We know “a lie travels halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” Most people attribute the quote to Mark Twain, even though it’s not true. We like the quote because it indicates truth is in motion; trailing the lie but revving to catch up.
A better quote for our political times may be the variously attributed, “A lie told often enough will be believed.” You’d think with an approval rating of around 13 percent, members of Congress would lose the inclination to lie or smear. But that would only happen if they cared about the reputation of the institution or faced disapproval from the audiences they’re targeting. So mud continues to be a successful weapon, whether it’s concealing fact or a personal attack.
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell is battling a tea-party insurgency in his reelection by buffing his reputation as President Obama’s top elected opponent. The Senate Republican leader was recently called on his lies about the Affordable Care Act as part of his constant efforts to trash the law and the president. Worse, but hardly unprecedented, McConnell seemed to know the truth but chose to ignore it.
Same with Darrell Issa on Benghazi. The California congressman has become a cartoonish hero on the right for using his House Oversight chairmanship as a club against the administration. He’s also been caught in multiple lies and misstatements on the deaths of four Americans in Libya in his effort to smear former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
So what? Issa’s whoppers mark him as a hack. Does it matter? It does to the extent that they take shape as a false public narrative. We know there was no political manipulation of intelligence in the Benghazi matter – a bipartisan panel confirmed the accounts of all involved – but the episode has had a noticeable negative effect on the perception of Clinton and there is clearly an effort on the right to ignore the evidence and deepen the anti-Clinton narrative with tactics like this almost-comical FOX News “poll”.
More immediate in terms of electoral politics is the effort of Sen. Harry Reid to smear the Koch brothers as un-American. Proving that disdain for the reputation of Congress is bipartisan at the top, Reid is playing the same game as McConnell and Issa. For starters, they are political principals with constant access to mainstream media. And character attacks inside the Capitol make news instantly anyway. But underneath the national headlines, there are local campaigns across the country that might gain advantage by Reid’s below-the-belt jab the same way Issa’s antics work for the Tea Party.
The Koch’s have worked locally for years on issues that could benefit from some national media juice. In North Carolina, where the Koch’s have spent millions already to defeat Sen. Kay Hagan in one of the most prominent races in the nation, they have been spending money for years at every level of state politics and policymaking.
In Tennessee, the Koch’s helped defeat a mass transit measure in Nashville. In Georgia, they put their money to fighting solar energy projects. In Florida, the Koch’s used money to influence academic programs at Florida State University.
Nothing is more American than throwing your money around to get your way. Maybe the Reid smear will help some folks gain some leverage on the Koch’s. That’s very American as well.
And maybe that’s the plan. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning, New York Sen. Charles Schumer declined to criticize Reid and played wink-wink with host Joe Scarborough, indicating that Reid’s statements the Senate floor are just business as usual, this cycle’s best chance to jack up fundraising: “In April, 48 percent of the people know who the Koch’s are and 98 percent will in October…I think the Koch brother thing will work.”