Thursday, October 11, 2012

Election Primer 2012: 18. Politics, Lies, and Videotape

    The internet has exploded again with righteous outrage. Barack Obama was videotaped giving a speech at Hampton University in 2007, in which he criticized the federal government for not treating the 2005 disaster in New Orleans from Katrina as generously as it had treated New York City after 9-11 and Florida after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. In those two earlier crises, provisions of the federal Stafford Act were quickly waived, which required local governments to contribute $1 of relief for every $10 of relief provided by the federal government. Obama complained that it took nearly two years to waive these Stafford Act provisions for New Orleans.

    But here’s the deep secret which is now coursing through the virtual politics of the right, proving what they have always insisted on, that Obama is a lying hypocrite: just before he gave that speech, he voted in the Senate against waiving the Stafford Act for New Orleans! Can you believe it?

    It’s true, but a lie at the same time.

    Bills in the Congress are often voted on many times, because their content is frequently changed by amendments and compromise between House and Senate versions. Bills get loaded up with sometimes unrelated provisions, so that legislators end up voting for things they support and things they don’t support at the same time. Occasionally someone will vote against what they believe in order to become part of the majority, so they can bring up the bill later for another vote, a confusing provision of Robert’s Rules of Order. For these reasons, looking at one vote may be misleading about a legislator’s intentions.

    In January 2007, Obama joined Senators Lieberman and Landrieu to push for more help for New Orleans. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco pushed for a federal law eliminating the 10 percent match. The House passed the bill in March. Obama was one of the main proponents of the bill in the Senate, but it stalled, and President Bush threatened to veto it.

    Different versions of the bill emerged. On May 24, Obama voted against the final version, named the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, because it did not have a timeline for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. In a statement that day, he explained his vote: “With my vote today, I am saying to the President that enough is enough. We must negotiate a better plan that funds our troops, signals to the Iraqis that it is time for them to act and that begins to bring our brave servicemen and women home safely and responsibly.”

    The right-wing opinion makers in the press, on TV, and on the internet are busy promoting a deliberately misleading version of these events to prove the utter hypocrisy, demagoguery, shamelessness, and mendacity of the man they love to hate, President Obama. When you read these pieces or listen to them on FOX News, you hear the same words, the same sentences, quoted over and over again. They tell about that one vote and not about Obama’s advocacy for New Orleans. They talk about how Obama voted against a bill that had $6.4 billion for hurricane relief efforts, but don’t mention that the bill, according to the US Congress Votes Database of the Washington Post, “primarily focuses on funding for the Iraq war”, to the tune of $100 billion. They say he lied to the mainly black Hampton University audience that the Stafford Act had not been waived, when he was talking about why it had taken so long to waive it. They imply that they have just unearthed this bombshell, ignored by the liberal media, when Obama’s speech was fully covered by all the media at the time.

    If the Obama campaign can criticize Romney for his videotaped remarks about the 47%, then the right has now found its video proof that Obama lies, too. Except the liars here are the right-wing pundits, who cut and trim and edit the facts until they fit their preferred narrative about “Barack Obama: Phony in Chief” (from conservative economist Thomas Sowell’s contribution to this chorus).

    Modern media can spread lies across the world instantaneously. Those who allow partisan liars to form their opinions, and who refuse to listen to anyone else, end up inhabiting an alternative political universe, where their candidates are anointed by God and their opponents do the Devil’s work.

    But the internet itself is non-partisan. A bit more digging, a bit of research on both sides, and the whole story can be discovered. Then you find out whom you can trust.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 11, 2012

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