Steve Benen on the debate over health care reform:
But what does this tell us about the political process? I suspect the moral of the story is pretty straightforward: it pays to lie, blatantly and repeatedly, when launching a campaign against a policy initiative. If proponents ignore your bogus claims, they go uncontested, making it easier to persuade uninformed voters. If proponents challenge your bogus claims, the media will say they’ve “lost control of the message.”
Either way, the incentives to tell the truth and talk to Americans like grown-ups are minimal.
I think that’s about right with one proviso: there is a disincentive to continuously lie about everything over a long period of time, as the Republican political disasters of the last four years illustrate. Too much lying creates a mythology that is too complicated for most of the public is unable to understand; in the end, a lot of Republicans attacks fall flat simply because most voters just don’t understand the references to John Galt/Dijon mustard/bear DNA at all.
But other than that, there’s no real downside to lying. The media is not interested in fact-checking and to the extent that they are, they feel obliged to hit both sides equally e.g. “yes, Bush misestimated the size of the federal budge by a trillion dollars, but Al Gore was wrong about the name of the guy he toured the disaster site with, so they’re both equally bad.” Some of this is laziness, some of this is fear of being called liberal.