What makes old people cynical is listening to the exact same lies being propagated year after year—and seeing them be just as effective as they ever were. I grew up during the Vietnam War, and I never thought I’d live to see the same hollow rationales, the same shameless appeals to patriotism trotted out to justify another such fiasco.
But here they are in this campaign, looking just as fresh and lively as ever.
To be sure, they have company. Near the end of the vice presidential debate last Thursday, the lies from Paul Ryan were coming so fast and furious—Obamacare will cause 20 million people to lose their health care! 7.4 million seniors will lose theirs! It contains 21 tax increases!—that I feared he was about to morph into some kind of iconic, fabled trickster figure, the Coyote perhaps, or the Lying Choirboy Scamp. Befuddled by the sheer quantity of falsehoods, the mainstream media predictably rolled over like an obedient Labrador and started debating facial expressions, leaving any number of reasonable questions unanswered.
For instance, left unexplained, so far, is how the ever-evolving Romney-Ryan economic plan now can possibly work, even on its own terms. Originally, the plan called for a massive tax cut for the very wealthiest Americans, the “job creators,” who could be counted on to invest the extra income and, well, create jobs. Now we are told that any such cut for the wealthy will be “revenue neutral,” thanks to all the loopholes they plan to close. But if that’s so, if the rich are not going to get a real tax cut … then where is all the extra investment income going to come from?
Or how is it that no one picked up on the old switcheroo involving just why it is that we need to attack Iran before it develops a nuclear weapon? For months now, we’ve been told that the mullahs in Tehran are so crazy they are liable to launch a suicidal nuclear attack on Israel or even the United States the moment they have such weapons.
Yet last Thursday, when moderator Martha Raddatz dared to ask the question no one else in the media seems capable of putting to a candidate—“let me ask you what’s worse … another war in the Middle East, or a nuclear-armed Iran?”—Mr. Ryan merely mentioned Iran’s hatred of Israel, repeatedly emphasizing a whole other argument for war:
“[I]f they get nuclear weapons, other people in the neighborhood will pursue their nuclear weapons as well.”
Not 10 years after the neocon excuse for going to war with Iraq pirouetted effortlessly from rooting out “weapons of mass destruction” to building a model state to inspire the Islamic world, Mr. Ryan and his party are now talking up an exponentially bigger war … to maintain the regional balance of power?
Ms. Raddatz then failed to elicit any discussion of the fearsome costs of an invasion or even an air strike against Iran, despite asking directly, “Can the two of you be absolutely clear and specific to the American people [about] how effective would a military strike be?”
Crickets! Though at least Vice President Biden did blurt out, “The last thing we need now is another war.” Nothing on this Earth was going to compel Congressman Ryan to touch an actual fact or figure—just as nothing has compelled Gov. Romney to give us any hints about what a potential invasion of Iran is likely to cost in terms of blood and treasure.
Instead, the Republican strategy is once again to take a number of recent events and anxieties and wrap them together in a grand narrative of Democratic iniquity. To this end, the right’s spin machine has been working shamelessly to exploit the assassination of our ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans in Benghazi. They have done their level best to inflate this tragic incident into a classic non-scandal scandal, insisting that the conflicting initial reports about just what happened show that the Obama administration is somehow weak, or incompetent, or covering something up, or even anti-American.
These wild and often contradictory charges came fast and furious last Thursday from Rep. Ryan, who on at least three different occasions accused President Obama of apologizing or not standing up for “our values,” in the Middle East—thereby somehow empowering the mullahs to alter the laws of physics: “They’re spinning the centrifuges faster.” He went on to castigate Vice President Biden for failing to convince the Iraqis to let thousands of American troops remain in that wonderful country for years to come, while charging the administration with endangering the lives of thousands of American troops in Afghanistan and “los[ing] the gains we’ve gotten” there. Excusing his running mate’s own precipitous charges about Benghazi, he insisted that, “We should always stand up for peace, for democracy, for human rights.”
Standing up for peace, democracy and human rights might safely be described as a stunning policy reversal for the party that flayed Democrats who tried to do just that during the Cold War.
Much more alarming is hearing the same Big Lie of that era trotted out to justify still more endless and unwinnable wars. Ever since the end of World War II, it comes around every time we fail to bludgeon our way to victory: If only we had the will.
If only those un-American types in the Oval Office, or the Reds in the State Department, or those bums on the college campuses who don’t understand “our values” would just get out of the way. If only they would “unleash Chiang Kai-shek” from Taiwan. If only they would let Douglas MacArthur drop the “30 to 50 atomic bombs” like he wanted, to create a “cordon sanitaire” across the YaluRiver. If only they would let us invade Cuba, or stay the course in Vietnam, or in Afghanistan, no matter how corrupt and irascible the Karzai regime proves to be, or how many more young Americans are killed by the very Afghans they are trying to train, so that “we don’t lose the gains we’ve gotten” in that godforsaken rockpile. If only we can plunge into Iran!
Always and forever, it seems, there’s another mad scheme waiting—and suddenly this campaign has become about the next one, as much as it is about budget deals, or the economy. Here’s a good rule for a democracy: if we can’t discuss, fully and openly, just how a military adventure will work and what it will cost, we shouldn’t do it.