Greg Sargent's analysis of how successful the Republican party's strategy was at painting Democrats and President Obama with broad strokes of "liberal" last year ignores one part: The abject failure of the press and broadcast media to expose it.
I think Sargent has nailed exactly why Republicans were so successful with their strategy in his update to the original post, where he explains more clearly:
What McConnell shrewdly recognized is that the public would read the absence of bipartisan cooperation with Obama as a sign of liberal extremism, and would perceive any bipartisan support for his agenda as a sign of moderation, regardless of the policy details. This is exactly what happened. Whe Obama was denied bipartisan support, people worried about liberal overreach. But his bipartisan successes have suddenly persuaded the public that he is more moderate.
What Sargent misses in his analysis is this: Their strategy worked because they were taken seriously by the DC press, who has the irritating habit of reporting even the most bizarre behavior as somehow acceptable. McConnell's strategy worked because he could count on the press pool to give weight to behavior that deserved no weight.
Take the town halls, for example. Over and over again we heard about how "angry" people were at these town halls. Anyone paying attention also knew they were full of tea party shills and paid pot-stirrers who weren't angry as much as they were greedy. Yes, there were people there who had legitimate concerns, but again, those concerns were stirred up by orchestrated propaganda campaigns.
The 'death panel' claim in the health care reform debate is a shining example. It was launched with tobacco shill Betsy McCaughey's nonsensical interview with Fred Thompson on July 14, 2009, the same day the House reported out their version of the bill. Concurrent with that interview, a set of specious claims about the House bill were published on a Liberty University website and sent out via email to create an intentional email chain. Senior citizens love email chains, believe them, and pass them on. They counted on that.
Within days, the 'death panel' claim took hold, along with several others. Sarah Palin then piled on with her version of it, claiming that her Downs Syndrome child would somehow be killed or denied treatment under the House version of the bill.
Where was the press in all this? Why, being very "balanced", of course. Here's a Fox News panel amplifying the claim:
From Fox, it's expected. How about ABC News? As mainstream as they come, the kind of news people who pat themselves on the back about not paying attention to Fox News might be likely to watch. Well, in August, 2009 at the height of the town hall/death panel controversy, they reported this:
The House bill, H.R. 3200, also includes controversial “end of life care” consultations, which would reimburse doctors for discussing end-of-life arrangements with patients, but which some critics have characterized as “death panels.”
See how that works? Some critics? Not "some critics". OPPONENTS. But never, ever do they say that. They don't point out that the death panel lie emanated from and was spread by people who opposed the bill. They framed it as random opposition with no real organized center.
Over and over they do this. Just look at the reporting this week on the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Never do they look at WHY this is being done, and their reporting actually suggests there might be credible reasons for wanting to repeal it.
Why hasn't one of them asked the questions Democrats have asked this week about why Republicans want us to go back to benefit caps and exclusion for pre-existing conditions? Why haven't they done in-depth reports on what happens when people are denied insurance for conditions like gingivitis?
By not asking these questions and calling lies outright lies, they enabled Republicans' goals and message. Greg Sargent pushes that enabling a little farther by giving them a pass and characterizing McConnell/GOP strategy as "brilliant".
I think this stands as another reminder that the strategy of Senate Republicans during the past two years was politically brilliant. As you may recall, Mitch McConnell got a lot of attention last month because he frankly acknowledged that Republicans made a calculated decision to deny Obama bipartisan support for his proposals in service of a grand political objective:
"We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals," McConnell says. "Because we thought -- correctly, I think -- that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the 'bipartisan' tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there's a broad agreement that that's the way forward."
McConnell's victory is also our Fourth Estate's failure.
Bonus: Digby and I must be operating on the same wavelength today. Here's her post on Jon Stewart's "Big Lie Lie".