Persuade voters? Republicans prefer to create confusion

Maybe you’ve heard about GOP operatives leaving helpful leaflets in poor, heavily Democratic neighborhoods with the heading, “DON’T FORGET TO VOTE” and then in smaller print, “Republicans vote Tuesday / Democrats vote Wednesday.”

It’s become something that Republicans joke about – they say that no such leaflets were ever handed out, no such mass emails ever sent. The “Tuesday/Wednesday” line even shows up on bumper stickers aimed at making light of the controversy.

Maybe it’s true that such accounts are apocryphal, but incidents of shameful Republican trickery continue to occur and party operatives aren’t denying them. In fact, they’re sending out news releases touting them.

Here’s the first, from Alex Mooney, Maryland’s former Republican party chairman and a state lawmaker there who has rented a home in Charles Town since last year.

One might expect that Mooney would allow last week’s 79th anniversary of the creation of the Social Security Act to pass quietly. After all, Mooney is aligned with the most conservative element of his party, and is on record decrying such federal government spending.

But nope, instead his campaign sent out a news release entitled, “Mooney Celebrates Social Security’s 79th Anniversary,” with details of the candidate’s visit with seniors at the Lewis County Senior Center in Weston.

The news release doesn’t say if Mooney was asked about whether he would have voted to create the SSA had he been serving in Congress under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democrat who created the program during the Great Depression.

But we can look at what Mooney had to say about the federal government’s social safety net during an April interview with the Dartmouth Review, the newspaper from his alma mater.

“… the Democratic Party comes in with its agenda of ‘We’ll give you free stuff! We’ll give you free health care! We’ll give you money for food and housing!’ … And that’s the whole agenda of the Democratic Party.”

He goes on: “Unfortunately, [the promises of these entitlements] just can’t continue. People want to work and keep their profits; they don’t want to give [their money] to somebody else … Our country cannot continue that way.”

Back in 1935, Roosevelt said: “The civilization of the past hundred years, with its startling industrial changes, has tended more and more to make life insecure. Young people have come to wonder what would be their lot when they came to old age.”

Last week one of his grandsons, Jim Roosevelt, who spent part of his career working in the Social Security Administration, said today’s seniors – and younger Americans – need the help offered by Social Security now more than ever.

“Even without the assurance of walking out the door 40 years down the line with a gold watch and a pension, younger Americans today have far less reason to fear living out their final years in abject poverty,” Roosevelt said in a commentary for CNN.

“Despite Social Security’s extraordinary success, and the program’s deep popularity with the American people,” he writes, “it has been targeted with lies and distortions by those who would seek to end the program as we know it based on rigid ideology.”

Even with no changes and despite the coming flood of retirees born during the Baby Boom, Social Security is not headed for insolvency, Roosevelt said.

According to the Social Security Administration, the Social Security Trust Fund has a surplus today of $2.8 trillion.

“The American people should be skeptical of Republican leaders who suggest that the only way to save the program for future generations is to gut it,” Roosevelt wrote.

Republicans have for years been fighting to shift Social Security to a system of individualized accounts invested with Wall Street. Besides being an enormous gift to big bankers, privatization would actually make SSA insolvency more likely (as millions of younger taxpayers chose to opt out and take their chances in the stock market) and would also place the risk of an adequate retirement completely on the individual. Had George W. Bush succeeded in his second-term push
to privatize Social Security, the economic collapse would have cost the Social Security Trust Fund billions – even trillions – and those seniors in Weston might have been “celebrating” with Mooney over cat food.

Today, West Virginians benefit from Social Security and other federal anti-poverty programs more than residents of most other states – including the latest expansion, the federal health care initiative called Obamacare.

As the conservative Charleston Daily Mail reported last month: “Data from a new study suggest West Virginia’s uninsured rate has been slashed by 62 percent in the wake of the Affordable Care Act rollout.

“Personal finance news website Wallet Hub estimates 6.59 percent of West Virginians are uninsured today; compared to 17.34 percent of West Virginians uninsured before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“Based on the data, the site says West Virginia saw the biggest drop in adult uninsured rate and had the most new Medicaid enrollees per capita than any other state that expanded Medicaid coverage. The website ranks West Virginia as having the sixth-lowest uninsured rate in the country.”

In 2010 when Mooney was a state senator representing Maryland’s Washington and Frederick counties, he led a “Sovereignty resolution” campaign aimed at reasserting state rights and undoing such work by the federal government.

“The intentions of the framers, and often the Constitution itself, (are) conveniently reinterpreted and ignored to fit the whims of an ever-growing centralized federal government,” Mooney said then.

One opponent of that measure, a Democrat from Prince George’s County, Md., cited FDR as he argued against Mooney’s bill.

“[Roosevelt] took over factories, he took over the country. Again, to save this country,” State Sen. Ulysses Currie said then.

Mooney told the News-Post reporter that similar resolutions supporting the 10th Amendment had been introduced in 37 states in 2009, with seven states passing them.

In his interview with the Dartmouth paper, Mooney shared his thoughts on Obamacare and how West Virginians who now have health care through Medicare would once again be free (or actually left to scramble) to try to find health care they can afford:

“I would repeal Obamacare completely,” he said. “[Obamacare] is a horrible government intrusion in the free market. Let the free market take over. Let people [purchase insurance] from whichever state they want to buy from, or whatever private insurer they choose.”

He also praised Republicans in the House of Representatives for working to undo the health care program.

“They have passed a repeal of Obamacare just over 50 times now,” he said. “And the U.S. Senate won’t take it up. So, at this point, it’s all about the November election and hopefully if the Republicans can take over the U.S. Senate, we can start to dismantle Obamacare … and cut spending and pass balanced budgets.”

What Mooney and other ultra-conservatives don’t say is that while they’d like to end or drastically cut government involvement in retirement programs and health care, they’re all for handouts in the forms of more tax breaks for the nation’s wealthiest citizens and to large corporations.

So when Mooney “celebrates” Social Security with seniors or campaigns at a “Working for West Virginia Jobs Rally” in Beckley this week alongside U.S. Senate candidate Shelley Moore Capito and Mitt Romney, whose personal wealth is estimated at between $190 million and $250 million – I’m going to come out and label this as campaign rhetoric. Social Security, the needs of working West Virginians, the future of the coal industry – none of these is an actual Mooney priority.

                The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank chronicled a second example of Republican trickery in an opinion piece published Aug. 13.

He explains that the National Republican Congressional Committee has launched a set of deceptive websites designed to look like local news sources.

Some two dozen sites with names such as “North County Update” and “Central Valley Update” at first glance seem to political fact-checking sites, but all the way at the bottom of each site appears the fine print: “Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee.”

NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek told the National Journal the sites are  “a new and effective way to disseminate information.”

Another Republican official told Milbank: “They’re not fake Web sites. These are real attack Web sites.”

Milbank goes on to list some of the anti-Obama attacks launched by the GOP in recent years, including:

  • That Obamacare would mean a collapse of the American health care system and the advent of socialized medicine and death panels
  • That the Obama administration orchestrated a coverup after an attack by militants on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012
  • That the Obama White House botched Operation “Fast and Furious,” the gun program under the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives
  • That the Obama White House pushed for money for Solyndra even though officials knew the solar-energy firm was going bankrupt
  • That the IRS scandal had targeted Obama’s enemies for political reasons

In each case, subsequent investigations found little to back up any of the allegations, but that’s fine by the GOP. “The actual truth of the allegations doesn’t matter,” Milbank wrote.

“Each one sullied President Obama’s name, and investigators’ failure to deliver the goods did little to remove the taint.

“That’s why fake news works: Falsehoods can drive a president’s approval rating into the cellar while the truth is still getting out of bed.”

So let’s accept that the “Republicans vote Tuesday, Democrats vote Wednesday” line really is just a joke. There’s nothing funny about a candidate celebrating the country’s social safety net when he’d prefer to take a knife to it or introducing Mooney, Capito and Romney as “working for working West Virginians” when they’ve fought against so much that benefits the middle class. And there’s no amusement in passing off political propaganda as legitimate news.

Of course Republicans want West Virginians to vote for their candidates on Nov. 4 just as Dems want the majority of citizens to back their slate, but candidates and their operatives from all sides ought to commit to a fair fight.

Why can’t Republicans state clearly and honestly why they believe the GOP candidate is best? What does it say about their case when strategy after strategy involves trying to pull the wool over voters’ eyes?

— Christine Snyder is the news editor at the Spirit of Jefferson



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