It’s hard to say where the turning point was, but somewhere over the last decade the GOP has shifted from well worn and expected political tactics of truth stretching and spin doctoring to unapologetically propagating bold faced lies. Whether directly or indirectly, the lies just keep on coming. Obama is a Muslim. The Democrats are proposing to raise everyone’s taxes, Palin sold a plane on eBay or saved us money by rejecting the bridge to nowhere. It just goes on.
Paul Krugman speculates that this started back in the 2000 campaign with subtly bad math used to justify the Bush tax cuts. (Curiously, those same bad math lies are being used to justify the “change” McCain’s plan will bring us, so the classics never die.) But I think the succeess of things like selling the Iraq War and the Swift Boating of John Kerry have emboldened the GOP strategists.
From a certain perspective, it’s hard not to just be in awe. They play the press and public masterfully. They create their own truths through repitition and exposure, molding their own reality from mud and straw… and it works. 1 in 10 of us believe Obama is a Muslim. About a third of us still think Iraq had WMDs, and over a half still cling to the notion that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks.
Spend some time listening to AM talk radio and listen to the people calling in. The things they believe are jarring. Despite conservatives being in charge of the government for most of the last decade, they still act as if they are trying to pry themselves out from under the mantle of reckless liberalism. Further, they manufacture insult and feign injury at the slightest provocation. Witness the recent lipstick on a pig fury. (Even Bill O’Reilly came out and said this was hogwash, but the train just keeps on a rollin’.) Curiously, the GOP has adopted the simultaneous position of aggressor and victim, and they garner sympathetic coverage on both fronts.
It leaves the Democrats in a precarious position. One option is to simply get down in the mud and play the game with the Republicans. But this would bring the campaign process from farce to comic tragedy. And those of us who are thinking about what we hear don’t want to be left choosing between who can manipulate the witless with more skill. The alternative is to be left constantly on the defensive, trying to explain and expose the truth. But the reality of perception is that people who are always on the defensive tend to look guilty, whether they are or not. So they are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. And the GOP knows this.
The Democrats are trying to take the high road here, assuming that saner heads will prevail in the long run. I applaud their ethics and moral courage, but I fear they are horribly wrong.