REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION…. Republican leaders, taking their cues from a pollster’s strategy memo, began trying to characterize the Wall Street reform as a “bailout” bill. It’s obvious the argument was a lie. It was equally obvious the GOP didn’t care.
As I noted the day after Mitch McConnell started pushing it, the lie doesn’t have to make sense; it doesn’t have to withstand scrutiny; it doesn’t even have to be persuasive. It just has to be repeated enough to muddle the debate.
With that in mind, consider the remarks made this morning by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference. See if you can pick up on the theme.
“The American people are tired of runaway federal spending, borrowing and bailouts. The legislation being considered by the Senate, which passed the House, is nothing but a permanent bailout and House Republicans are determined to oppose it. Last week, some Democrats said there wasn’t a permanent bailout in this bill. Other Democrats, by the end of the week, said there was a permanent bailout fund in the bill. This may be one of those instances where the left hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.
“The truth is, the American people are not deceived here. They see that what’s being passed under the cloak of financial services reform is nothing more than making permanent the Wall Street bailouts that passed, a year and a half ago, in the form of the TARP. House Republicans are determined to bring about financial services reform that begins with ending the era of bailouts.”
The transparency of the lie is arguably the most galling aspect. Pence, like McConnell, is lying. But what’s almost impressive about it is the shamelessness — everyone, including Pence, already knows the claim is demonstrably wrong, but he’s decided this is no time for pesky details like facts. There’s an argument to win. Pence is no doubt aware that fact-check pieces will expose his argument as ridiculous, but he’s willing to take that risk. His base won’t mind, and the media probably won’t call him on it anyway.
Before Republicans had even seen the bill, Luntz picked the lie, and urged GOP officials to repeat it, even if it didn’t make any sense. Mike Pence is making clear that Republicans found this advice compelling.
What’s more, Matt Yglesias thinks it’s a strategy that will likely prove to be effective.
The overwhelming evidence is that the media gets bored with these fact checks very quickly and that if you just put your head down and charge forward, you come out a couple of weeks later back into “he said, she said” territory. The only real test for whether or not lying works is whether or not you can bring your ideological fellow-travelers along. Will Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck echo your line? Will the Weekly Standard and National Review? Will the bulk of your legislative caucus? The answers are yes, yes, and yes.
Which, in a nutshell, is why our political discourse can be so mind-numbing — Republicans believe they have an incentive to lie with impunity.