th, 2013

This past weekend, a rodeo clown at the Missouri State Fair wore a mask to mock President Obama.  Apparently the performance went well over the line between the sort of slapstick humor typical of rodeo clowns and mean spirited racism.

 

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Here’s a description from one of the members of the audience.

“It was the usual until the very end at bull riding,” he said. “As they were bringing the bulls into the chute and prepping them … they bring out what looks like a dummy. The announcer says ‘Here’s our Obama dummy, or our dummy of Obama.

“They mentioned the president’s name, I don’t know, 100 times. It was sickening,” Beam said. “It was feeling like some kind of Klan rally you’d see on TV.”

Unfortunately, this Missouri rodeo clown is part of a vocal minority who feel that the man who has won two national elections fair and square somehow doesn’t deserve the office that he occupies.

This is driven by an unprecedented assault on both the man and the office by the Republican Party.

Paul Ryan recently responded to Obama’s latest proposal for a corporate tax cut.  Obama was offering to work with Congress to overhaul business taxes in exchange for a guarantee that the revenue gains be used create new jobs through spending on roads and infrastructure.

“The president claims his economic agenda is for the middle class. But it’s actually for the well-connected…There’s no doubt that it works well for them. But for the rest of us, it’s not working at all.”

Ryan further protested that Obama is “interested in tax reform for corporations — but not for families or small business.” He also accused Obama of implementing health care and regulatory policies that favor big businesses and big banks.

Paul Ryan struck a different tone during the 2012 Presidential campaign.  He accused Obama of “sowing social unrest and class resentment,” of supporting “a government-run economy” and of “denigrating people who are successful.” He has charged the president with leading the nation toward “a cradle-to-grave, European-style social welfare state.”

So which is it?  Is Obama a class-baiting socialist or a corporate sellout?

Boehner, asked at a news conference about Obama’s series of speeches on the economy, replied: “If I had poll numbers as low as his, I’d probably be out doing the same thing if I were him.” Obama’s job-approval rating is 46 percent. Boehner’s is half that.

Mitt Romney called Obama a “weak president,” and Newt Gingrich, during the 2012 campaign, called Obama “so weak that he makes Jimmy Carter look strong.”

Yet in January Boehner said that Obama planned to annihilate the Republican party, ““[G]iven what we heard yesterday about the president’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me and should be clear to all of you that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans,” Boehner said. “So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party. And let me tell you, I do believe that is their goal. To just shove us in the dustbin of history.”

Rep. Issa said Obama is guilty of “imperial behavior” and “abuse of power.” Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, asserts Obama is “someone who wants to act like a king or a monarch.” And Rep. Louie Gohmert, of Texas, says Obama is “a tyrannical despot.”

So which is it?  Is Obama a weakling or a tyrant?

During the intervention in Libya, Gingrich demanded in early March 2011 that the United States should “exercise a no-fly zone this evening.” Two weeks later, after Obama took the action that would bring down Moammar Gaddafi, Gingrich said, “I would not have intervened.”

After the Benghazi attacks, Republicans lined up to criticize the President for not having enough security at the embassy in Benghazi and ignoring the mounting tensions Ambassador Stevens was documenting.

Fast forward to this month when the administration closed embassies across the Middle East in response to an intercepted al Qaeda communication.  “Terrorism works — because we’re closing all of our embassies and consulates on one day,” said Rep. Ted Poe, the chairman of the House’s terrorism and nonproliferation panel.  “Our embassies cannot operate with a bunker mentality in foreign countries,” he said. “Our embassies are there to interact with the people of that country. I hope we don’t get into this bunker mentality mode.”

So which is it? Is Obama a tone deaf risk taker or a terrified bunker dweller?

I could continue for quite a while, but the picture is clear.

The only consistent message coming from Republicans is that Obama is always wrong.  He is wrong if he acts.  He is wrong if he doesn’t act.  His ideas are always wrong even when he borrows them from Republicans (Obamacare, corporate tax cuts, and no fly zones).

Republicans may feel that tearing down the President is an effective strategy to get them back into the White House.  The problem is that if they demonstrate that this is an effective strategy, it will be used on them too.  And if they do ever return to the White House, they may not recognize the smoldering ruin they had to create to get there.

Big Lies from Ted Cruz

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Ted Cruz is the new tea party backed Senator from Texas.  He is a lawyer with a strict constructionist view.  Unfortunately, he appears to less strict about telling the truth.

He recently released a white paper entitled, “The Legal Limit: The Obama Administration’s Attempts to Expand Federal Power”

From the intro to that document.

The Obama Administration, through its Department of Justice, has repeatedly advocated a radical theory of sweeping federal power.  The Administration’s view of federal power is so extreme that, since January 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously rejected DOJ’s arguments for more federal power six times.

Notably, four Justices who were nominated by Democratic presidents denied the Obama Administration’s overreaches— President Obama picked two of them himself. As Ilya Shapiro noted in The Wall Street Journal on June 5, 2012, “When the administration can’t get even a single one of the liberal justices to agree with it in these unrelated areas of law, that’s a sign there’s something wrong its constitutional vision.”

You’d think that if the Supreme Court has been regularly rejecting the Obama administration over the past six months that it would be front page news.  When you search this particular release, however,  the only “news” sites that are reporting on this white paper are the same sources that questioned Obama’s birth, claimed he is a socialist, and suggest that Obama and UN have a plan to take over the country.

We’ll get into the why at the end, but let’s look at the how.

The quote that he provided from a year old Wall Street Journal article tends to lend credence to his assertion that the administration through the Department of Justice is engaged in a reckless power grab that even his own supreme court appointees oppose.

It turns out that this wasn’t a news article.  It was an opinion piece written by the head of the libertarian Cato Institute in the days leading up to the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare.  That article referenced only three of the six cases that the Cruz listed.  It also covered other cases which were subsequently decided in the governments favor (Obamacare, voter ID, and immigration) as further evidence of potential government over reach.

Media Matters responded the WSJ op-ed next day (6/8/2012).

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, the Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro uses three recent unanimous Supreme Court decisions to attack the Obama Administration for “increasingly extreme claims on behalf of unlimited federal power.” There’s just one problem with this analysis: in each case, the Obama administration was defending government actions that took place during the Bush administration. The Solicitor General, who is the government’s top lawyer, has, in almost all cases, an obligation to defend government actions and federal laws, including those actions undertaken by previous administrations. That is what the Obama administration was doing in the three cases Shapiro highlights. But if Shapiro noted that fact, it would undermine his narrative about the administration’s supposed “constitutional vision.”

Here are the details on the cases cited in the WSJ opinion piece and replicated in the Cruz white paper.

  1. United States v. Jones – Unanimous decision saying that a GPS device does constitute a search, but did not rule on whether it was a violation of the 4th Amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches.  Instead the court issued a very narrow 5-4 decision that the FBI action of planting a GPS device on a car represents government  trespass on private property which violates an individuals “reasonable expectation of privacy”. The original incident with the FBI happened in 2004 during an investigation launched by the Bush administration.
  2. Sackett v. EPA the court ruled that the EPA has to provide an appeals process for rulings under the Clean Water Act.  The Sackett’s complained when the Bush administration issued an order to stop building a house and filling in wetlands that were covered under the Clean Water act.  The Clean Water act was originally signed by Richard Nixon in 1972.
  3. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC was the case where a teacher at a private religious school fell ill and was fired when she returned.  The court ruled that that because she also taught some religion classes, she could be considered a minister and upheld the firing.  The illegal firing action was filed by the EEOC during the Bush administration.

Here are details about the other three examples of Supreme Court rejection that Cruz cited.

  1. Arizona v. United States – The court UPHELD the federal government’s authority to regulate and enforce immigration laws.   The ruling effectively gutted the Arizona immigration law.  Obama appointee Elena Kagan recused herself because of her involvement in this case while Solicitor General.  The court did uphold one provision of the Arizona immigration law which allows Arizona state police to investigate the immigration status of individuals detained for other reasons, but with the warning that if there was evidence that this was used in a discriminatory way, the courts would strike this provision down too.
  2. Gabelli v. SEC – The court ruled that when the government is bringing civil actions the statute of limitations clock starts when the illegal behavior begins rather than when it ends.  In this case the action did not begin decades ago, as Senator Cruz claimed.  The fraud began in 1999 and ended in 2002.
  3. Arkansas Fish & Game Commission v. United States – this case held that government induced flooding between 1993 and 2000 by the Corp of Engineers constituted “taking” property.  The Corp was responding to requests by Arkansas farmers for more irrigation water.  That water flooded state timber land during growing season and Arkansas sued for compensation.  Bill Clinton was President.

Now let’s compare these facts to the statements made in the Cruz white paper.

  1. United States v. Jones  – “The Supreme Court unanimously overruled DOJ’s Orwellian position— all nine Justices agreed that a search occurs when police attach a GPS to a car and monitor its movements. “  What he doesn’t say is that this “Orwellian position” was authorized by the Bush administration FBI.  The Obama DOJ was simply required to defend it.  What he also doesn’t say is that while the justices agreed that this was a search, the court DID NOT decide that it was an ILLEGAL search.  They could only muster a narrow 5-4 decision that it was a trespass.  Clearly NOT the resounding repudiation Cruz claimed.
  1. Sackett v. EPA – “If DOJ had won its case, the EPA would be able to extort settlements from Americans who don’t have the ability to challenge these orders while they face fines of up to $75,000 per day.Thankfully, the Court stopped DOJ in its tracks.”  What he didn’t say is that this overturned a process that has been in place for 40 years and that this particular action against the Sackett’s was taken by the Bush administration not the Obama administration.  The Obama DOJ was simply in the position of defending EPA which it is obligated to do.  What he also didn’t say is that the court DID NOT rule on the property rights of the Sackett’s.  They simply said that the EPA had to provide the Sackett’s the opportunity to appeal the original EPA ruling and remanded the case back to the EPA for an appeal hearing.
  2. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC – Cruz claimed this case rejected the Obama administrations attempts to “Interfere with a church’s selection of its own ministers.”  What he didn’t say is that this was not brought by the Obama administration.  It was brought by the Bush administration.  He also misrepresented the court’s decision.  It was NOT about how churches select their ministers.  It was about who can be CONSIDERED a minister under the law.  The court decided that the term “minister” includes any teacher at a religious school who teaches a religion class.
  3. Arizona v. United States – In the body of his document Cruz says, “Even though the Court did hold that federal law preempted three out of four of Arizona’s immigration laws at issue in the case, no Justice accepted DOJ’s theory that mere federal enforcement priorities — as opposed to federal statutes passed by Congress or regulations enacted by federal agencies after public participation — trumped state law”  The summary, however, only says, “Override state law whenever the President desires.”  This is just more evidence of Cruz’s hyperbole.  The court decision was simple and direct.  The federal government has the responsibility to enforce the borders and in this particular area federal law supersedes state law.  The court did disagree with some of the arguments that the DOJ made, but the agreed with the others on which they based their decision.   This was widely recognized as a victory for the Obama administration, not the defeat that Cruz characterized.
  4. Gabelli v. SEC – Cruz said that court denied the DOJ the right to, “Dramatically extend statutes of limitations to impose penalties for acts committed decades ago.”  This is simply not true.  The statute of limitations for the government to take civil action regarding a financial fraud that Gabelli committed beginning in 1999 and ending in 2002 expired in 2004 before the government could take action.  They were trying to build a case that they could use a different clock which would have allowed the statute of limitations to be calculated from the end of the offense (2002) rather than the beginning (1999).  If the DOJ had prevailed, it would have allowed the case to move forward.  How you get from here to “impose penalties for acts committed decades ago”, I can’t figure out.
  5. Arkansas Fish & Game Commission v. United States – Cruz said that court prevented the administration from gaining the right to, “Destroy private property without paying just compensation.”  The truth is that this happened under the Clinton administration.  It was a case of greater good.  The Army Corp of Engineers decided that providing Arkansas farmers more water to raise their crops was a great good than the known damage the controlled floods caused to timber farms owned by the state of Arkansas.  The ONLY thing the court decided was that the “takings” statue of the Fifth Amendment did not exempt the federal government when it came to controlled floods.  The court remanded the case to lower courts to decide whether the federal government is actually liable for damage caused by flood control programs and if so that the extent of that damage is.

Hopefully if you’ve made this far down in to this article, you have already discovered why no legit news source even covered this Ted Cruz white paper.

That leaves the question of why a U.S. Senator would so badly warp the truth?

Zombie Politics

Ted Cruz is a rising star in the Republican Party BECAUSE of his Tea Party views.

He believes that government is the great evil and the Obama administration in particular is the worst example of big government.

This was one of the major Romney campaign positions.  Remember “gutting welfare reform”, “send auto jobs to China”, “you didn’t build that”, “dependency”, “amnesty”, “government takeovers”, and “job-killing” attacks directed at the Obama administration during the last election?  This is the same stuff.

Fortunately fair minded voters rejected these arguments and rewarded Obama with a second term.

That doesn’t deter ambitious politicians like Ted Cruz from continuing to practice Big Lie politics.  It doesn’t matter that the Obama administration had significant Supreme Court wins on Obamacare, immigration, and voting rights.

It doesn’t matter that the current proposed Republican budget includes those same “job killing” taxes Republicans campaigned against.

Cruz is going to continue to twist the facts to support his particular point of view.

That’s what conservatives do.

Fatherless

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

There is a fierce political messaging war going on right now because of the looming sequester cuts.  It ultimately raises the question of how the President should behave when faced with a partner who refuses to compromise.

Let’s work through the various positions of each of the players.

The sequester was put in place by both parties to force a compromise.

The Democrats, contrary to Republican messaging, HAVE put forward several alternatives.  They all involve some degree of tax increase in addition to spending cuts.  Republicans have said that they will not accept any proposals which include tax increases.  The Republican did pass an alternative spending proposal in the House last year that shifted the spending burden from defense to domestic discretionary spending.  Neither the Senate nor the House has passed any bills in the new Congress to provide alternatives to sequestration.

The summary is that Republicans have said that they are unwilling to discuss any of the Democratic proposals.  The only available “compromise” appears to be one where Democrats make 100% of the concessions.

How is this being portrayed in the press and across the pundit spectrum?

  1. Some pretend that Democrats haven’t proposed any alternatives.  That’s clearly not true.
  2. Some now admit that Democrats have proposed alternatives, but claim that those alternatives haven’t gone far enough toward some middle ground.  As a result both sides are to blame for the impasse.   The problem with this claim is that there is NO MIDDLE GROUND.  Republicans have said that the only solutions they are willing to accept are some form of their own proposals.
  3. A few now admit that Republicans are unwilling to compromise, but assert that it is the President’s responsibility to either force them to change their position or “lead” them to some other magic place where a deal came be made.

An example of this third philosophy is the most recent column from David Brooks.  This column was a “make good” for a previous column where he blamed everyone for the problem.  In this new column he admits that Republicans are unwilling to compromise and then lays out his wishful strategy for President Obama.

My dream Obama wouldn’t be just one gladiator in the zero-sum budget wars. He’d transform the sequester fight by changing the categories that undergird it. He’d possess the primary ingredient of political greatness: imagination. The great presidents, like Teddy Roosevelt, see situations differently. They ask different questions. History pivots around their terms.

I share David Brooks desire to see a resolution, but ultimately this, like many wishes, is fantasy.

The only leverage that the President has in this situation is public opinion and he has been widely criticized by Republicans for his “campaigning” on this topic.

The Brooks’ position really begs the fundamental question because it assumes that there is some magic phrase or spell that will cause Republicans to look at this problem from a different perspective.  Greg Sargent of the Wash Post summarized it best.

What if there is nothing whatsoever that can be done by the president or anyone else to break the GOP out of its no-compromising stance?  This isn’t an unreasonable reading of the situation; it’s what Republicans themselves have confirmed, publicly and on the record — they will not concede a penny in new revenues, no matter what. And if this is the case — if the fundamental problem is that Republicans really do prefer the sequester to any compromise — isn’t it incumbent on commentators to explain this clearly and forthrightly to their readers?

The characterization of the President is that he is supposed to become the adult in this situation.  He is somehow supposed to discipline his problem children and make them behave.  As all parents know, however, sometimes the only way to teach responsibility is to make sure those who act badly are held fully accountable for the repercussions of their actions.  Their crashed car does not get fixed.  They are not able to re-join the team until their grades improve.  They have to repay the damage they have done out of their own pocket and will spend all their free time volunteering at the soup kitchen until the bill is repaid.

Those in the press who continue to cling to the presumption of balance in their attempts to represent both sides are to some degree CONTRIBUTING to the problem.  They have become accustomed to rational responsible Democrats jumping in at the last minute to resolve the latest crisis created by Republicans.  When they don’t see that opportunity developing in this crisis, they criticize the President for his failure to “exercise leadership” and in effect pay the “ransom”.

The Press had no problem labeling the recent Alabama survivalist kidnapper as crazy.  Why are they reluctant to use the same label for Republicans who are demanding the sequester take effect?

The sequester cuts are real.  People are going to lose their jobs.  Businesses, communities, and our economy will suffer NEEDLESSLY.  Anyone who helps deflect blame from Republicans — in the full knowledge that they are the primary obstacle to the compromise we need to prevent serious damage from being done to the country — is unwittingly helping to enable their intransigence.

Moral Intuitionism

Friday, February 8th, 2013

This is a psychology theory that has been promoted by John Haidt from the University of Virginia.  What it says is that, at least for some of us, our opinions are more heavily influenced by our emotions than our reason.  What it means is that when confronted by facts that may call one of our core beliefs into question, our immediate reaction is to question the fact rather than question the belief.

A new study by some UC Irvine psychologists measured how this particular behavior manifested itself across the political spectrum.

They did this by selecting four politically divisive issues.  The first two, the death penalty and waterboarding, are generally regarded by liberals as morally unacceptable regardless of the potential benefit to society.  The other two, sex education (specifically how to use condoms) and embryonic stem cell research elicit the same response from conservatives.

1500 randomly selected subjects were asked first about their moral beliefs regarding these issues.  For example, is the death penalty morally wrong even if it can be proved that it reduces crime? Or, is stem cell research morally wrong even if it can cure diseases like Parkinson’s?  Then they were asked factual questions like does capital punish reduce crime, or do condoms prevent pregnancy and the spread of disease.

What the researchers found is that everyone tended to discount the social benefits of the practices they found morally objectionable.   Some, however, were much more susceptible to this behavior than others.  There were three risk factors which determined the DEGREE to which individuals were willing to contort the facts to fit their beliefs.

The first risk factor is the strength of your sense of morality about the subject.  The second is how much you know about the subject.  In this case the MORE you know, the more you are likely to distort the facts.  The third is how politically conservative you are.

Yup, that’s right.

Conservatives tilted their views of the facts to favor their moral convictions more than liberals did on every single issue.   Even those issues that were hot buttons for LIBERALS were still shaded more strongly by conservatives than liberals.

Why?

For that answer and we get another phrase – cognitive closure.  That is the need for certainty in your life and the degree to which uncertainty causes discomfort.  The UC Irvine researchers discovered the conservatives scored much higher in the scale for the need for cognitive closure than liberals.  Rather than accept that the world is often ambiguous, conservatives are most comfortable with the concept that their moral systems and the facts about the world are in perfect alignment.  Liberals, on the other hand are much more willing to accept ambiguity both in their beliefs and the data.  They may, for example, still hold tight to the belief that stem cell research is morally acceptable, but are also willing to admit that facts don’t yet confirm that stem cell treatment consistently delivers improved clinical outcomes.

The net result is something called ideological asymmetry.  This is the idea that one side of the political spectrum, more than the other, shows a form of biased or motivated assessment of facts.  There is a lot of debate about this, but the results of this most recent study suggest strongly that ideological asymmetry DOES exist.

This whole area of study raises an interesting question.

If it’s true, those conservatives reading this article are likely to discount it because it challenges their core beliefs.  Liberals on the other hand are going to just nod their head and agree that this explains a lot of their personal interactions with conservatives.

In the next post, let’s examine how that affects some of the issues we are currently debating.

Open Letter to Obama Critics

Monday, December 17th, 2012

This is an open letter to all those who have criticized President Obama’s visit to Newtown, CT.

Some characterized it as a publicity stunt. Some suggested that it was evidence that he was a poor leader shirking his Washington DC duties. Some felt it was hypocritical to express such sorrow over the deaths of these innocents while supporting things like abortion or drone strikes. Some have even suggested that this is part of a larger government conspiracy to take away our guns and leave us vulnerable to invasion by the UN.

If you have entertained or expressed any of these opinions, this is not day for them. Pick another day in another week. But not this day, not this week.

Are you REALLY that cynical and heartless? Have you become so twisted by your hatred of this one man that you are blind to the purpose of his visit?

It isn’t always about you and your issues, and it isn’t always about politics.

This was a NATIONAL tragedy. It tore at the fabric of our society by suggesting that we can’t protect those that we cherish most, those that are most vulnerable.

President Obama was there carrying out his highest duty, which is representing us.

He carried our collective sorrow with him to CT. He was there to represent the empathy that we all feel for those who are grieving. He was there to offer help to those that survived, but now have to learn to live with loss. He was there to give voice to the questions we all have about what can be done to bring an end to these massacres.

This event demands more than a few days of headlines and news reports. It requires more than a moment of silence. In fact silence on the underlying issues of violence and mental illness and easy access to weapons designed to quickly kill large numbers of people lulled all of us into a false sense of security.

He was there to promise that we aren’t going to let this incident fade from our memory as so many others have. He was there to express our collective outrage that this is enough. We are better than this. We are more responsible than this. We are not going to allow our country to deteriorate into armed enclaves and raise a generation of kids who are afraid to set foot outside their door. We have to have a higher concept of freedom than the mutually assured destruction of the wild west or the false security of a police state.

Yet for you, this was just another opportunity to express some petty partisan political snipe.

Shame on you!

 

 

Shady All the Time

Friday, September 14th, 2012

I had the good fortune to count the late Steve Goodman among my circle of friends. Part of the lyric of his song “Looking for Trouble” fits this particular post.

The first time you shade the truth
You want to run and hide
Your tongue gets tied
Your throat gets dry
And you start thinkin’ that maybe no one knows you lied
And now you’re shady all the time

Truth has taken a beating in this election. What’s worse, there are many who suggest that this should not only be expected, but it is the new normal. Candidates are providing voters exactly what they have asked for.

One of the telling admissions of this political cycle that supports this view came from Romney’s pollster, Neil Newhouse. In response to criticism that a series of deceitful Romney ads about welfare received, Newhouse said, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

This raises the basic question of how important facts are in a political campaign.

One opinion is echoed by Jack Shafer of Reuters who wrote , “I suppose fact-checking would matter more to voters if they expected honesty from their politicians, but most don’t. … Voters crave rhetoric that stirs their unfact-checked hearts. As long as the deception is honest, pointing in the direction they want to go, they’re all right with it.”

This goes along with the studies of a phenomenon called “motivated reasoning”. That says that because we as humans have a built-in bias to form groups, we also develop biases which discount information that calls our beliefs into question while seeking out information which supports our beliefs. This phenomenon explains why 15% of Republicans chose Mitt Romney over “don’t know” or “Barack Obama” in a recent poll in Ohio on who should receive credit for killing bin Laden.

This is also why right wing publications like the Weekly Standard and National Review have provided readers an excuse to disregard fact-checkers by claiming that they all share the some fictitious liberal bias associated with the “mainstream” media.

Political campaign managers would much prefer an atmosphere where they are not held accountable and truth is defined in the minds of the listener rather than measured against an objective standard. “Look, when people give speeches, not every fact is always absolutely accurate,” former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani told CNN’s Piers Morgan with aw-shucks candor at the Tampa convention.

What started as a trickle with the Willie Horton distortions that brought down Dukakis and the Swift Boat attacks that tarnished Kerry’s military record, has become a veritable waterfall of propaganda and deliberate misinformation promoted primarily by the right wing media. First you had the release of Dishonorable Disclosures – an attempt to discredit Obama’s role in the killing of bin Laden. Next was 2016 Obama’s America which tries to build the case that Obama has some deep seated hatred of the United States because of slavery. Most recently we’ve had the disturbing political posturing of Mitt Romney trying to curry favor with those who dislike Obama because of the color of his skin and next reaching out to those 15% of voters who believe that Obama is sympathetic to radical Muslims because of his name.

I think that voters have a right and the media has a duty to hold politicians to a higher standard. The stakes are too high to let elections be decided on who does a better job of deceiving the public. Voters can choose to ignore those facts that make them uncomfortable, but hopefully these biased partisans on the right and left will balance each other out. Those remaining voters who approach elections with an open mind deserve a better fate. They should be able to honestly evaluate the facts and the details behind those facts before they place their votes. Otherwise we give ourselves over to a future where we are governed by those who stand to make the most money from promoting the biggest lies. That is certainly not the future contemplated by those who founded our democracy, enshrined the right to vote, protected free speech, and depended on a free press to inform the public and hold politicians accountable.

False Witness

Friday, August 31st, 2012

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16-19

The Bible is pretty clear about lying.  It’s the eighth commandment.  Proverbs classifies those who lie and sow discord as “an abomination”.  Those who like to cite Bible verses about homosexuality place a lot of weight on the use of the word “abomination”.  Even Jesus, when asked by the rich man which commandments he should follow included the prohibition against lying.

I know that Mormons use both the old and new testament too.  So I’m also sure that Mitt Romney is familiar with the concept of false witness.  That makes the most recent turns of his campaign that much more distressing because they indicate that this man who claims to be a devout Mormon is either delusional or deeply cynical regarding the practice of his religion.

The Romney campaign has been running a  series of ads claiming that President Obama is gutting welfare.

These ads have been widely criticized as inaccurate and race-baiting.  It has been universally condemned by the fact finders.  Politifact gave it their worse rating, “Pants on Fire”.  The Washington Post gave it four Pinocchio’sFactcheck.org concurred.  All of the major newspapers echoed the fact-checkers.

The Romney campaign, however, seems undeterred.

“Our most effective ad is our welfare ad,” a top television advertising strategist for Romney, Ashley O’Connor, said at a forum Tuesday hosted by ABCNews and Yahoo! News. “It’s new information.”

“Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” Romney Pollster Neil Newhouse said.

In other words, we don’t care whether our ads are factually accurate.  All we care about is how people respond to our ads.  This ad convinces more people to vote for Mitt Romney than any other ad that we have.  So we are going to continue to make this claim even though it has no basis in fact.

Further, we aren’t going to let ourselves be limited in any way by any other claims that we make. We are going to say and do whatever is required to get elected and we really don’t care what the consequences are for our actions.  If inflaming old racial stereotypes is what we need to do to drive more of our voters to the polls in November, we are going to do it.  This is a no holds barred campaign and we are in it to win it.

The big difference here is when the Kerry campaign suffered a similar fate; the perpetrator of the Big Lie was an independent group supposedly unconnected to the Bush campaign.  This Romney ad is not some PAC or other interest group shredding the truth. These ads are running with Mitt Romney’s personal endorsement.

The first question is why they think they can get away with this tactic and not suffer some consequence from voters?

The second is what the long term implications are if these sorts of political tactics are successful?

There are certainly the rationalizations that the right wing echo chamber have been making that the Romney campaign can use to justify their actions.  The Obama campaign has also been telling lies, but that’s not really the question.  The “Romney killed my wife” Obama ads were the product of a PAC.  Because of the public outcry including the fact checkers, those ads never did actually run.  If the Romney campaign took a similar stance on their “welfare” ads, they would defend their position but stop making the assertion and move on as the Obama campaign did.  In this case, the Romney campaign’s primary defense is that they aren’t going to stop running an effective ad even though it is inaccurate.

The Romney campaign thinks they can get away with this because Republicans have developed three effective strategies to minimize the impact of fact-checkers.

The first is the basic tenant of Big Lie politics.  That is to repeat your lie louder and more often than those objecting to it.  Eventually the lie drowns out the truth.  If you have the money and the determination, this tactic has already been proven effective in past campaigns.  Willy Horton and Swift Boat are just two examples.  There are mountains of campaign cash flowing into the Romney campaign and the shadowy unregulated semi-independent PACs supporting his campaign.  So the Romney campaign has the means to mount a sustained effort to establish their lie as the truth.

The second is the ongoing Republican campaign to discredit the mainstream media.  This has created distrust among conservative voters of anything in the mainstream media that contradicts their views or the views of their candidates.  Evidence of this is the Romney campaign’s suggestion that, “Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs.”  This is code for the claim that the fact checkers share the same liberal bias as the mainstream media.  One need look no further than the dust ups that Politifact.com has had with MSNBC and the Obama campaign to appreciate that these organizations are committed to holding ALL politicians and parties accountable to the truth.

The third is the conservative media who make huge amounts of money repeating right wing talking points and supporting conservative candidates.  They both spread the lie and create doubt about any sources who suggest the lie has no basis in fact.  Rush Limbaugh said, “But I have no reason to lie to you about any of this, and there’s nothing in it for me to be wrong.  It does not help me to be wrong about any of this.  There aren’t any lies in the Romney welfare reform ad.”  The next day he accused Obama administration of exerting undue influence on the government’s Hurricane Center’s prediction models in hopes of disrupting the Republican Convention.  Rush clearly has this figured out since his act generates somewhere north of $40M/year for him.

The result is a parallel Republican universe where anything is free game, pollsters and pundits can create whatever claim they feel will best advance their agenda, and where fact-checkers are irrelevant.

The implications for democracy are dire.  Democracy depends on informed debate and compromise.  We have elections (rather than civil wars) to decide those particularly troublesome issues where compromise fails.  We also have the balance of law and the judiciary to protect minority rights from being trampled by the majority.

Without a shared set of facts, you can’t have productive debates or effective compromise.  Instead ideology is allowed to trump reality and demonize compromise.  When that happens, we leave ourselves open to demagogues.  To quote Robert Reich, “A society without trusted arbiters of what is true and what is false is vulnerable to every lie imaginable.”