During a recent discussion with medical students at the University of Louisville, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) inadvertently gave rare insight into the political strategy employed by him and his fellow Tea Party politicians.
Paul was asked if he had any advice for the students to succeed on their upcoming exam.
“Actually, I do,” Paul responded. “I never, ever cheated. I don’t condone cheating. But I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic. Misinformation can be very important.”
Paul explained that when he was a medical student, he and his friends would spread false rumors about the content of upcoming exams in order to sabotage the scores of their peers.
He is far from alone among American conservatives in his advocacy of spreading lies for personal gain. Paul’s Tea Party allies have wholeheartedly embraced the use of misinformation and outright lies to advance their political beliefs.
Examples of distortion of the truth by conservative politicians and media figures abound.
Recently, Sean Hannity, host of “Hannity” on the Fox News Channel, invited a number of ordinary Americans, members of the middle class and small-business owners to be guests on his show. Hannity brought on these individuals to share their economic struggles, which the guests claimed were a result of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law.
In one case, business owner Paul Cox and his wife, Michelle, claimed they had been forced to cut back on their employees’ hours because of increased costs resulting from the Affordable Care Act. Another guest, Allison Denijs, complained that her insurance company dropped her policy and plans to replace it with a new one, which she claimed would cause problems for her family and increase their financial burden.
Salon’s Eric Stern did some investigative work and found that all of Hannity’s Affordable Care Act “horror stories” were utter fabrications. Stern discovered Cox’s company only has four employees, far below the threshold of 50 employees that would require his business to provide health insurance to his workers.
Stern also found that the insurance policy that would replace Denij’s old plan would cost her family about $7,600, “a 60 percent reduction from what they would have to pay on the pre-Obamacare market.”
According to Stern’s report, not a single one of Hannity’s guests had even visited the new federal health care exchange website, https://www.healthcare.gov/, to explore their insurance options and determine how much they would have to pay under the new law.
Hannity’s exploitation of the guests on his show in an attempt to demonize Obamacare is a prime example of how prominent conservatives use deception and misinformation to advance their political goals.
The use of misinformation and deception by the conservative right is also reflected by the false beliefs of conservatives and Tea Party supporters regarding the economy and the federal budget deficit.
Al Hunt of Bloomberg, citing a recent poll, said “two-thirds of regular Republicans believe the federal budget deficit has grown this year and 93 percent of Tea Party Republicans agree.”
As Hunt points out, this claim is completely false. The federal budget deficit in 2012 was $1.1 trillion. In 2013, that deficit will shrink tremendously to just $642 billion, its lowest level since 2008.
These false beliefs about the state of our economy and budget abound among voters sympathetic to the Tea Party because they are constantly reinforced by conservative politicians and media figures. Conservative congressmen and senators rail against the supposedly socialist, oppressive and overspending Obama administration, making claims that have absolutely no grounding in reality.
In order to resolve the challenges that confront our nation, our political debates must be conducted in a manner that respects facts, logic and evidence-based reasoning. The embrace of misinformation by Tea Party Republicans and the lies to advance their political agenda undermine the American political process.
Elliot Levy is a UF political science and public relations junior. His column runs on Wednesdays. A version of this column ran on page 7 on 10/23/2013 under the headline "Republican political strategy relies on misinformation, deception"