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Michael Sigman

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Note to GOP: Sometimes an Opinion Isn't Just an Opinion

Posted: 10/12/11 06:32 PM ET

Senator Jon Kyl (R. AZ) advanced the art of GOP prevarication last April when he claimed that Planned Parenthood spends 90% of its budget on abortions. The grossness of the falsehood -- the correct figure is 3%, not 90 -- was par for the course. The imaginative leap was Kyl's explanation that his lie was "not intended to be a factual statement." In other words, it was just Kyl's opinion.

Flash forward to last weekend's Value Voters Summit, where Republican presidential hopefuls refused to disavow Robert Jeffress's implication that Mitt Romney isn't a Christian -- and that Mormonism, his religion, is a cult. After all, Cain, Bachmann and others seemed to say, Jeffress's statements are just a matter of opinion. Jeffress himself offered a variation on the theme when he told Chris Matthews that "cult" means something other than the derogatory, commonly understood Webster's interpretation. Here, it wasn't a number that was a matter of opinion but the definition of a word.

Rick Perry, the intended beneficiary of Jeffress's insult to Romney, has himself made liberal use of the "It's my opinion" trope to deflect questions about evolution and climate change. For him, these are just theories that people have "the right" to opine about one way or another.

Herman "I don't have facts to back this up" Cain -- whose surge in the polls underscores the vacuousness of both Romney and Perry -- was recently given an opportunity by MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell to acknowledge that sexual preference isn't a choice. In the Alice in Wonderland world of Republican politics, this would pass for a courageous stance. Cain too chose the "It's my opinion" route.

The mealy-mouthedness of his opponents' "It's my opinion" gambit gave Romney a chance to show a snippet of courage. But he wouldn't take Jeffress on, preferring the safe harbor of going after Brian Fischer, who believes that Mormons have no First Amendment rights and that grizzly bears are a "curse."

Hedging your beliefs, if you even have beliefs, comes with its own dangers. For all Romney's parsing and brownnosing, he ended up with a pathetic 4 percent in the Value Voters straw poll. Perry's pontification (is the pontiff a real Christian or is Catholicism just another cult?) about his own Christianity and his key role in facilitating Jeffress's appearance at the Summit netted him an anemic 8 percent. Which prompted Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, sponsor of the event and the poll, to hearken back to seminal GOP liar Richard Nixon and essentially declare the results "inoperative."

To be fair, John Huntsman, the other Mormon GOP hopeful, did call Jefress a moron. But the former Utah governor has little to lose. The latest Public Policy Polling survey in Iowa puts him tied for 8th place with 3 votes. That's votes, not percent.

The profiles in dis-courage on the Mormon issue comport with GOP candidates' laissez-faire attitude to cheers from the audience after the "Let him die" incident at the CNN/Tea party debate and their stony silence after some in the crowd booed a gay soldier at the Fox News debate. In the latter case it was homophobe Rick Santorum's weaseliness that stood out. The former PA senator said he never heard the boos -- a statement perhaps not meant to be factual.

"It's my opinion-ism" isn't limited to Republicans, of course. In the heat of the 2008 battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton was asked by 60 Minutes whether candidate Barack Obama was a Muslim. Instead of a simple "No," she took a page from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's slimy playbook, averring "I take him (Obama) at his word." She made a further play for the know-nothing voting block(head) by adding that Obama wasn't a Muslim "As far as I know." Twelve percent of Americans still believe the president is a Muslim -- up from ten percent a few months ago -- so I guess this leaves that question in the court of public opinion.

When it comes to bald-face lying, though, Republicans do it meaner and better. Their dissembling is exceeded only by their hypocrisy. When it comes to reproductive choice, medical marijuana, raising taxes and a host of other issues that are debatable, "It's my opinion" becomes "It's my way or the highway."

As Herman Cain likes to say, in a phrase sure to warm the hearts of condescending CEOs everywhere, "End of discussion."

 

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