Right after posting my last blog, my wife and I flew across the country to visit with our daughter and family for the first time in 18 months. Needless to say, I didn’t have much time to write blogs or read all the articles that came to me via the Internet. So, I compiled a file of interesting links on my computer. In reviewing this collection for the past almost four weeks, I found enough material for a year’s worth of blogs. One thing that stood out, however, was how good Republicans are at spinning the news.
It seems like ancient history now, but recall how the Tea Party and Republicans pounced all over President Obama’s “spending” and the huge federal deficits for fiscal year 2009 and several years thereafter. Even the so-called liberal media was critical to some extent. As a result, Obama’s stimulus package was smaller than it should have been for recovery from the Great Recession that President George W. Bush caused. Republicans even managed to convince many of their followers that Obama caused that crisis.
GOP attacks on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) after 2010 led tens of millions of Americans to believe it was government control of health care and that it authorized “death panels” that would determine who got health care and who died. Their campaign was ludicrous, of course, but quite effective.
House Republicans organized a select committee on Benghazi in 2014 and spent over two years investigating former secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role in the tragic 2012 attack that killed four Americans in Libya. Like the findings of numerous other congressional inquiries, they uncovered no malfeasance by Clinton. They did, however, discover something they could use against her, a previously unknown private server where her emails were stored. This became frontpage news almost every day during the presidential campaign in 2016 and Donald Trump – an expert in media matters – used it to great advantage. As a result, millions of voters came to believe Clinton was crooked and joined in chants to “Lock Her Up!” I believe this issue cost Hillary the election.
That brings me to 2020 and the Black Lives Matter protests after the horrendous murder of George Floyd. One of the most unfortunate phrases that was promoted during that summer was “defund the police.” No doubt, GOP officials began salivating the first time they saw it on numerous placards carried by the protestors. It’s short and catchy, easy to message in all types of ways, particularly on social media, with audio and video to support their claims. These three words are also subject to numerous interpretations and Republicans claimed their Democratic opponents wanted to eliminate police forces around the country. I’m confident that their attacks cost Democrats numerous seats in the House in 2020 and probably in the Senate too.
A related phrase that may appear in Republican messaging is “qualified immunity.” This 1967 Supreme Court established doctrine protects law enforcement officers and other public officials from civil liability unless they are determined to have violated what the court defines as an individual’s “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights.” Here, however, I would like to digress a bit.
My legal experience causes me to warn liberal Democrats who may want to completely eliminate this protection for law officers. It is difficult enough to get qualified individuals to take this tough job that typically doesn’t pay enough to justify the stress and the danger that it entails. I fear that good candidates won’t even consider police work for fear they might incur personal liability or that the expense of an insurance policy would be prohibitive. I would rather have their police department employers shoulder the financial liability in civil suits instead of individual officers.
The GOP spin machine, however, now has a much better boogeyman to scare people than qualified immunity – critical race theory (CRT). As I understand it, the study of CRT – mainly in college level social science classes and law schools – examines how institutions and laws have been structured over time to maintain white supremacy. It’s absolutely perfect for messaging because hardly any layperson understands what this esoteric, academic exercise is all about. Consequently, right-wing pundits and politicians can define it to their liking and then attack that definition.
According to Media Matters, Fox News has mentioned CRT nearly 1,300 times in the past several months and “has repeatedly amplified a lie that critical race theory teaches that one race is ‘inherently superior to another.’” Republicans are expecting this race baiting messaging to help them win back control of the House in 2022 and perhaps the Senate. It just might succeed.
Consequently, Democrats must never dismiss GOP campaign attacks or lies as being ridiculous or frivolous. Millions of voters believe the “Stop the Seal” rallying cry that motivated hundreds of Trump supporters to attack the Capitol on January 6.
President Biden and Vice President Harris will be traveling the nation this summer, promoting their critically needed infrastructure program and their American Families Plan. But we won’t hear Republicans trying to compete in 2022 or 2024 by touting GOP programs to create jobs, improve health care and uplift American workers. If anything, they’ll be promising more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.
To be sure, the GOP is long on messaging – but very short on policies to govern by.