You see it on Fox News, the Drudge Report, Breitbart… You hear it on Rush Limbaugh and all the guys who sound like Rush Limbaugh.
Republicans in Congress pick up the message, nearly word for word, and soon it spills into network news for a “bombshell report.” Next thing you know, mendacious Mitt is on CBS This Morning saying that the president was “dishonest,” moments after the former GOP nominee for president admitted that his entire stand on immigration was a sham.
It’s moments like this that the right-wing attack machine lives for.
This is exactly why former TV producer and Nixon operative Roger Ailes created a nationwide “conservative” news network. This is why right-wing “think tanks” spend millions creating and disseminating talking points. This is how Republicans won a massive landslide in 2010, as America was in the midst of a Great Recession, two wars and record deficits—all things a Republican president had led us into.
President Obama handed Republicans a gift in the form of a promise that could not be kept. While the line, “If you like your plan, you can keep it” is technically true and is still valid for 95 percent of Americans with insurance, it was proven a “lie” by the right-wing media using a mountain of cancelation notices as evidence.
The truth about these cancelations is astoundingly complex.
Private insurers often made the notices seem more dire in order to try to push their customers into more expensive plans. Most of the millions who got them will end up in plans just as good as or better than what they had before. Many will pay less. All will be accepted into some plan if they want one. This wasn’t true of the pre-Affordable Care Act (ACA) world, where millions had their insurance canceled each year and millions more couldn’t get coverage at all because of the discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions. And all of the troubles were multiplied exponentially by the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov, eliminating any hope that the negative stories might be balanced by the more than 25 million Americans who will get partially or fully subsidized health insurance.
The right-wing media, of course, had no interest in the vagaries of the cancelations. They had a “lie” and suddenly President Obama had a “Katrina.”
There are two examples of the right-wing attack machine in action that can give us a preview of how this will play out.
The worst-case scenario for Democrats, recently, was the stimulus. Before it even became law, conservative operatives trumped up examples of “wasteful spending” that they said would be a part of the bill. “A private listserv served as the stimulus wing of the ‘vast right-wing conspiracy,’ injecting Republican talking points into the media bloodstream,” Mike Grunwald wrote in his book The New New Deal.
Republicans referred to the law as “the failed stimulus” even before it could go into effect. And though 92 percent of economists agree that the legislation created jobs and reduced unemployment, about 3 out of 4 Americans believed in early 2010 that much of the money spent had been wasted. Republicans used this premise and the cratering economy to ride to their greatest electoral sweep as a party in more than a half-century.
The best-case scenario for the left was the “You didn’t build that” controversy. Republicans thought they’d found electoral gold in Obama’s sloppy use of the pronoun “that” as he made the case that economically, we’re all in this together. The Romney campaign was entirely centered around the president’s words and the result was one of the few national conventions in a presidential campaign that provided the candidate with little to no bounce.
The Obamacare attacks already resemble the success of the anti-stimulus campaign with an even greater effect on diminishing the president’s reputation. The administration always had hope that the positive effects of the stimulus would overwhelm the criticism. Today, four years later, the public is split on whether the stimulus worked.
The success of the ACA depends on getting Healthcare.gov working. In California, where they launched their efforts early and really want to make the law work, they are seeing “incredible momentum.” It’s a preview of how things could go if the federal site gets up and running.
In preparation for the prospect that there may soon be winners to tout, Republicans are maneuvering to own the debate.
“The idea is to gather stories of people affected by the health care law — through social media, letters from constituents, or meetings during visits back home — and use them to open a line of attack, keep it going until it enters the public discourse and forces a response, then quickly pivot to the next topic,” The New York Times‘ Jonathan Weisman and Sheryl Gay Stohlberg reported on Wednesday.
Republicans have spent the last few decades creating a media machine that operates outside the mainstream media. Social media makes it even more powerful as individuals have the power to amplify the machine’s drone and hector the “mainstream” outlets who refuse to cover the “truth.”
The power of this hive mind wasn’t able to turn “You didn’t build that,” Benghazi or the IRS “scandals” into the disasters for the president that they’d hoped. But in this case they have a substantial complaint — Healthcare.gov — compounded by the appearance of a lie and the anxiety of a law designed to fix a health care system that affects every American’s life.
The question remains: If the law does work as intended, will even that be enough to overwhelm the best propaganda machine the right wing can buy?
Photo: aril via Flickr