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By Carolyn Kay
"I will make a bargain with the Republicans. If they will stop telling lies
about Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them."
– Adlai Stevenson
Interviewer: "Do you think these swift boat ads are unfair to John
Laura Bush: "Not really, [t]here have been millions of terrible ads against my husband."
– CNN, August 29, 2004
There are so many “miscalculations” in that one statement that I was moved to write an essay to discuss the implications of what the woman said.
I’m not even going to ask what kind of girlie-man sends his wife out to gain approval for his dirty work. Bush often hides behind his wife’s and his mother’s, and now his daughters’ skirts, so we shouldn’t be surprised at all about that.
But the essence of Laura’s statement is exactly what caused me to get involved in politics in the summer of 2000. This is what she said:
1. It’s wrong for Bush’s opponents to criticize him, even if the opponents are telling the truth.
2. This supposed wrong done to Bush justifies his campaign’s telling lies about his opponents (two wrongs make a right).
3. It’s okay to go against one’s most deeply held beliefs, such as the conviction that lying is wrong because it violates the Ten Commandments (the ends justify the means)
4. As long as you are in pursuit of what you consider a higher goal (morality is relative).
When I started trolling the Internet discussion groups at the suggestion of the Gore campaign in the summer of 2000, it became obvious very quickly that right wingers justified their vicious hatred of Al Gore and all things liberal as well as their support of Brownshirt tactics to put Bush in the White House by nursing some grievance. It was okay for Republicans to steal the election, the right wingers said openly, because Democrats have “always” stolen elections.
Wherever I saw that phrase posted, I answered that if the poster could show me where a Democrat was breaking the law I would join in condemning that Democrat’s action, as long as the poster would join me in condemning similar actions by Republicans. I must have posted that challenge a hundred times, but I never got a response. Not once.
Of course it’s not true that Democrats have “always” stolen elections, but that doesn’t matter to the right wingers. The determination to ignore the facts is disturbing, but even more troubling is the implication that if you do something to me that I don’t like, I’m justified in doing something bad to you. In fact, I’m justified in breaking the law when getting back at you. Actually, I’m justified in attacking you if I think you’re going to attack me.
Now we know where Bush got his doctrine of pre-emptive war. From the fifth graders posting on the Internet.
Ignoring the facts is pretty dangerous, too. Right wingers don’t live in the Age of Reason, like the rest of us. Not only do facts not mean anything, they don’t even believe that there’s such a thing as facts. They live in the Age of Faith, and their handlers know very well how they can be manipulated through their beliefs.
Here’s an excerpt of a NOW interview of influential Republican pollster and phrase crafter Frank Luntz on July 2, 2004:
BRANCACCIO: … [T]here's a memo circulating that is attributed to you that talks about the need, among other things, for politicians to always mention the terrible events of September 11th.
LUNTZ: And what's wrong with that?
BRANCACCIO: Nothing at all, but...
LUNTZ: What's wrong...
BRANCACCIO: ...before mentioning Iraq.
LUNTZ: But what is wrong with mentioning why these things took place? What is wrong with mentioning the fact that there are enemies to America? What is wrong with talking about the fact that it is better to fight this war in Afghanistan and Iraq than fighting it in Washington and New York?...
BRANCACCIO: Well, what's cool is you just illustrated a perfect version of what you want a politician to do. And then you just acted it out essentially. And it was... it's fascinating to watch...
In other words, if you believe that Iraq is bad, you can lump it in with any other bad guys in the universe to make people believe Iraq is allied with those bad guys. If you want to defeat triple amputee Vietnam veteran Max Cleland, you can compare him to Saddam Hussein. If you want to defeat highly decorated Vietnam veteran John Kerry, you can pay $40 million of taxpayer money to help dig up liars about his war record.
These tactics can’t win in the long term. To paraphrase a principled Republican president, you can’t fool most of the people most of the time. I read once that in the last days of the Soviet Union, when the government announced that butter was bad for you, the people understood that there was another butter shortage.
It’s the damage that can be done to our democracy in the meantime that scares me. And that’s why I got involved in politics. To do what I can to expose their tactics.