History, of course, has its quaint myths: Every Jewish child knows that the "miracle" of Hanukah is a cruse of oil that lasted for eight days. (In fact, the real miracle is that a group of farmers, shopkeepers, artisans and scholars went to war for an idea and
actually defeated a professional army.) It used to be that every American school child knew the story about the young George Washington who, after being confronted by his father about the chopping down of a cherry tree famously proclaimed , "I cannot tell a lie . . ." (This engaging little tale was actually invented by Parson Mason Locke Weems in his biography of the great man, written shortly after his death.)
History can also be numbingly repetitive; when Congress gave President Lyndon Johnson a blank check for war in Vietnam, it was based on a lie ("The Maddox and Turner Joy were fired on by North Vietnamese torpedo boats!") -- and Johnson knew it; when President George W. Bush beat a mendacious drum for war in Iraq it was based on a lie ("Saddam has weapons of mass destruction!"), and he knew it. In so lying, both men were -- perhaps unknowingly -- following in the footsteps of Cato the Elder who purposefully misrepresented the Carthaginian threat to Rome (Carthago delenda est -- "Carthage must be destroyed!"), thus precipitating the Third Punic War. Moreover, Rome's utter destruction of Carthage, gave rise to one of history's most dubious -- yet durable -- claims: that Rome, seeking to ensure that Carthage would never rise again, sowed the fields with salt so that nothing would ever grow there again. (n.b. This is highly dubious; salt was an expensive commodity in the ancient world. The amount needed to permanently destroy the fertility of the soil would have been so enormous that the supposed benefit would not have been worth the financial cost.)
Myths and lies have a long history in American politics. Now, before any of our more conservative readers say, "Oh, he's at it again . . . he's going to go after the Republicans and give the Democrats a free pass . . ." let me assure you that in politics all sides, all parties lie. Federalists, Whigs, Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, Libertarians, Socialists, Flat-Earthers . . . It goes with the turf. Then again, this is a progressive blog, so if it appears than we're going after one party more than another well, that too goes with the turf . . .
Moving from the realm of Cato, Carthage and conspiracy to the present day, we present several lies currently being promulgated; lies we sincerely hope will not become a part of history:'
- The salvation of the American economy lies in lowering taxes on corporations and the rich, cutting middle-class entitlements, deregulation, extreme deficit reduction and a balanced budget. This mantra, sung by virtually every Republican in America is, to be diplomatic, a gross mistruth. The economic quagmire known as "The Great Recession" was far more the result of the deregulation of banks and tax cuts for the rich than entitlements for the middle-class. And while it is certainly true that deficits and debt do matter -- and must ultimately be addressed in a serious, purposive manner -- clamoring for draconian cuts in the midst of an economic downturn isn't mere fiscal imprudence; it betrays an utter disconnect. For too long, we've heard that placing ever greater wealth in the hands of corporations and the already wealthy will ultimately benefit everyone -- that "a rising tide raises all boats." This, of course, presumes that everyone has a boat . . .
- No one has ever died because they didn't have health care: This maddening mistruth came from the mouth of Republican "flavor-of-the-month" Rick Santorum, during a Q&A session with students at a small Christian college in Iowa this past December 5. A student asked the former Pennsylvania senator about health care and the Christian responsibility of caring for the poor. The student said "I don't think God appreciates the fact that we have 50 to 100,000 uninsured Americans dying due to a lack of healthcare every year," citing a 2009 study out of Harvard University. "Dying?" Santorum answered. "I reject that number completely . . . that people die in America because of lack of health insurance. People die in America because people die in America." Actually, according to the Harvard study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, if you take two Americans who are physically identical -- same age, same gender, same race, same weight, same smoking history -- and one of them has health insurance and one does not, then the one without health insurance is 40% more likely to die each year.
- States need to pass laws to ensure against voter fraud: Of late, an increasing number of states -- all of which have Republican governors and Republican-majority legislatures -- have been introducing and passing legislation cutting back on early voting, changing rules for presenting absentee ballots and requiring voters to present state-issued i.ds in order to vote. Their argument is that all of these moves are necessary in order to "protect the sanctity of the ballot from unscrupulous voters." And yet, according to a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice has shown that instances of voter fraud in America are extraordinarily, unbelievably rare. Ohio, as an example, has documented four instances of voter fraud (out of more than 9 million ballots cast) in the last two presidential election cycles. Kansas, where the secretary of state pressed the legislature to pass a draconian i.d. law, admitted that his office could only document 221 cases of voter fraud since 1997. The real purpose behind all this is to make it far more difficult for certain groups -- students, ethnic minorities and the elderly -- to vote. Not surprisingly, all three of these groups have a greater tendency to vote Democratic than Republican. This is a naked attempt on the part of Republicans to create a "cure" for a problem that does not exist. One has a greater chance of being hit by lightening or winning the lottery than engaging in an act of voter fraud.
This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list of "lies to live by." We could easily have included such cannards as "President Obama wants to turn America into a European Social Welfare state," or "The mainstream media is run by liberals for liberals," or "Corporations are people," or "There is no such thing as man-made global warming," or "Ronald Reagan never raised taxes . . ."
The truth of the matter is that from Cato to Cantor, and from Maccabees to McConnell, lies abound.
Which makes history both instructive . . . and curious.
-2012 Kurt F. Stone