The Truthers Of The GOP

In your search for truth, you can find pretty much anything on the Internet. (As I used to tell my Media and Policy students, if you wonder whether aliens really landed in Roswell, I can find you five internet sites with pictures of the aliens…)

Every so often, a commenter will angrily dispute something I’ve written here by citing to “proof”– an internet site. Now, it is entirely possible for yours truly to make mistakes, but I do take pains to research and confirm the accuracy of data posted here, and when I’ve clicked on links supplied by the naysayers, I generally wind up with rather obvious propaganda.

Which brings me to Paul Krugman’s recent column addressing the issue of intentional misinformation–aka lying.

What Richard Hofstadter called the paranoid style in American politics is no longer a fringe phenomenon: Bizarre conspiracy theories are now mainstream on the American right. And one manifestation of this paranoia is the persistent dismissal of positive economic data as fake when a Democrat occupies the White House.

During the Obama years there was a large faction of “inflation truthers,” who insisted that deficit spending and monetary expansion must surely be causing runaway inflation, and that if official numbers failed to match that prediction it was only because the government was cooking the books.

Krugman says we have fewer inflation truthers now;  instead, we are seeing  the emergence of what he dubs “recession truthers” — a significant faction that seems frustrated by the Biden economy’s refusal, at least so far, to enter “the recession they have repeatedly predicted or insisted is already underway.”

The new group is dominated by tech bros, billionaires who imagine themselves focused on the future rather than the golden past, more likely to be crypto cultists than gold bugs…Indeed, the most prominent recession truther right now is none other than Elon Musk.

Krugman explains how we can know that these particular truthers are wrong. He points out that  America’s statistical agencies are highly professional– staffed and led by civil servants who care a lot about their reputations for integrity. As he says, we can be “pretty sure that if political appointees were cooking the books we’d be hearing about it from multiple whistle-blowers.”

Beyond that, while official data is still the best way to track the U.S. economy — no private organization can currently match the resources and expertise of the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Bureau of Economic Analysis — there are, in fact, many independent sources of evidence on the economic state of the nation. And they all more or less confirm what the official data says.

He proceeds to identify several.

What’s true of economic data is also true of crime statistics–despite the GOP’s Trumpian distaste for the DOJ and FBI, federal statistics on crime remain trustworthy.

The Internet has fostered the rise of an “alternate reality” that provides MAGA folks with “data” more to their liking. The Internet is a wonderful resource, but there is no denying that it has enabled what pundits delicately call “misinformation.” Promulgating that misinformation–i.e., baldfaced lying– is the primary strategy employed by today’s GOP.

And now, a rogue judge in Louisiana has just made it more difficult to address the problem. As NPR reported:

The government’s ability to fight disinformation online has suffered a legal setback that experts say will have a chilling effect on communications between federal agencies and social media companies.

A Tuesday ruling by a federal district judge in Louisiana could have far-reaching consequences for the government’s ability to work with Facebook and other social media giants to address false and misleading claims about COVID, vaccines, voting, and other issues that could undermine public health and erode confidence in election results.

District Court Judge Terry Doughty, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday that bars several federal departments and agencies from various interactions with social media companies.

The judge endorsed QAnon conspiracy theories and argued that conservative views are being censored. (Actually, critics insist that social media sites aren’t  doing enough to police disinformation and false claims.)  A complete explanation of the truly bizarre ruling–which has been appealed–is at the link.

Judge Doughty is one of the loony-tune, reliably rightwing judges put on the bench by Trump. He calls the federal government the “Ministry of Truth,” he’s blocked vaccine mandates for health care workers, and he overturned the ban on new leases for oil and gas drilling. 

As one pundit wrote, random district judges “decanted out of Federalist Society cloning tanks” are seizing control of giant chunks of federal policy, based on lawsuits filed by totally deranged activists.

No wonder people don’t know who or what to believe.


About Those Political Ads…..

There’s an article in this morning’s Star detailing suggestions for catching a liar. The focus was on business interviews, and the advice was for folks interviewing job applicants, but I wonder if the same tips might be useful when applied to the candidates applying for our votes.

According to the article, signs of dishonesty include

Showing an inappropriate level of politeness. Let’s say you respond to a question. Then you suddenly increase the level of niceness by injecting a compliment such as, “That’s a great tie, by the way.” The compliment is a signifier, because psychologists tell us  that the more we like someone, the more we’re inclined to believe him and to shy away from confrontations. The person is using politeness (aka “sucking up”) as a means of promoting his likeability.

Making “referral” statements. This is when a deceptive person responds to a question and refers to having answered the question previously. The idea here is to build credibility through repetition. (This probably doesn’t work when the previous answer was dramatically different than the one currently on offer. Yes Mitt, I’m looking at you…)

Using qualifiers. These indicators are “exclusion qualifiers” that let people “who want to withhold certain information to answer your question truthfully without releasing that information.” They’ll say things like “basically,” “for the most part,” “fundamentally,” “probably” and “most often.”

Another clue is use of “perception qualifiers” to enhance credibility: “frankly,” “to be perfectly honest” and “candidly.”

Going into attack mode. ‘Nuff said.

I don’t know how accurate any of these are, or how applicable to the political arena–but using these clues to analyze the bilge that passes for political argumentation these days might make those 30-second smears more bearable. And who knows–in any given race, one candidate might turn out to be a bigger liar than his opponent.

Politics and Pathology

There is a spectrum we all recognize in political debate: first is fact—verifiable, objective reality. Then there is spin—a partisan interpretation of that reality. And then there’s propaganda—flat out lying.

All politicians engage in spin that sometimes crosses the line into propaganda. The Romney campaign, however, seems constantly to operate in “propaganda” mode.

What are the differences?

Under “spin,” we might list things like Romney’s constant complaint that Obama hasn’t negotiated a “single trade agreement.” The President has revived agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama that had been stalled in Congress, but these aren’t technically new agreements. Romney promises to see the Keystone XL Pipeline built and implies that its construction would mean more oil for America, although pipeline owners have been clear that the oil is meant for Asian markets. Accusing the President of “apologizing for America” requires taking a lot of words out of context, but even this stretch probably falls within the typical political spin cycle.

Other pronouncements, however, are categorically, demonstrably untrue.

Perhaps the most egregious lie is that Obama has been a big spender—that under his administration, spending is “out of control.” Actually, as Rex Nutting reported in MarketWatch (a web site affiliated with that known liberal outfit The Wall Street Journal), you’d have to go back to the Eisenhower Administration to find a rate of federal spending growth lower than that of the Obama Administration. That conclusion holds even if you include the stimulus, which was passed by Bush but spent during Obama’s first year in office.

Romney repeatedly says the President “promised to bring unemployment below 8%,” but reporters have been unable to find a single instance of Obama making such a statement. He insists that repealing Obamacare will reduce the deficit, in the face of widely accepted Congressional Budget Office calculations demonstrating that repeal would vastly increase the deficit. Romney’s claims about job creation at Bain were so outsized he has had to walk them back.

There’s Romney’s widely criticized campaign ad featuring a recording of President Obama’s voice making a boneheaded remark about the economic meltdown—a recording conveniently “clipped” to remove the lead-in phrase: “Mr. McCain even said….” When confronted with this clear distortion, Romney admitted the President was quoting McCain, and laughed it off; worse,  he has continued to run the blatantly misleading spot.

More recently, Romney “quoted” The Escape Artist, a book about the Obama Administration, for assertions the book never made—the author has been making the rounds of political television rebutting Romney’s “quotes” (and happily suggesting that people buy the book to see for themselves).

There are plenty of other examples of persistent mendacity; so many, in fact, that there are a couple of websites cataloguing them. But the lies that mystify me are not those obviously motivated by political ambition and/or a calculation that a weakened media won’t notice. What mystifies me are the unforced, totally gratuitous lies.

Remember when Romney said he’d been a hunter in his youth? And then had to walk that assertion back when reporters could find no record of the permit he claimed to have held? Or his insistence that his father, George Romney (whom I greatly admired) had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King? His “memory” of that event was only corrected when photos surfaced placing the elder Romney somewhere else on the date of the supposed march.

Romney’s habitual, almost compulsive make-believe is provoking considerable comment. Time Magazine recently ran a pop-psychology article titled “The Root of Mitt Romney’s Comfort with Lying.”

Lying of this magnitude, I submit, is not political. It’s pathological.


THIS is what drives me crazy…

I’m linking to Political Animal for this discussion of David Vitter’s distortions of the pending cap and trade legislation, but not for the particulars of that legislative battle.

This sort of situation–where someone who opposes a proposal totally mischaracterizes it–has become endemic, and the media watchdogs who are supposed to tell us who’s lying aren’t doing so, for a variety of reasons.

I have a short fuse anyway–just ask my husband–and the routine use of outright lies and fabrications in policy debates is driving me up the proverbial wall!