Writing for the website of the UK Guardian newspaper, Robert Reich, who served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, recently took up the rhetorical cudgels on behalf of H.R. 1, known to its supporters as the For the People Act.
To its Republican detractors, H.R. 1 is a blatant attempt to remove long-established, state-enacted safeguards against election fraud. To Mr. Reich, now a professor at Berkeley, such safeguards are not only unnecessary—since it is axiomatic among Democrats that election fraud is a “myth” or a “lie”—but they amount to “voter suppression” aimed at “people of color.”
This new laxity about election security, according to Mr. Reich, amounts to the most momentous American civil rights legislation “since LBJ’s landmark civil rights and voting rights acts of 1964 and 1965.”
The Republican effort to defeat H.R. 1 would therefore be, if successful, “the biggest setback” to civil and voting rights “since the end of Reconstruction and start of Jim Crow in the 1870s.”
Well, it’s a point of view. He’s entitled to his opinion.
But here’s how the Guardian headline writer re-phrases that opinion in a sub-head: “Republicans want to go back to Jim Crow.”
Does Mr. Reich really believe that? Does even the headline writer really believe that? I don’t think so. I prefer to believe that neither is delusional. They’re simply lying.
But the lie is so obvious, the context so openly (though not avowedly) partisan, that it doesn’t count as a lie. Not really. Not to partisan Democrats’ way of thinking anyway.
You might compare it to Vice President Joe Biden’s telling what was described at the time as “a predominantly black audience” back in 2012 that Mitt Romney and the Republicans were “gonna put y’all back in chains.”
The Republicans understandably objected to such inflammatory rhetoric but, still old-fashioned enough to be squeamish about calling their opponents liars—something that never bothered the Democrats—they objected on the grounds that Mr. Biden was “playing the race card,” not that he was lying.
The argument then turned on whether or not he had intended a literal reference to slavery. He himself insisted that he had intended no such thing but was referring instead to the effects of Republican economic policies on the middle class. “The last time these guys unshackled the economy, to use their term, they put the middle class in shackles.”
Though that was itself a highly dubious proposition, it was slipped into the election-year debate without further objection under cover of being not nearly so outrageous as the blatant lie it was now meant to replace.
Thus, an opinion was transformed into a lie for the sake of its emotional impact and then, when anyone sought to call attention to the lie, it could be turned back into an opinion at will.
Obviously, this bit of rhetorical trickery doesn’t work for Republicans—and especially not for Donald Trump, many of whose plainly stated opinions—for example, that the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt” or the Russian collusion story a “hoax”—were automatically labeled as “lies” by the media’s misnamed “fact checkers.”
A similar trick is now being used to keep alive the media’s narrative of “insurrection.” This characterization of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol was a lie from its inception, but by pretending that the assault on the Capitol may be resumed with greater force at any moment, the media hope to lend credence to the lie.
Again and again we have been told that the insurrectionists are preparing for further uprisings, which is why National Guard troops are still patrolling in Washington, and why the Capitol itself is ringed with razor wire.
And again and again no insurrection happens—not even a little bit of a riot to provide a shred of validation to the prediction.
“If the threat of ‘armed insurrectionists’ and ‘domestic terrorists’ is as great as some claim,” writes the honest progressive Glenn Greenwald, “why do they have to keep lying and peddling crude media fictions about it?”
I think I know why. I think Mr. Greenwald does too. I think everybody does.
When the Biden quotation about how “they gonna put y’all back in chains” was revived in response to his announcement of his candidacy for the presidency in 2019, David Emery, the “fact checker” for Snopes, was inclined to go easy on the former vice-president.
He was not said to have lied, or even to have engaged in a bit of rhetorical trickery. No, wrote Mr. Emery, Joe Biden had certainly said it, but, “whether it should taken as a racially charged reference to slavery we leave it to readers to judge for themselves.”
I’m pretty sure readers were going to do that anyway, just as they are with Robert Reich’s not quite assertion that “Republicans want to go back to Jim Crow” or Congressional Democrats’ claims of an imminent armed revolt by “right-wing extremists.”
The readers for whom no evil is too great to attribute to Republicans or Trump supporters will regard the lies as being, at worst, expressive of “a higher truth,” while Republicans and Trump supporters themselves, long accustomed to being belied by those who regard them not as democratic opponents but as “enemies,” will simply shrug their shoulders.
That’s just the way we do things in today’s media environment.
James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” he is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for the New Criterion.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.