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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No downside to lying, it seems

by folkbum

A while back, when I wrote about the present health care debate, I could barely contain my disgust that so many otherwise intelligent people (presumably; they seem to be smart enough to go on TV or blog or get elected to Congress) could knowingly and willing outright lie to people.

I mean, okay, I'm a blogger, a good one, too, when I get on a jag, and I've been doing this long enough to know how to pick the polls that support me (why do you think Rasmussen is so popular nowadays?) and the experts that validate my opinions and all that. But here's the difference: When I make a claim about something where everyone else has easy access to the same information that I do--say, for example, widely circulated proposed Congressional legislation--I make damn sure that I'm getting it right.

That apparently doesn't bother opponents of health care reform. They have been loud, bold, and brash with their untruths. So unashamed, as I pointed out then, that they go so far as to cite page and section numbers from the bill, even as they lie about what those pages and sections say.

But you know what? Apparently it works.

Among the big points of discussion today is an NBC News poll that suggests that the public in general is souring on the idea of health care reform. Here's the kicker, though:
One of the reasons why it has become tougher is due to misperceptions about the president’s plans for reform.

Majorities in the poll believe the plans would give health insurance coverage to illegal immigrants; would lead to a government takeover of the health system; and would use taxpayer dollars to pay for women to have abortions--all claims that nonpartisan fact-checkers say are untrue about the legislation that has emerged so far from Congress.

Forty-five percent think the reform proposals would allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care for the elderly. That also is untrue.
This is significant, and disheartening, and, I guess, proves Twain's quip that the lie is halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on. It doesn't matter how many times the fact-checkers dismiss the lie; once it's in the viral email and spewing forth from Mt. St. Palin, it is too late. Democrats could introduce in the morning a bill that puts a picture of a cute kitten on every desk in every workplace in America, and the Republicans would have people convinced that Democrats were stealing the kittens' souls by lunchtime, and that would be the end of Project LOLCat.

Why do they do this? Again, I don't think, for most of them, that they're too stupid to be able to read and get the truth. (Well, maybe some of the bloggers and commenters are.) It's because they want to crush Democrats and Obama. It has nothing to do with better lives for the most people--if it did, you'd have Republicans up in arms about the apparent Buddhist takeover of America and all that implies, rather than just Democrats. But no; their plan and desire is political victory, and if they have to lie, they have no qualms about it.

There's more about that poll: Chuck Todd notes here on video, and Steve Benen notes here in words, that people actually do want the Democrats' health care reform. 53%, not a mere plurality, but an actual majority, when given the truth about Democrats' reform efforts say they favor it.

This is important: When people know the truth, they want what we're offering. And yet the strategy of merely telling the truth--which, come on, you think would be enough--fails. I don't understand that. I just don't.

And it is also clear that some of the media have absolutely abandoned any pretense as arbiters of the truth. Chuck Todd, again:
In our poll, 72% of self-identified FOX News viewers believe the health-care plan will give coverage to illegal immigrants, 79% of them say it will lead to a government takeover, 69% think that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and 75% believe that it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly. But it would be incorrect to suggest that this is ONLY coming from conservative viewers who tune in to FOX. In fact, 41% of CNN/MSNBC viewers believe the misinformation about illegal immigrants, 39% believe the government takeover stuff, 40% believe the abortion misperception, and 30% believe the stuff about pulling the plug on grandma. What’s more, a good chunk of folks who get their news from broadcast TV (NBC, ABC, CBS) believe these things, too.
This happens, of course, because our media today are more interested in presenting two "sides" of an issue rather than making sure the truth gets out. If one side says the sky is blue and the other side says the sky is a bold plaid tartan, the networks and cable shows would have a parade of people on saying that the plaid people have valid points and shouldn't just be dismissed out of hand. And then some viewers, despite all evidence to the contrary, would make sure their address book all gets the email about the plaid sky. (If it were Republicans claiming plaid sky, FOX would make sure that the pro-plaid side was featured 10-1.)

It makes me sad. There is a profound pain in my soul, here (what's left of it; Democrats have taken many pictures of me) that the honest truth is so impotent, and the primary means of disseminating information to this democracy encourages the propagation of lies.

Be proud, Republicans. Be proud, conservatives. You have lied your way to success. I hope you choke on it.

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