Sweet Little Lies
Four years into a war fought to eliminate a nonexistent threat, we all have renewed appreciation for the power of the Big Lie: people tend to believe false official claims about big issues, because they can’t picture their leaders being dishonest about such things.As Krugman points out even when the lies are shown to be lies the damage is done and the press that was quick to report them is slow to report that they were indeed lies. The Republican lie machine could not work with out the aid of the so called liberal press.
But there’s another political lesson I don’t think has sunk in: the power of the Little Lie — the small accusation invented out of thin air, followed by another, and another, and another. Little Lies aren’t meant to have staying power. Instead, they create a sort of background hum, a sense that the person facing all these accusations must have done something wrong.
For a long time, basically from 9/11 until the last remnants of President Bush’s credibility drowned in New Orleans, the Bush administration was able to go big on its deceptions. Most people found it inconceivable that an American president would, for example, assert without evidence that Saddam and Al Qaeda were allies. Mr. Bush won the 2004 election because a quorum of voters still couldn’t believe he would grossly mislead them on matters of national security.
Before 9/11, however, the right-wing noise machine mainly relied on little lies. And now it has returned to its roots.
The Clinton years were a parade of fake scandals: Whitewater, Troopergate, Travelgate, Filegate, Christmas-card-gate. At the end, there were false claims that Clinton staff members trashed the White House on their way out.
Each pseudoscandal got headlines, air time and finger-wagging from the talking heads. The eventual discovery in each case that there was no there there, if reported at all, received far less attention. The effect was to make an administration that was, in fact, pretty honest and well run — especially compared with its successor — seem mired in scandal.
With the now infamous Attorney Purge the little lies are becoming scandals. We return to the New York Times.
Another Layer of Scandal
As Congress investigates the politicization of the United States attorney offices by the Bush administration, it should review the extraordinary events the other day in a federal courtroom in Wisconsin. The case involved Georgia Thompson, a state employee sent to prison on the flimsiest of corruption charges just as her boss, a Democrat, was fighting off a Republican challenger. It just might shed some light on a question that lurks behind the firing of eight top federal prosecutors: what did the surviving attorneys do to escape the axe?The first question many of us asked when the eight attorneys were fired was what about the 85 that didn't get fired? It is looking like this was an excellent question. It may be more important to investigate the attorneys who were allowed to stay - the "loyal Bushies".
Ms. Thompson, a purchasing official in the state’s Department of Administration, was accused by the United States attorney in Milwaukee, Steven Biskupic, of awarding a travel contract to a company whose chief executive contributed to the campaign of Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. Ms. Thompson said the decision was made on the merits, but she was convicted and sent to prison before she could appeal.
The prosecution was a boon to Mr. Doyle’s opponent. Republicans ran a barrage of attack ads that purported to tie Ms. Thompson’s “corruption” to Mr. Doyle. Ms. Thompson was sentenced shortly before the election, which Governor Doyle won.
The Chicago-based United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit seemed shocked by the injustice of her conviction. It took the extraordinary step of releasing Ms. Thompson from prison immediately after hearing arguments, without waiting to issue a ruling. One of the judges hinted that Ms. Thompson may have been railroaded. “It strikes me that your evidence is beyond thin,” Judge Diane Wood told the lawyer from Mr. Biskupic’s office.
Ms. Thompson’s case is not the only one raising questions about whether prosecutors tried last year to tilt close elections toward the Republicans. New Jersey’s federal prosecutor conducted an investigation of weak-looking allegations against Senator Robert Menendez that was used in Republican ads.
Congress should look into both cases to determine whether partisan politics played a role — and whether they were coordinated with anyone at the Justice Department or the White House.
The only upside to all of this is that an incompetent president has surrounded himself with equally incompetent people. The result is that all of this scandal has seen the light of day. Of course we have also seen the downside with the Katrina disaster and the cadre of young unskilled cultists who were sent to Iraq and made a bad situation worse.
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