Political Lies & Current Republican Logic

April 28, 2010 at 5:36 PM 1 comment

Written by Lewis D. Eigen

 Since the Obama Administration assumed office and coped with the economic meltdown, the President and his economic team have been working on legislation to eliminate the possibility that the American taxpayer will every again have to bail out a private company that was “too big to fail.”  No sooner did the President make the proposed legislation public than the Republican Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (KY) announced.  “the effort by President Obama and Democrats to reform the financial industry is actually a way to institute endless taxpayer funded bailouts for big Wall Street banks.[1]”  He claims that what the Treasury Department, the Council of Economic Advisors, the Federal Reserve, and such non partisan economic luminaries as Paul Volker have been working on for over a year, will do just the opposite of what the Administration’s purpose is in drafting the bill.  On the surface, McConnell’s statement appears absurd.  Many accuse him of just another deliberate political lie, about as absurd as the Republican “Death Panels” accusation in the Health Care Reform debate.  However, there is a logic to these Republican “lies”.  One that enables McConnell and many other Republican leaders to make these public announcements with a straight face.  One that allows their conscience and intellect to make these statements and not believe that they are lying to the public.  This article will explain and analyze this logic which may well be more dangerous for our Democracy than political lies.

These examples are not unique.  It seems as if since Barak Obama took office, Republicans have been constant with some kind of characterization of each major Democratic bill or proposal—a description that seems contrary to fact using the logic and rules of analysis that have been prevalent in Western style politics since Aristotle.   The Health Care Reform Debate had a plethora:  “This is a Government takeover of the nation’s entire health care system.”  “The Obama bill will cost the taxpayer a fortune and increase the deficit.”  “It will enable government paid for abortions.”  “The IRS will add 16,000 agents to enforce the mandate requiring all Americans to have health insurance.”  “The bill will place bureaucrats between patients and their doctors.”  “America has the best Health Care in the world which will be ruined by this bill.”  And these are just a few.  Each is a good sound bite but is easily demonstrably factually false, certainly not provable or logically in error and sometimes several.  Outside of the Health Care Reform and Financial Reorganization debates, we have others every few days or so.  Perhaps the most absurd is the claim that President Obama is not a legitimate President because he was not born in America.  This contrary-to-fact claim is so absurd and unsubstantiated that most Republican member of Congress will not themselves make the claim.  They leave it to lower party functionaries and Tea Party allies, but rarely go on record as stating that there is no evidence for such a statement.  Senator Richard Shelby (R, AL), when asked at a meeting of his constituents about what the Huffington Post[2] described as this “repeatedly debunked rumor”, said: 

“Well his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven’t seen any birth certificate. You have to be born in America to be President.”[3]

 These kinds of contrary-to-fact innuendo and statements did not begin with the Republicans attacking Obama programs.  They were present, though not so frequent, during the Clinton Administration.  They were in evicence during the Administrations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  And Theodore Roosevelt, “the traitor to his class,” came in for a great deal of this sort of attack.  Abraham Lincoln did as well.  Perhaps none was as extreme as the claim that was made during the Presidential campaign pitting incumbent President John Adams against Thomas Jefferson in 1800.  The claim at the time was that religion would be outlawed and crime would be so great that women would be raped in the streets.  The person making the claim was not some conservative nobody from the hinterlands, but the distinguished, arch conservative Federalist, Timothy Dwight, the President of Yale University.  He said in his election eve speech that if Jefferson was elected, 

“The Bible would be cast into a bonfire, our holy worship changed into a dance of [French] Jacobin frenzy, our wives and daughters dishonored, and our sons converted into the disciples of Voltaire and the dragoons of Marat.”[4]

This obviously contrary-to-fact argument tends to be made by the arch conservatives of the day when there is a President who argues for, and seems to have the capability of making, great change in our body politic.  In 1800, it was the Federalists who feared Thomas Jefferson.  In 1860, it was the Democrats who were the country’s conservatives, and the Republicans were the upstart radicals led by Abraham Lincoln.  In 1900, Republican Theodore Roosevelt was reforming much of the Government to the distress of his own Republican party whose leaders never intended him to be President.  He was often called a “traitor to his class”.

In the 1930’s, with the Great Depression upon us, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was assailed by the then isolationist, conservative wing of the Republican Party whose adherents were opposed to spending Federal money for almost anything—including and especially, defense.  American Army recruits were drilling with brooms instead of rifles until Roosevelt forced the issue with WWII almost upon us.

JFK was never a reformer, and was assassinated before he could become one.  He never had the problem.  LBJ, although he reformed a great deal, was able to muster bi-partisan support for Civil Rights, Voting Rights and the Vietnam War.  He avoided the Republican contrary-to-fact type attacks because the then Republican party leadership was generally very statesmanlike, bipartisan, and moderate.  It was the Southern Democrats who resorted to the contrary-to-fact tactic.  The Republicans, who then had gained control of the party, changed tactics and converted and embraced the racist block of Democrats, who became the backbone of the revanchist conservative wing of the current manifestation of the Republican Party and brought their contrary-to-fact tactics to the Republicans who have tolerated their use ever since and recently begun to adopt the approach as standard fare.

President Clinton was a great threat to the conservatives, perhaps more so than any other politician in modern times.  In addition to his propensity for co-opting and humanizing traditional conservative proposals like Welfare Reform, Clinton dealt a death blow to the most important principle of modern conservatism:  “Increasing taxes will ALWAYS reduce growth and impair the economy.”  By a single vote in the House, Clinton passed a budget with a very substantial tax increase—according to Republican opponents, the largest tax increase in American history. Then, with that budget, America proceeded to have the greatest economic growth in our history for Clinton’s 8 year term.  His tax increase not only did not harm the economy, but actually, combined with an overall economic strategy, created a national budget surplus for the first time in modern American history.  (George W. Bush, violating traditional conservative spending principles, promptly squandered the inherited surplus and led the nation back into huge debts.)  For extreme conservatives, Clinton when in office and his approaches had to be discredited.  The conservatives had Clinton’s womanizing as an issue, but JFK and other heroes engaged in the same peccadilloes.  The ultimate use of the contrary-to-fact tactic was reached when one of the major conservative groups produced a video, explaining how Clinton had his assistant, Vince Foster, murdered to keep him from talking about Clinton scandals.  Foster had, in reality suffered from acute depression, tragically committed suicide, and every police investigation so confirmed.  But in this class of attack, truth is not required and claims contrary-to-fact are frequent. 

With Obama’s election, serious conservatives were threatened as never before since the New Deal.  Obama did not just win an election.  He had built a movement.  The economy had tanked under Bush’s watch, and the memory of Herbert Hoover’s contribution to the Great Depression was a specter hanging over their heads.  The Democrats might rescue the economy and reform everything and like the New Deal, there would be profound change and the Democrats could control the government for 40 years.  In the face of that possibility, anathema to right wing conservatives, the contrary to fact attacks were made with a frequency and intensity that exceeded previous times.  One reason was that there was no substantial liberal wing of the Republican Party left. The liberal and moderate Republicans had always before moderated the most extreme actions of the conservatives.  So the unfortunate, but often effective technique, has become a standard conservative tool in the political arsenal.

The Contrary to Fact Logic

So let us consider the logic of these contrary-to -act accusations and attacks.  For the sake of this discussion, we will not deal with the fatuous murder charges and the Obama birthplace paranoia of the ultra extremists.  These are not only so extreme, but they are not really a serious political problem in that very few in the body politic take them seriously, and they have been debunked many times over.  Most important, in general they are not made by the vast majority of members of Congress—even most conservatives.  Instead we will focus on those statements that the mainstream Republican leaders make.  In particular we will explore why those who make these public statements are not embarrassed by them.  How do they rationalize it to themselves.  For example, Mitch McConnell, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R, TX), and Chuck Grassley (R, IA) are bright, educated, serious people who, like most politicians, will shade the truth and possibly even twist it a little, but when faced with a flat out statement contrary to fact, will normally, back off, apologize or explain that he/she had the wrong data or was misinformed.  In this sense these Republicans and their Democratic counterparts used to be very similar.  The fascinating thing, and the dangerous thing, is how politicians like these get into an attack mode where their usual standards of veracity do not hold.  They not only avoid moderating others, but do not even moderate their own rhetoric. 

Perhaps, the best example to start with is the infamous statements that Senator Grassley, a conservative normally respected for his intellectual integrity by most members of the Congress and much of the public, including liberals, made in the midst of the Health Care Reform debate.

He actually publicly attacked the proposed legislation because it would have “death panels”—government bureaucrats who would decide which sick Americans were worth trying to save and which were too far gone or to expensive to treat.  The elderly ill would be subjected to these death panels decisions of whether they were to be treated or allowed to die without treatment.  The proposed Democratic legislation “throws Granny under the bus,” he told his constituents at a meeting back in Iowa.  Now such an absurd accusation might typically come from Michelle Bachman (R, MN) of Robert Dornan (R, CA) who have a track record of making absurdly outlandish, irresponsible statements which are constantly demonstrated to be false.  Even their own Party members would not believe much of what they claimed.  But Grassley was at the opposite extreme.  He, unlike Dornan and Bachman, represented a mixed political constituency known for middle of the road, sound, judgment.  Iowa had in modern times elected both Republicans and Democrats to the governorship and the Senate offices.  The Iowa senators have generally been highly respected by colleagues and the press and public.  Grassley, until his outlandish statement, had never before publicly said something that was so contrary to fact and absurdly easy to debunk.  What must he have been thinking when he made the statement?

Now Grassley was not by any means the first Republican to make the “death panel” charge about the proposed legislation.  But he was the first nationally respected Republican to make the charge.  Many journalists and political observers, hearing him make the charge, rapidly consulted the legislative language.  Perhaps they had missed something in the over 2000 pages of legislative language.  Grassley was not one of the extremist “crazies” so far on the right wing of the party that they often were ignored by most people in politics.  He had made mistakes of course, like every other veteran politician, but had never before just fabricated nonsense for political purposes.

At this point we are forced to do a little speculation as after the Health Care Reform Bill became law, he has avoided talking about his earlier claims which proved to be so far from the truth.  Grassley in my view must have had some logic to justify his statement.  Others disagree and explain his crass lies as the result of the Tea Party and other extremists supporting an opponent against him in the Republican primary.  They see his absurd attack as his proving his right wing attack credentials to fend off a primary opponent attacking him from the right.  The reason I disagree is that he has never really done that sort of thing before.  He is a strong campaigner with a large war chest for the campaign.  My reading of him is that that he would rather lose the election than out and out lie for a political objective of defeating a particular bill.  Supporting this reading is the fact that he voted against his own party members in the Agriculture Committee voting with Obama and the Democrats to tightly regulate derivatives in the Finance Reform Bill.  This was the diametric opposite from the Republican Party leadership and the right wing of the party.  Surely, that exposed his right flank considerably.  Yet that was the way he voted.

So he must have bought some shred of logic that would enable him to make the statement.  It was I believe a consistent pattern of faulty logic so common in these attacks.

The draft 2000 pages of legislation did have one paragraph regarding end of life issues.  Specifically, it specifically allowed physicians to be paid for spending time with their patient discussing end of life issues.  One general problem with Medicare, that both parties seem to agree upon is that payment is currently made for procedures, not for discussion that might prevent disease or maintain a patient’s health.  A physician could be paid $20,000 for operating to try and surgically remove cancer tumors from a patients lungs, but could not be paid for a while $20 for spending the time to talk to the patient years before on the dangers of smoking and lung cancer.  It is a fact that a huge proportion of most Americans’ cost of medical care is expended in the last year of life.  Much of the treatment is useless but few physicians do not want to do everything possible to keep a patient alive even if the odds are very low.  There are many of us who do not want every possible technology for keeping our bodies alive if the cost is a great loss of dignity and poor quality of life.  Others want to try everything.  The problem is that few of us think this through when we are healthy and when the decisions must be made often we are not conscious or in a drugged state.  Relatives and loved ones often are at a loss to know what we would want as such subjects are rarely discussed on our culture.  However, more and more, Americans are, when they are not on their last legs, discussing such issues with their physicians and loved ones.  What are the likely options for a person with a serious case of diabetes or Parkinson’s disease.  Many of us with this guidance (and sometimes without it) prepare a set of legal “advance instructions” and name a trusted relative or friend as having their “medical power of attorney” if they are in extremis.  Some of us might instruct that everything be attempted to prolong our life or we might instruct that no “heroic measures” be used if there is no practical possibility for us to have a conscious and reasonable (for us) quality of life.  The proposed legislation allowed payment to ones physician for this kind of discussion once every 5 years.

Now there are some religious conservatives who are skittish about any discussions that might be abused and possibly become a de facto arrangement for a type of suicide.  So there is an antipathy to anything that would be short of doing everything to preserve life of any quality for as long as technologically possible.  Fair enough.  But their objection is to patients and doctors choosing certain options.  So we have two ingredients in this one paragraph:  death and conservative discomfiture.  Hardly enough ingredients to constitute “death panels.”  Now throughout the legislation there are many committees and commissions provided for.  This is very common in health care where many Americans do not want to entrust “faceless bureaucrats” with the power to set policies and make rules about our health care.  Nor do the “bureaucrats” generally want to be in that role.  The tough decisions generally involve one or both of two elements: 1) Expert knowledge and 2) Values.  The bureaucrat rarely has the first on a particular issue and knows, like the rest of us, that no individual can represent the body politics on a values decision.  So our society’s solution is to constitute panels of experts and/or diverse citizen representation and ask these panels to recommend or make the policies, rules and recommended practices.  The Health Care Reform legislation is very sensitive to this point and requires that these panels be established for many different decision making about health care in the nation.  It is a serious attempt to obtain scientific expertise and public values as the drivers of health policy and practice.  Now there is no specific panel required or even suggested by the legislation to deal with end of life issues.  But the Secretary of Health and Human Services is required under the law to establish many of these panels and commissions.  The conservative “logic” is that there was nothing specifically in the legislation that would prohibit the establishment of a commission or panel to discuss and recommend practices regarding end of life issues or of an existing panel from considering these issues.  And this is true.  There is nothing that prohibits that or millions of other discussions ranging from the proper dress of physicians to the kinds of investments that health care providers be allowed to make.  We can think of all kinds of things, desirable and undesirable, that are not prohibited to the panels.  So the conspiracy theorist reasons that there is the loophole that the forces of evil (socialists, secular humanists, homosexuals, abortionists, etc.) could use to establish a panel to push their agenda.  Then the paranoid loop is closed. “There is no way that we can cover all these additional people without it costing the taxpayer much more money despite what the Congressional Budget Office, the health economists, and the Democrats say.  They will find a huge increase in costs which they will have to reduce.  And so much of the nation’s medical bill is spent in the last year of life, they will have to reduce end of life health services in order to reduce costs.  So if Health Care Reform is passed, there will be a strong motive to reduce costs of the last year of like.  And the right to establish panels will be the means.  And then they have the opportunity to take the recommendations of the panels to refuse to pay for many end of life medical procedures thereby choosing who will end up living and who will be dying.  The Democrats will have the means the motive, and the opportunity—the three necessary ingredients for a serious crime. These panels will be de facto death panels.  Therefore we most warn the public about the proposed legislation and the death panels that will inevitably ensue.

The logic is fascinating.  Given the situation as they see it, they first establish that a death panel might be possible, then because of the suspicion that proponents are lying or are deluded about the costs, the death panels become likely.  Given that the “liberals” do not have moral compunctions about assisted suicide and there will be no restraint, the death panels become inevitable in their minds.  And that leaves politicians like Grassley to think that while there is no way of knowing whether it is just possible or likely or inevitable, it is certainly a problem which the public should be warned about in order to generate more opposition to the proposed legislation.  Grassley had some authentic, legitimate, and intellectually honest objections to the proposed legislation.  Issues of bigness—that health care should even be national policy as opposed to state, local or even personal policy.  That perhaps we should not put all of our health eggs into any single basket.  But these are complex intellectual issues and much of the Republican constituency is suspicious of intellectuality and intellectuals.  The Republican leadership had decided that they would not make that intellectual argument and instead went for a serious of simple attacks many of which were twisted or created contrary to fact.  The death panels were the most egregious of examples.  When pressed, a death panel accuser, could say that it might happen and that just illustrates what is wrong with the proposed legislation.  So a single paragraph out of 2000 pages forms the base of the recipe.  Add in the imaginative selection of something bad that is not specifically prohibited.  Mix well and sprinkle in paranoid suspicion of the motives of the supporters. Garnish with the possibility that the cost estimates are falsified and therefore the administrators of the legislation will have a reason, and finally serve to the public the opposition to the legislation because of the death panels that are in the legislation.  Taken from another point of view, the death panel accuser can say, “Can you in good conscience, tell the public that if this legislations passes, it is impossible that there will ever be a death panel formed?”  And the logical answer the hapless proponent who is intellectually honest will have to give, is that such a paranoid possibility is none the less a logical possibility.  It might happen.  But has my colleague Dave Rowden has put it, “the paranoid only has to be right once to make it all worth while.”  Of course, what the death panel accusers never say, that it is equally possible that if the legislation does not pass, there might be death panels put into place with the current system and legislation.  The worst logical fallacy is that the paranoid possibility is no more or less likely whether the opposed legislation passes or not. 

Viagra

Here is an example that would be funny if it were not so serious.  When the Senate was debating the various fixes to the Senate version of the Health Reform Bill there was a package of changes that the administration and the Senate leadership had committed to the House in exchange for the House voting for the original Senate bill.  Even after the Health Care Reform legislation was certain to pass the Republicans kept trying to delay and if possible derail the bill.  The package had to be passed exactly as it was, with no changes of any kind.  The Democrats had the clear majority of supporters.  Led by Senator Tom Coburn (R, OK) the Republicans proposed an amendment prohibiting the provision of Viagra to sex offenders with public money.  Coburn was aware of course that there was no one in Congress who favored providing Viagra to sex offenders.  However, if any Amendment were added, the entire process would have to begin again and might take months to go through both houses if the Republicans were trying to stall every step which they tactically admitted to doing.  So the Democrats voted against all amendments at that time.  The vote against Coburn’s amendment was on strict party lines 57-42. 

Republicans then began issuing statements castigating the Democrats—not for voting for the Health Reform Bill which conservatives thought ill-advised, but for aiding and abetting sex offenders in their perversions.  The publication Human Events, a leading conservative organ since 1944, said:

 “Senate Democrats also voted 57-42 in favor of providing Viagra to sex offenders.”[5]

 Other Republicans (not Tom Coburn, who is one of the most intelligent and educated members of the Senate) echoed the charge.  They were claiming that the Democrats favored giving Viagra to the sex offenders so that they might be able to manage their perversions longer—perhaps one of those “erections that last 4 hours or more[6]” that the drug manufacturer “warns” men about, which in reality is a major selling point.

 Let us look at the logic which allowed Coburn and other Republicans to make that claim.  There was certainly no Democrats who advocated Viagra for sex offenders.  Democrats pointed out the following: 

  • There was nothing in the bill that authorized or implied that Viagra be given at Government expense to sex offenders.
  • Physicians who prescribed Viagra for sex offenders would be breaking the ethical standards of the Medical profession in every state and if caught would lose their license.
  • In almost every state the physician would also be guilty of a felony (aiding and abetting a sex crime) and risk going to jail.
  • The Republicans who voted unanimously for the amendment had no trouble voting for the Bush Administration Medicare Prescription Law which had no such provision yet under that bill an elderly sex pervert with erectile dysfunction could get his Viagra so he can perpetrate his crimes.
  • Existing Medicaid laws had no such provision.
  • There has never yet been a single known case of a sex offender acquiring Viagra or any other erection producing drug.
  • The Republican effort to make a public debate over this issue might give sex offenders ideas.
  • If the Republicans really thought that such a law was necessary—that there might be a loophole, as soon as Health Care Reform passed, they could file a NEW bill the solely deal with sex offenders and close the loophole and no one would oppose it.

No republican filed such a bill of course.  The intention was just to throw a monkey wrench into the process of passing Health Reform. As such it was an excellent tactic—forcing the opposition to live with something uncomfortable or make a vote that makes them uncomfortable.  The tactic, absurd as it seemed, was within the bounds of tough partisan politics.  It was the statement that strongly implied that the Democrats favor using Federal money and facilities to give Viagra to sex offenders which was repeated over and over that was the offense.

Here in part is the logic of the Republican accusers: 

Although the event (a sex offender having Viagra prescribed) is unlikely and has never known to have occurred, it MIGHT OCCUR in the future.  Then the Medical Association and State law enforcement mechanism would be depended upon to be sure that existing law would be enforced.  The Health Reform Bill is so long and complex, that there might well be doubts in the minds of physicians and law enforcement as to whether the new law takes precedence.  And if there is a loophole, the bad guys will take advantage of it.  A clever defense lawyer may argue that the absence of a statement in the Federal law that takes over all of medical care, there is no crime.  Congress had debated it and specifically voted to NOT make it a crime.  Therefore, we should eliminate any ambiguity that might be in existence and make the law clear.  Further, if it is a Federal Crime, the FBI can take a major part or the lead in investigations. Sexual predators are major problems in our society.  The Democrats do not appear to care about the problem.  If they really cared, they could caucus their House and Senate members and agree to add this amendment to both houses, pass the bills , with the amendments and make a clear legal and moral statement on a potentially critical problem.  The Democrats choose not to deal with this critical problem and instead were more interested in passing their flawed legislation today, rather than wait a few days and do it right.  It was the Democrats who were willing to sacrifice the victims of the sexual predators to risk rather than delay their legislation a few days.  Therefore they honestly deserve public opprobrium.  Further, they have always been soft on crime, and they are acting right in character.  Our statement is justified.

Looked at from this point of view, the accusation statement is in large part defensible.  Let’s however look at the logical flaws in the argument.  First, this is a classic case of the “straw man.”  The technique is that if you can’t argue against the main issue, you create something that you can argue against.  You create a straw man and then knock him down.

Second, here is a case where the Republicans define the criteria primarily to suit another goal—blocking the Health Reform legislation.  Not caring about sex offenders and Viagra was defined by the Republicans as not voting for this particular amendment, at that particular time, and tied to that specific legislation.  Perhaps the best way to legislatively cover this unlikely happening is to handle it directly and amend the U.S. Criminal Code to include providing Viagra or other similar drugs to sex offenders as a felony and define a penalty for it.  Even the Republican Amendment did not specify penalties and depends on exiting state and federal law.

Third, is the conflating of tactical choices with favorability of the idea.  It might be argued that it would be better to deal with this sex offender problem through the Food and Drug Administration.  That way, as new drugs are developed, they can be included rapidly as Congress must move at a slow, deliberate pace.

The last and perhaps worst logical fallacy which is key to the intellectual justification of many of the political counter-factual claims, is in how we mentally deal with improbable events.  In this case, the attackers take a bill of over 2000 pages that deals with events that occur tens of millions of times each day (people receiving health care), and make a set of moral and ethical judgments on one single element.  And for this particular attack, they choose an event of which there is no record of having ever occurred.  They extrapolate to the unlikely possibility of the sex offender and Viagra.  It assumes that there is a sex pervert out there who for some physiological reason has erectile dysfunction which is preventing him from his regular predations.  It is a hypothetical situation for something that is very highly improbable. If such an unlikely event might come to pass, then the lack of an amendment as a result of Democrats blocking it, would be morally reprehensible and the fault of the Democrats.  Therefore, it is not unethical or improper to make the accusation.  It MIGHT come to pass.  Lack of preparedness can be a moral and ethical failing and certainly might be a political one.  It is the highly improbable event that corrupts the whole logical structure of the attack.

There is an interesting way to prove the above point.  Consider the Health Care Reform Bill. There is a remote possibility that a 23 year old woman is about to defraud her employer by forging a signature on a blank check she had improperly acquired at the office.  The potential forger had been practicing copying the boss’s signature, but before she could perpetrate the deed, her hand was stuck by a thorn from a dozen roses a friend had sent to her.  There is an unusual fungus that spreads by a rose thorn stick, and her writing hand had swelled enormously.  Our potential forger had not been previously covered by health insurance, but with the Health Care Reform law now passed she was covered by her parent’s insurance.  She then went to her parent’s family physician who gave her a large dose of antibiotic.  Soon the swelling went down enough for her to write, and she completed her forgery.  The Democratic Health Care Reform Law had made it possible for a criminal to defraud her employee.  With a fertile imagination, most of us can create many scenarios like this.  An amendment might have been introduced for any or all of them.  If legislators tried to incorporate every possible, improbable scenario which anyone could ever think up, every bill would be many thousands of pages long.  We should legislate housing codes that are hurricane resistant in Florida and Texas, but the hurricane is too improbable in Montana to justify adding to the housing codes there.  One might fault the Florida and Texas legislators for not doing so, but certainly not their Montana counterparts.  The difference lies in the extremely low probability of a hurricane ever reaching Montana.  The final proof is that as soon as the issue was decided, and the Health Care Reform Bill was passed, there was no further worry about Viagra to sex perverts, nor were there any other possible improbable situations posed for more legislation to “improve” the Health Care Reform Bill.

The Baby Killer

“Baby Killer!”  That was the epithet hurled by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R, TX) in the midst of the debate on Health Care Reform.  It seemed to be directed to the speaker at the moment, Rep. Bart Stupak (D, MI) who had opposed the bill on the grounds that the restrictions against abortions were not strong enough.  Neugebauer later claimed that it was not directed at Stupak personally but at the Bill.  But even if his disclaimer is taken seriously, he was accusing all supporters of the bill of being “Baby Killers” and not just Stupak who had supported the bill after he had some assurances from the White House. 

Almost everyone knew about the “Baby Killer” remark but what was the logic by which Neugebauer and other republicans had come to the conclusion that the Health Reform billed allowed Government paid for abortion.  Even the Republicans who had given Pinocchio such a challenge had to have some basis, however minute, for their assertions.  In this case, the bill specifically had the same language that had been the “compromise” for the last decade or so—the so called “Hyde” language.  It was crystal clear that no Federal Funds could be used for abortions.  However, there was a fanciful scenario that some health reform opponents came up with that they claimed was a “loophole”. It is so esoteric that it would take dozens of pages to explain it, but what was involved was that some Federal health delivery programs like the Community Health Centers, which were established and paid for under different legislation might not be bound by the limits in the Health Reform bill regarding how the money is to be used.  So they feared that the Community Health Centers might treat a woman being paid by the government subsidized insurance under Health Reform but then using their other funds with which to do abortions.

Bart Stupak, a Democrat, when he first ran for Congress 18 years ago made universal health as a right of citizenship the centerpiece of his campaign.  He was however also strongly morally opposed to abortion.  When he, and a few other Democrats, heard about the possible loophole, he proposed some different language which would make the unlikely possible loophole illegal.  The problem was that the House had to pass the exact bill that the Senate had passed but the Stupak language would not be in the law.  He and a few others balked and the Democrats without them did not have a majority of the House to pass the Senate Bill.  President Obama came up with a solution.  He would issue an Executive Order prohibiting Community Health Centers and other Federal entities from attempting to circumvent the prohibition on Federal money for abortion on any technicalities that might be thought of.  Stupak, a strong supporter of health care as a right of all Americans, was then satisfied that there would be no abortions funded with Federal money.  He and his group of anti abortion Democrats voted for the legislation and Health Care Reform passed.

So by what stretch of Republican imagination could Stupak and others who now voted for Health Care Reform be referred to as “baby killers?”  There are two incredible perversions of logic that create justifications for the statement.  The more absurd of the two goes like this:

Obama and his supporters are strongly pro choice.  The President has indeed argued for a woman’s right to control her own body ever since he entered politics.  Obama is also very charismatic and has created a movement, especially amongst the young and that movement is in favor of the right of abortion.  Obama had staked his Presidency on Health Care Reform.  Republican Senator De Mint publicly said what many Republicans were saying privately.  Health Care Reform could be Obama’s Waterloo.  Defeat could stop the Obama movement and produce a single term president.  But if Health Care Reform could pass, Obama would be considered a hero and his movement would gain momentum that would lead to a second term.  And there is no question that Obama and his appointees would then be working to eliminate prohibitions on abortion that had been instituted by the George W. Bush Administration.  Obama and his allies would not publicly condemn women who had abortions they would (and already had) asked for and gotten severe sentences for a radical abortion opponent who had “executed” a prominent abortion physician.  They might be strong enough to repeal the Hyde amendment.  If Obama served two terms, he would appoint more pro-abortion Supreme Court Justices and there could be no doubt that there would be more abortions in America if Obama won a second term.  Abortions are clearly the killing of babies.  Therefore Stupak and the others who voted for Health Care Reform would probably enable a second Obama term and many more abortions.  Therefore, they who had the power to derail Health Care Reform and Obama and did not use it to do so, will produce more abortions in America and indeed they will be “Baby Killers.”

The other “logic” is this:  An Executive Order of the President can be withdrawn by the President who issued it or any subsequent President.  Since Obama is a proponent of a woman’s right to abortion and his political base is strongly pro choice, he can change his mind or be pressured by his base to rescind his restrictions, and the abortion loopholes would be opened again.  Since he can rescind, he probably will. Anyone who is a supporter of murder of innocent children cannot be trusted to keep his word to Stupak and others.  So Stupak’s action will kill more babies.

The logic is bizarre of course but it exists in the mind of Neugebauer and some other conservative Republicans.  The original sp called “loophole” was so narrow to begin with, it is doubtful that any Federal Agency would have tried to stretch things.  With the Executive Order, President Obama was not retreating on his abortion position as in his mind there was not rational possibility that any Federal Agency or Health Center would try to use such a loophole which most attorneys felt never existed to begin with.  This was all in Shakespeare’s words, “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Tea Bag Logic

The Tea (Party of Bag) conservatives and the right wing anti-tax people had a Tax Day protest rally in Washington DC on the filing date for income tax—April 16, 2010.  At the start a minster was called upon for a prayer.  The clergyman who mounted the rostrum went on a 5 minute diatribe against all forms of taxation and Federal expenditure other than for defending our borders was against the laws of God.  “In the name of Jesus Christ” he called for blessings upon the movement to abolish the income and other taxes, as if somewhere in the Gospels, Jesus railed against the income tax and the inheritance tax.  However, the logic he exemplified, while extreme in defective form, is common in American politics today.  He told the small crowd,

“A Civil Magistrate must serve as God’s minister.  If he does not, he is serving as Satan’s Minister.”

Logically, this is much more than “if you are not with us, you are against us.”  The logic is much more extreme.  It is: “Our way is God’s way and the way of morality and righteousness.  If you do not support us, you are not only against us, but you are against morality and therefore for evil.”  The argument rapidly turns a technical and economic issue of which forms of taxation are best into one of fundamental good and evil in the world as a part of the titanic struggle for control of the world by the forces of Good or the forces of Evil.

There are two logical fallacies.  One error is in the assumption that there are only two possibilities when indeed there is a large variety.  In this case, the assumption is that a politician is a minister of God or if not, the only other possibility is that the politician is a minister of Satan.  That is like saying that if a politician is not a Democrat, he/she must be a Republican.  In reality the non-Democrat might be an independent or might belong to another of the political parties in America ranging from the Libertarians to the Tea Party or the Communist Party.  The civil magistrate may not in fact be God’s minister.  This assumption was the basis of the “Divine Right of Kings”, a principle that is rarely followed today and certainly not in any democracies.The second error is the ASSUPTION of what side God is on.  There are many who doubt that God is on any side in a political dispute.  Some even doubt that there is a God.  Orthodox Jews who are believers have a many thousand year old concept that God gave man free will and the Law (First 5 books of the Old Testament which Jews call the Torah.)  It is up to man to work out the details.  God chooses to be concerned with greater things than whether or not the prohibition against work (for man and animals) on the Sabbath which in earlier times applied to travel by horse or camel should apply to modern automobiles where there is no animal doing work. Or should it apply to whether a scientist’s computer can calculate on the Sabbath while the scientist is obeying God’s commandment to rest.  Most religious Americans (as well as citizens of other industrialized democracies), do not believe that God has preferences as to what kind of taxes man ought to use in his governmental structures.  The Tea Party minister, in contrast, seemed to know that Jesus would certainly be in favor of a flat tax but not an inheritance tax.  A value added tax, but not an income tax.  He surely has remargable powers to know this.  The Gospels do not record Christ ever expressing himself on these finer points of taxation, but some people clearly believe that they can accurately extrapolate from the New Testament what Jesus would have opined on the subtle taxation issue.

Summary

Many observers of the recent Conservative Republican contrary to fact attacks are discouraged at the depths of irrationality to which much of our public political discourse has descended.  However, this is not a trend that is likely to continue at the extreme rate of current political discourse.  The reason is that each time, the attack is made two things happen and only one is intended by the attacker—specifically the visceral opposition to the politician and/or the legislation or policies being attacked.  The other comes later however when many Americans realize that the claim is simply not true.  After Health Care Reform passed, there were no more Republican politicians who were claiming that the legislation created Death Panels.  Most of the press have discovered that there never were any Death Panels.  And do did millions of Americans, many of whom were originally worried when the heard the accusation.  The technique works in the short run but erodes the credibility (and the rationality) of the attacker in the long run.  Few Americans will take Representative Neugebauer’s future claims very seriously, and though he may have enough support to get re-elected in a conservative district, he has far less influence than he had before.  He will tend to be seen as a cliché as Congressman Dornan is—almost an actor playing a rabid, conservative politician who was sent over by Central Casting.  For rational political discourse, this is in the long run a good thing.  Where a high price is paid however is with Senators Grassley, McConnell and others who have much to contribute to our political discourse.  They may retain their seats and retain the loyalty of their bases, but their influence and credibility with the political center and even the left is vastly diminished.  America needs a two party system and a vibrant opposition to help the nation evolve its political destiny.  And strong conservatives who have a high level of intellectual integrity are just as necessary as liberals.  Alan Simpson, Bob Dole, Pete Peterson and other conservative leaders of the past, must have contemporary analogs.  Lindsay Graham, Martha Collins, Pat Roberts, Olympia Snowe tend to not engage in the contrary to fact attacks.  But they do not lead and influence their conservative colleagues to refrain from these unfortunate attack methods.  Such important conservative figures as Orin Hatch and Kay Baily Hutchinson have recently begun, presumably to maintain party unity as a minority party, to echo the contrary to fact attacks, generally not be making the absurd arguments themselves but by echoing the political code words for the attacks.  The Republicans are far superior to the Democrats at creating and then all using the same code words for any issue.  Some of these code words represent valid political positions; but others are just code for the contrary to fact attacks and hopefully will be avoided by many, if not most, Republican leaders.  However, perhaps the largest problem is with the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, who has become so brazen at this tactic, that he rivals from a tactical sense Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist.  It terms of what he advocates, McConnell has of course no relationship to the Nazis, morally or politically but some of his tactics are reminiscent of the Big Lie technique of the Hitler rise to power.  At least McConnell’s objectives are well within American Democratic tradition.  However his most recent contrary to fact argument came regarding the Reform of the Financial Industry that was so responsible (not uniquely however) for the world wide melt down.  The Obama administration working with Senator Dodd (Democrat, CT) fashioned a reform bill with extensive contribution from Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.  One of the cornerstones of the bill was to eliminate the possibility of large financial firms every being bailed out again.  There was provision for the Government being able to shut down a failing or undercapitalized bank or other financial institution not unlike the Government has been doing for small banks for years.  The shareholders would be wiped out, the managers would all lose their jobs, but the public depositors would be protected.  Senator Corker even wanted to add a “claw-back” provision where executives would have to pay back large salaries and bonuses that they had received for 5 years before the dissolution of the bank.  Some administration of the future might still bail out a firm for reasons of national security or other extreme reasons, but the proposed legislation would end future bailouts unless the government decided to make an exception.  The proposed bill had a $50 billion fund that would have to be paid for by the large banks and financial companies so that the government cost of even administering the protection program would not be borne by the taxpayers.  President Obama had argued that the cost of a government system to protect against bailouts should be paid by the companies who had been in large part responsible for the crisis of the past and which were so large that they might be a problem again.  Wall Street, of course, was against such a “tax” or “fee” as they saw, it and they were also opposed to severe restrictions on derivatives and a few other aspects of the bill.  They set their lobbyists to work and some Republicans including Minority Leader McConnell took on their case and wanted to get some provisions of the bill changed.  There were some legitimate arguments about inhibiting growth, putting American financial institutions at a disadvantage in the global financial system and the like.  However, over two-thirds of the American Public supported the reform idea.  McConnell needed to delay the passage so he could round up support, and pressure the majority for the changes they wanted.  He needed a single major flaw in this bill to prevent the bailouts that were so hated by the public.  So he came up with an argument that would give many people pause:  The proposed bill would ENCOURAGE bailouts.  In the short term, the tactic worked.  People wanted to prevent bailouts, not encourage them.  It was like the death panels all over again.  The main purpose of the bill was to eliminate bailouts.  Hearings had been held for over a year.  The best experts in America had testified, members of both houses had been drafting and reviewing the bill language for many months with not only the Treasury Department, the SEC, the Commerce Department, the Council of Economic Advisors, the White House, but had even reviewed it with our major economic global trading partners.  No one had ever even suggested that the bill would lead to more bailouts.  McConnell and his supporters made the argument as soon as the Senate Banking Committee voted to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

President Obama did something very unusual as a result of the big lie.  He called McConnel out.  In his speech to the financial industry in New York, he called the claim that it would encourage bailouts “incorrect” and “simply untrue.”  But much of the damage had been done.  McConnell had his issue which the Republicans would follow up with one of their dozens of delaying filibusters.

“How does McConnell have the stones to state something that is not only untrue but completely the diametric opposite of what is true?” one political economist asked.  And as is the case with these contrary to fact claims, there is indeed a logic albeit a somewhat perverted logic.  Here it is:

If there is a fund of $50 billion (or any amount for that matter) to be used to administer a large bank failure, the executives of the bank will engage in even more risky behavior, because they will not be inhibited by the fact that if they gamble wrong, the country will face a national emergency.  Therefore, a bill that assures all that there is the means, method and resource to ameliorate an irresponsible bank gambling strategy, actually encourages banks to take more wild risks.  Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, analyzed McConnell’s logic and made a wonderful analogy:

 Fire Departments increase the risk of having fires.  Because, there is a fire department to limit the damage in the event of a fire, people will not be as careful about fire safety or spend money to prevent fires, and therefore having fire departments will cause more fires.

 The American public may or may not become inured to the contrary to fact claims of politicians and particular politicians like McConnell will pay a political price.  But as H.L. Mencken used to say the great mass of American voters will believe almost anything a politician tells them as long as the politician is firm and unwavering.  We are not used to respectable people out-and-out lying—shading the truth a little, perhaps.  But not standing truth on its head.  So many Americans don’t believe that leaders would do such a thing.  And the politician who can pull that off, generally has to persuade himself, albeit by some twisted logic, that he or she is not totally fabricating the statement.  The logic becomes more and more bizarre with each new lie.


[1] Statement, Washington DC, April 13, 2010

[2] The Huffington Post, February 23, 2009

[3] Quoted in The Cullman Times, February 23, 2009

[4] Timothy Dwight, Election Eve Speech, Yale University, 1800.  Quotation #18125, Eigen’s Political & Historical Quotations, www.politicalquotes.org

[5] “Obamacare Not For President or Congressional Leaders”, Human Events, March 25, 2010

[6] This is one of the “side effects” that the Viagra TV commercials “warn” about, which of course becomes a strong selling point for many men including those with no erectile dysfunction problem but believe they would like to have erections that last for even an hour or more.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. logicman  |  November 1, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    Fascinating, but there are several glaring typos that detract from the logic presented here — PLEASE fix them (eg “A physician could be paid $20,000 for operating to try and surgically remove cancer tumors from a patients lungs, but could not be paid for a while $20 for spending the time to talk to the patient years before on the dangers of smoking and lung cancer. ” — I know what you mean, but the grammar is rather tortured! How about … could not be paid $20 for spending time … ) etc. There are other mis-spellings and typos too!.

    Impressive, some historical citations (perhaps on a separate page to not interfere with the flow of this piece?) would go a long way toward making my ‘confidence level’ rise so I would cite this more freely!

    Overall, however, this is a WONDERFUL debunking of some curiously persistent lies! Nice job.

    Reply

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