The Consequences of Lying Republicans and Timid Journalists

At the Wonk Room, Igor Volsky has a good summation of the new Republican line that ACA will cost businesses millions of dollars in new taxes. It’s not techincally untrue, it really will force companies to write down hundreds of millions in tax deductions over the course of many years. That’s because it repeals a loophole created by the Medicare Part D law that allows companies to deduct the value of a federal subsidy from their taxes. Republicans aren’t telling you that part, of course, because who exactly would think that companies should get a subsidy from the federal government, and then be able to claim that money as a tax deduction? The GOP’s attacks against student loan reform, on the other hand, are very much dishonest. Far from being a Stalinist takeover of the student loan industry, the government is simply ending a policy of subsidizing private bank loans. This should be a marketistas dream come true; banks won’t issue a certain kind of loan without the government bearing the risk, but that considered, it’s much more efficient for the government to simply make the loan itself. So the government is now pursuing the more efficient strategy. It’s the free market at work! But in a contest between the market and business profits, Republicans are always going to side with business.

The problem with this dynamic is that once you get to the point of having to explain it, you’ve already lost. Republicans have easy to remember sound bytes, while Democrats are stuck explaining in more detail why this isn’t true. In an age of cable news and sound bytes, there’s just no way to win that argument if you can’t boil it down to a soundbyte. This is what makes “he said-she said” journalism so pernicious; not only does it not inform the reader, in cases like this it leaves them misinformed, because journalists aren’t clearly explaining that Republicans aren’t being honest. And if journalist aren’t explaining that, most people are going to assume they’re making a valid point. And then, faced with an argument where one side is screaming “government takeover/tax increases” and the other side is saying “well, not exactly, let me explain,” they’re going to think Republicans have a point. Without fear that journalists are going to expose your dishonesty, lying is a great political strategy. The problem is that democracy can’t work properly when its political actors make a point of lying all the time and the supposed referees don’t call them on it, anymore than a basketball game would function if one team tackled the other team as they shot the ball and the referees refused to call a foul.