A huge proportion of our political discourse is consumed by bullshit -- statements that have absolutely no bearing to the actual beliefs of the person uttering them. The other day I noticed this quote by GOP Rep. John Kline in National Review, on the subject of the House GOP's plans to mount an exhaustive attack on the Affordable Care Act:
The Republicans dismissed criticism that the GOP is focusing too much time and energy on health care, as opposed to job creation. “Just because we’re going to be looking at the impact of this health-care law doesn’t mean that committees won’t be actively engaged in other aspects of our responsibilities,” Kline said. “We don’t have limit ourselves to one subject at a time.”I actually happen to agree with this -- of course it's possible for Congress to deal with more than one issue at a time. But Kline just threw overboard a talking point that Republicans have employed ad nauseum for two years.
Chait goes on to give plenty of examples of that talking point - including from John Kline himself. In fact, it's becoming increasingly hard to tell if Republicans are crazy or just lying.
Here's another example, from TPM. The same people who supported individual mandates for health care are now declaring that they're unconstitutional. Well, that's the party line now, and Republicans are nothing if not obedient.
Considering just how cacophonous the health care debate has become, it might surprise you to learn that the mystery reformer quoted above is Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the Republicans' health care point man in the Senate who, during the same interview, with great authority, claimed "I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates."
Two months later he threw in his lot with Sarah Palin (R-AK) and the Death Panelers. Now he claims -- along with about half the attorneys general in the country -- that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and, like the rest of the GOP, uses it as the foundation for a far-reaching political assault on the health care law.
Today, the public debate over the health care law is held on decidedly Republican-friendly terms: Did the Democrats violate the constitution? Did they encroach upon your liberty? Did they take over the health care system and place themselves between you and your doctor?
Obscured by these pseudo-populist theatrics, though, is a reality that's a lot friendlier to Democrats than they realize. Grassley's violent lurch to the right wasn't idiosyncratic. It was the consequence of a deliberate Republican political strategy that made supporting "Obamacare" impossible, even for the remaining few moderates in the GOP. What was once a popular, if not consensus, policy framework on the right -- authored by personal-responsibility conservatives and popularized by John Chafee, Bob Dole, and Mitt Romney -- rapidly became kryptonite for Republican politicians. As a result, for the first time in more than a half century, there is one political party in the country that has zero high-profile advocates for a forgotten goal: that somehow, some way, every citizen deserves proper health care.
Republicans have clearly decided that nothing matters except their own political ambition. To them, the question is not whether something makes sense, or even whether they believe it themselves, but whether it will work politically. And they've clearly decided that crazy works politically.
And it's not just politicians, it's right-wing pundits, too. This is also from Chait:
Health care analysts have pointed this out over and over. Yet conservatives like Krauthammer keep repeating these debunked claims. Either Krauthammer lives so deep within the right's misinformation feedback loop that he has never heard any refutation of his false claims, or else he simply doesn't care what's true.
That's about the health care reform bill, but I've seen the same thing over and over again - with global warming, with evolution, with all sorts of issues. Even when a right-wing pundit knows he's lying, he'll continue to use the argument if he thinks it will help persuade his audience. (Often, they tailor their talking points to their specific audience, avoiding the most obvious lies when it's not all right-wing true believers they're addressing.)
I see the influence of Fox "News" in this. Fox has shown that, ethics be damned, crazy works. And no matter how bold or blatant the lie, it will just boil down to "he said/she said" in the mainstream press, which means that people will just pick the side that most appeals to them. There's no downside to lying, none at all, because all other media will give equal time to "both sides," whether one side is a complete lie or not.
So how do you tell if a right-wing Republican is crazy or just lying? They all sound crazy, pretty much. And do we dare assume that they're not? Of course, lying isn't much better. But most people assume that all politicians lie, as far as I can tell. (I do think they're wrong about that.)
So are these people getting a free pass? Are moderates just assuming that they can't be as crazy as they sound?
And what if they're wrong?