Fear never goes out of fashion. Once again Republicans are dealing in fear instead of facts, and why not? It's worked in the past, and a nation that's locked in seemingly permanent recession and high unemployment may be in the market for some scapegoats.
Monday's Republican presidential debate was the opening salvo in a tawdry little war on truth that's likely to last until next November. The party's official haters, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain, targeted a helpless religious minority. And Mitt Romney, who was praised for being "the adult in the room" because he wouldn't join in, spent his time using fear tactics to mislead the audience about Medicare.
But he won't get much criticism for that. On a stage that's enshrouded in moral blindness, the one-eyed man is presidential.
"Applicants must be over 18, have a high school diploma, and not be cold-blooded killers out to destroy the United States ..."
The Muslim part of the debate began with a question to Herman Cain, who had said he wouldn't appoint a Muslim to a judgeship or senior Administration position. Cain's answer: "... I would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us. And so, when I said I wouldn't be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us ..."
It's good to know a potential president wouldn't hire people who are "trying to kill us." Glad he cleared that up. We wholeheartedly support not appointing people who want to kill us, whether they're Al Qaeda terrorists, Christian terrorists like Eric Rudolph, Jewish terrorists like Meir Kahane, nonbeliever terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, or executives at unregulated corporations that want to sell us deadly products.
But Cain wasn't done. After endorsing a sound management principle - "don't hire people who want to kill you" was presumably included in the Human Resources guidelines at Godfather's Pizza - he went on to say this: "I do not believe in Sharia law in American courts. I believe in American laws in American courts, period. There have been instances" - at this point he was interrupted by cheers and applause - " there was an instance in Oklahoma where Muslims did try to influence court decisions with Sharia law."
That's right. Nowadays fear-mongering means convincing people that the United States is actually in danger of being forced to live under a primitive, tribal version of Sharia law, one that also includes gruesome pre-Islamic practices like clitorectomies not found in any Islamic literature. How could anybody believe that's a real threat? It's hard to say, but they do.
Enter the Newt. " Now, I just want to go out on a limb here. I'm in favor of saying to people, if you're not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration, period." (Because, you know, so many senior officials aren't prepared to say that.) He then made a forceful plea for reinstating loyalty oaths..
Which could make a modicum of sense to somebody somewhere - if Gingrich himself hadn't just told the story of a Pakistani entrant into this country who did sign a loyalty oath, and then committed a terrorist attack. According to Gingrich, he told the judge: "You're my enemy. I lied."
Gingrich's own anecdote rendered the entire discussion not only offensive and un-American, but incoherent.
Romney's comment that "people of all faiths are welcome in this country" was admirable, but his aura was tarnished by the lying he did about Medicare. "Obamacare would cut $500 billion from Medicare," he said. The president is "cutting Medicare," he repeated later.
The truth? "Obamacare" doesn't "cut" $500 billion from Medicare. It doesn't cut anything from Medicare. The White House says the new plan will achieve $500 billion in long-term savings from eliminating waste, overpayment, and inefficiency. It's reasonable to question that number, but to suggest that the plan "cuts" Medicare isn't a distortion or a misstatement or a misunderstanding.
It's a lie.
Romney's performance is even less impressive when you consider the fact that he was taking his lead from Michele Bachmann, who had already said that "the president of the United States ... took a half-trillion dollars out of Medicare." Neither Romney nor anyone else on the stage rejected Paul Ryan's radical program to dismantle Medicare and replace it with a voucher program that would retain only the Medicare name.
Medicare has an enormous cost problem, but it can't be fixed without removing excessive profits and perverse incentives from the health care system. That's something Republicans adamantly oppose and Democrats won't unequivocally support.
Ministry of Fear
The word "Medicare" appeared 41 times in the debate. The word "Muslim" appeared 9 times. But in their eagerness to eliminate Medicare and cut Social Security, you know what word these candidates didn't mention in that context? Taxes. As in raising them back to a reasonable level for the wealthy. Polls show that's how the public wants to address these programs, but they're having none of it.
So how do you convince Americans to accept a program like Ryan's, when a recent CBS News poll shows that only 31% of the population supports it? How do you convince seniors who oppose that plan nearly 2:1 to vote for a Republican presidential candidate who supports it?
You make them afraid. Very, very afraid. You make them afraid that the president is literally un-American. You make them afraid of Muslims and Sharia law. You make them afraid that the people who are defending Medicare are actually destroying it. You do all the silly and hateful things that repel and offend decent people everywhere, those things that decent people are sure in their hearts could never sway an election -
- and which so often do.
Follow Richard (RJ) Eskow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rjeskow