When President Obama signed his landmark health care reform bill into law on March 23, 2010, the ceremony seemed to mark the finish line to what had been a wildly tumultuous legislative process. Featuring the Lie Of The Year, which suggested that health care reform would include ominous and non-existent "death panels," the Republican effort to block the bill had been all-consuming. And it was aided by a misinformation effort closely orchestrated by Fox News and the conservative media.
The signing ceremony however, turned out to be only the beginning. Republican and conservative forces launched guerrilla warfare against the new law, making every effort to thwart its implementation. In Congress, lawmakers repeatedly threaten to cast votes to defund and delay the health law. At the state level, Republican governors are trying to obstruct the law's new insurance marketplaces, which are set to roll out October 1. And well-funded groups are even trying to convince Americans they don't really need health insurance.
To date, Republicans have failed to stop the bill from being passed into law, were unable to convince the Supreme Court that the law was unconstitutional, and they failed miserably in their attempt to vote Obama out of office last year.
But it seems all of that obfuscation served as a precursor for the hailstorm of lies and misinformation that have erupted leading up to October first. The desperation emanating from Fox News and other far-right quarters has been inescapable, including claims that:
- Obamacare is a "cancer" and "a top-down, iron-fisted, Soviet-style program."
- Obamacare represents the "largest tax increase in the history of the world."
- Obamacare is "sticking it to men."
There's nothing wrong with being passionate and dedicated to a cause. But the right wing's almost hypnotic, monomaniacal focus on opposing health care reform has been matched, if not outstripped, by its relentless desire to purposely lie about the new law year after year after year. That's not passion, that's propaganda. It's using mass media to spread willful lies and misinformation about public policy in hopes of advancing your own partisan cause. Lies like:
- Obamacare will question your sex life.
- Obamacare recommends women not "even start your mammograms until age 50."
- Under Obamacare, wheelchairs and hearing aids will be taxed.
The permanent misinformation model built to try to tear down Obamacare has troubling implications for future policy fights. Just as the Republicans' radical attempt to shut down the entire federal government in an effort to defund an existing law has no precedence in modern American history, the accompanying four-year propaganda campaign is likely unmatched, too.
"Remarkably persistent myths" is how MSNBC's Chris Hayes last week described the foundation of this campaign. I'd suggest that's a polite way of describing the determined lies that have been regurgitated robotically across conservative media platforms:
- Obama will allow "forced home inspections" by government agents.
- Obamacare is "sticking it to the seniors"
- Obama is creating a "nationalized health care system."
Based on the sheer breadth of these fabrications, taken in tandem with the duration over which they been told and retold, today's health care scare campaign certainly ranks among the most intense ever produced in the U.S. It also represents an almost seamless production between the Republican Party and its dedicated allies in the press who have worked tirelessly as flaks and mouthpieces.
Over the years, the propaganda production has been built into a self-sustaining cottage industry that's purposefully impervious to the truth. It's also an enterprise that provides never-ending fundraising opportunities for Republican politicians, as well as endless hours of phony outrage for right-wing media outlets.
But here's what is disturbing. Unlike sprawling controversies under the previous Democratic administration, in which Bill Clinton's professional enemies at least pretended to follow a paper trail that eventually led nowhere with regards to Whitewater and Travelgate and other manufactured "scandals," today's myth-makers largely turn a blind eye to that model.
There's no "investigation" that's fueling the health care freak out. There are no new revelations that would logically prompt this kind of hysterical strategy for a law that hasn't even been implemented yet. (In fact, unfolding news about the plan has often been quite positive.)
Instead, it's a propaganda campaign designed to inhabit the conservative bubble that has come to define Republican failures under Obama.
If right-wing media consumers wanted to delude themselves into thinking Mitt Romney would win the White House in a "landslide," or wanted to waste years focusing on the transparently false allegation that the president was born in Africa, that was their choice. Those needless pursuits often provided comic relief for those who watched conservatives be knowingly conned by their media heroes.
But the deceitful health care propaganda campaign is different. It's a muscular, relentless attempt to undo an historic piece of legislation that affects tens of millions of Americas, and it's a campaign built upon an armada of lies. Whitewater, and the assembled "scandals" around it, was a concerted effort to destroy the Clinton presidency. This production is designed to do real damage to America's health care system, and with the shutdown threat, to harm the economy, too.
The propaganda stakes have been raised dramatically.