The Problem of Political Deception

Someone should make this guy a Senator

Someone should make this guy a Senator

One good way to undermine public confidence in a piece of complicated legislation is to assert that the bill has all sorts of nefarious and terrifying secret provisions. Betsy McCaughey, for example, is running around the country telling people that the health care reform bill has basically a stealth provision aimed at talking your grandma into committing suicide. Mickey Kaus says Democrats should have seen this coming, but I agree with Kevin Drum that there’s really no way to write a bill that can’t be egregiously lied about:

No, the only answer is to assume that this kind of chain email fodder is always going to crop up and be ready to fight back against it. Which, so far, doesn’t really seem to be happening. That’s the real problem.

To its credit, the Obama team clearly has thought about this problem and tried to cope with a similar issue during the campaign with its Fight The Smears website. Now they’re up and running on the White House blog with a good rebuttal of a different tall tale about the health care bill. The simple fact of the matter is that research indicates that it’s extremely difficult to fight misinformation campaigns. People are going after health reform with these smears not because reform proponents are prepared to push back, but because human ingenuity has not uncovered a particularly effective counter-strategy.

This is, however, an area in which engaged citizens can make a difference. Does your uncle think this stuff is true? Someone who works in your office? Have you explained to them that it’s not? Well, you should.