Guest Voz: The distortion of truth by either political party is a crime against democracy

LatinaLista — If there is one thing that is becoming more apparent in this presidential election it’s that the truth is a matter of perspective — from either party. The manipulation/exaggeration/distortion of facts has become so pervasive in this election that media feels obligated to fact-check each and every campaign’s allegations and promises.

So, it’s not too surprising that members from both parties would produce a book debunking the arguments of the other side. After all, there are still people who don’t know who to believe or who they want for President.

Conservative Michael Medved has striven to debunk liberal arguments in his e-book, The Odds Against Obama.

And liberal John-Paul Bernbach strives to debunk conservative arguments in the first volume of his four-volume e-book Pack of Lies: Debunking the 40 Most Destructive Conservative Myths in America.

Both authors share their books on electronic platforms so they can be accessed via smart phone or tablet, just for those spur-of-the-moment debates that pop up at the bar, dinner table or Saturday morning soccer games!

In this Guest Voz piece, John Paul Bernbach outlines his reasons for writing the book. Following his piece is a short excerpt from the first chapter. The invitation stands open to Mr. Medved if he would also like to participate in this healthy exercise of informing the American people of the differences between how the two parties see the nation and the world.

By John Paul Bernbach

We talk about “spin” and “messaging” in politics as though it’s all just some kind of a game. But lies in the public sphere, whether coming from the right or the left, are not trivial matters. They are — and always have been – moral crimes.

When the citizens of a democracy are deprived of honest and accurate information, or are deliberately provided with false information, their ability to make decisions on their own terms about what is best for themselves, their families, their communities and their country, is compromised. Their individual liberty and autonomy is violated.

Anyone who knowingly contributes to public confusion demonstrates an open contempt for democracy. He – or she – proves him or herself to be antagonistic to the free, open and reasonable exchange of ideas, which is the oxygen in the bloodstream of a healthy democratic republic.

When one of two major parties regularly traffics in lies, and successfully promotes a false ideology, that republic will gradually falter. Millions of Americans have sensed this happening in recent years.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. A political party that appeals to the public on the basis of lies undermines its own claims to legitimacy, since it seeks to obtain consent through fraud.

Of course, it’s true that plenty of politicians of all parties are biased and self-serving, tell lies and bring dishonor on themselves and the institutions in which they serve. But I believe there is only one ideology in America today that makes an enemy of reality itself.

That is the ideology that calls itself “conservative” but is actually a radicalized version of conservatism that has come to prominence in the last few decades; and it has come almost entirely to dominate the GOP.

The Republican Party today represents a minority of Americans. Clear majorities support Social Security, Medicare, higher taxes on the wealthy, safe and legal abortion, equal rights for same-sex couples, a path to citizenship for undocumented workers – in other words, the so-called Liberal Agenda.

This is why the book, Pack of Lies was created.

Pack of Lies comprises 40 chapters, divided into four volumes, which will be released serially between now and election day. Every chapter takes on a major conservative lie by contrasting it with reality and explaining how and why there is a disconnect between the conservative claim and the truth. Each can serve as a standalone rebuttal to a common misperception.

Taken together, the chapters construct a solid case that conservatism is an ideology fabricated out of misinformation and delusion. What’s more, they demonstrate that this pack of lies also happens to be a house of cards.

(Editor’s note: the following is an abbreviated excerpt of the Pack of Lies: Debunking the 40 Most Destructive Conservative Myths in America)

LIE #1:

THE UNITED STATES IS A ‘CENTER-RIGHT’ NATION

“We are a center-right nation.” – Bill O’Reilly

CONSERVATIVES CLAIM:

The views and values of conservatism reflect those of most Americans, or, as conservatives frequently put it, “real Americans.”

The myth that the United States is “a center-right” nation has become conventional wisdom in recent years – even Democrats tend not to challenge the idea when it comes up. Republican politicians and right-wing commentators have been repeating this falsehood for decades with great success, proving the theory that if you get enough people to repeat something over and over again for years and years it will eventually be perceived as true, even if it happens to be a lie — which, in this case, it most certainly is.

THE REALITY:

69,456,897 citizens voted for Barack Obama on November 4th, 2008, thereby electing him President of the United States with the greatest number of votes ever cast for any candidate for any office in the entire history of the world’s greatest modern democracy. Given the tendency of conservatives to describe president Obama as “socialist,” “Marxist,” “un-American” and “foreign,” that election result can hardly be construed to reflect the views and values of a right-leaning – or “center-right” – people.

Obama’s 7.2% margin of victory over John McCain was the widest since another Democrat, Bill Clinton, defeated Republican Bob Dole, by 8.5 points in 1996. In the past 5 presidential elections, Republicans have outpolled Democrats only once: in 2004, when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry by a popular vote margin of 2.46% (in case you’ve forgotten, he lost the popular vote to Al Gore in 2000 by more than half-a-million votes). As of this writing (August of 2012) President Obama holds a slim lead over his Republican challenger, despite a stubbornly high unemployment rate and sluggish economic growth.

The reality is that the American people as a whole lean to the left, if they lean at all.

PARTY IDENTIFICATION:

The Gallup party identification survey measures the American people’s partisan sympathies. This poll (which was conducted 234 times between January of 2004 and July of 2012) asks Americans whether they consider themselves to be Republican, Democratic, or, if independent, which party they are more inclined to support. During the period from 2004 to 2012, the proportion of Americans who identified themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents ranged from 34% to 52%, while Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents ranged from 40% to 56%. Even more revealing is the fact that GOP identification achieved or exceeded 50% only four times, most recently in February 2005. During the same period, Democratic identification broke 50% eighty-seven times, most recently in August of 2011. All in all, Democratic identification exceeded Republican identification 87% of the time.

But that’s just the last eight years – exceptionally eventful years that have seen two major wars and a financial catastrophe. To be fair, we should take a longer, multi-generational view to get a better sense of where Americans have stood over time. And it turns out that, over time, the American people have stood more or less where they’re still standing today: to the left of center.

The Gallup “generic ballot trend” simply asks people whether they intend to vote for a Republican or a Democrat in the next election. For over 50 years, from 1950 to 2006, the Democratic Party enjoyed a constant advantage except for three brief periods: Feb 1994; July-Sept 1994; and the immediately post-9/11 period of Oct 2001- May 2002. In other words, the Republican Party outpolled the Democratic Party for a combined not-so-grand total of 12 months in 56 years. That’s less than 2% of the time.

A similar survey, Pew Research Center’s review of party identification data from 1939 to 2012, shows that GOP identification has exceeded that of Democrats in only one year – 1995. As of this writing, Democratic identification surpasses Republican by 8%.

You get the point.

ISSUES:

SOCIAL SECURITY & MEDICARE/MEDICAID:

Most Americans, including a majority of self-described conservatives, approve of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – the cornerstones of the liberal welfare state and among the few inarguably socialist programs that the U.S. government has implemented. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in March 2011, “Even tea party supporters, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, declared significant cuts to Social Security ‘unacceptable.’”

On the other hand, all but ten Republicans in congress voted in 2012 to pass a budget plan (the so-called “Ryan Budget”), which would partially dismantle Medicare and demand severe cuts to social services in the coming decades.

ABORTION:

52% of Americans today support abortion under some circumstances (compared to 55% in 1975). 25% believe it should be legal in all circumstances (compared to 21% in 1975). 20% believe it should be illegal in all circumstances (compared to 21% in 1975). These numbers have been remarkably consistent since the 1970’s. At no point has combined support for abortion in at least some circumstances dipped below 75% of the population. Numerous surveys reveal almost identical results.

Conservatives, on the other hand, support criminalizing abortion in most cases, including those of rape and incest, and are divided over whether to allow abortion in cases when the mother’s life is endangered. Many conservatives, including Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, have supported laws to define a human embryo as a person, which would make any abortion under any circumstances legally indistinguishable from murder.

IMMIGRATION:

A two-thirds majority of Americans supports a so-called “path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S., whereas less than one-fifth supports deportation.

Conservatives, on the other hand, oppose this approach, calling it “amnesty.”

55% of Americans support President Obama’s policy of granting work permits to illegal residents under the age of thirty who were brought to the U.S. as children.

GAY RIGHTS:

50% of Americans support same-sex marriage, whereas every candidate for the Republican nomination for President in 2012 supported a constitutional amendment to ban it.

WHAT EXPLAINS THE DISCONNECT?

Labels – what’s in a name?
About twice as many Americans describe themselves as “Conservative” as “Liberal”, which sounds pretty convincing until you start to realize that many of these self-described conservatives support Social Security, same-sex marriage, and higher taxes on the wealthy. The word “conservative” is a more respectable word than “liberal” in today’s America, largely thanks to thirty years of conservative bashing of the liberal brand. The word “conservative” sounds mature, reasonable, and fair, whereas the word “liberal” has been made to sound irresponsible, counter-cultural, and maybe even subversive. Even Liberals don’t call themselves “liberal” anymore – they tend to prefer “progressive,” which evokes the reassuringly virile figure of Teddy Roosevelt. This is about labels that people apply to themselves, rather than their actual beliefs and values. If you rely entirely on self-description, you’ll also find that a majority of Americans are good-looking, generous, and have great senses of humor.

Spillover from the Conservative echo-chamber
Conservatives proclaim their beliefs loudly and often, taking up more space and getting more attention in the media and the national conversation. This creates the impression that they’re more numerous than they actually are. Ten people yelling can be a lot louder than a thousand people not yelling.

The electoral process over-represents conservatives
Registered voters tend to be more conservative than the general population, and likely voters even more so, which means that government is almost always more conservative than the overall population, about half of whom don’t regularly participate in the electoral process. Even so, a majority of registered voters consistently identify themselves as Democrats. If a majority of active participants in the electoral process aren’t center-right, the country as a whole certainly isn’t.

Equal representation of large (mostly Blue) and small (mostly Red) states in the Senate
Every state has the same number of Senators – two – which grants disproportionate power to conservative senators who represent relatively small populations.

To put this into perspective: California’s 37 million people are currently represented by 2 Democratic Senators. The combined 36 million citizens of Wyoming, Alaska, Idaho, Nebraska, Utah, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia are represented by 22 Republican senators.

As James Fallows noted in the Atlantic Monthly , in the Senate “41 votes is in effect a blocking minority. States that together hold about 12 percent of the U.S. population can provide that many Senate votes.”

GOP obstructionism in the Senate
As noted above, a mere 41% of senators can squelch legislation. Senate rules allow an unprincipled opposition (or, more accurately, an opposition whose highest principle is their own grasp on power) to prevent the majority from passing legislation that reflects the will and values of most Americans. This projects an image of disproportionate conservative power, which is in turn misconstrued – or deliberately misrepresented – as deriving from a popular mandate, rather than from a willingness to abuse Senate rules and privileges in order to prevent legislation that would represent the actual center-left majority of Americans.

The Democrats are lousy at communicating
The evidence in this chapter is overwhelming, unambiguous, and conclusive: most Americans identify with the Democratic Party and favor more progressive policies. And yet there’s a good chance that much of this information comes as a surprise to you. Whose fault is that?

Here’s the truth: the United States is not a center-right nation by any legitimate reckoning. In fact, the opposite is clear: The Republican Party represents the views and values of a distinct minority of Americans.

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