Friday, August 10, 2012

In Brawl Over Romney's Tax Returns, Harry Reid Gets Marquee Billing

From Vermont Public Radio:

Reid pushed the button again when he spoke to The Huffington Post last week:

"Saying he had 'no problem with somebody being really, really wealthy,' Reid sat up in his chair a bit before stirring the pot further. A month or so ago, he said, a person who had invested with Bain Capital called his office.

'Harry, he didn't pay any taxes for 10 years,' Reid recounted the person as saying."

Reid responded to the ensuing GOP cries of foul on the Senate floor last Thursday, saying: "The word's out that he hasn't paid any taxes for 10 years. Let him prove that he has paid taxes — because he hasn't."

That same afternoon Romney was on the radio show hosted by conservative Fox News personality Sean Hannity. When asked by Hannity if he had a response to Reid's accusation, Romney laughed, then replied: "It's time for Harry to put up or shut up. Harry's going to have to describe who it is he spoke with, because of course that's totally and completely wrong."

On the Sunday morning network TV talk shows, the topic was still hot. This time it was Romney's surrogates going on the attack against Reid. On ABC's This Week, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said he wouldn't respond to Reid, calling him "a dirty liar."

And with that, Priebus gave the storyline yet another boost.

More here.

This has all been interesting and amusing to me. Amusing because, after listening to countless Romney lies, yes lies, about Obama for weeks and weeks, it's downright hilarious to hear the howls of outrage coming from Governor Mormon's right-wing defenders over Reid's vaguely sourced comment about Utah Olympic Dude's taxes. Delicious irony.

But over the last couple of days, I've become far more interested than amused. At first, it was a bit discomfiting to hear Reid inject such hearsay into the public discourse on the issue. I mean, it's a cheap shot, a low blow: how does one respond to something that someone "heard" from somebody? But whatever, I thought. Probably won't do much harm one way or the other. But the longer this has been going on, with Reid's willingness to stick to his guns, it's just kept the tax return scandal in the daily news cycle. And everytime a Republican steps forward to defend Romney, he must also restate what the issue is for all to hear: Romney is accused by the Democratic Senate Majority Leader of paying no income taxes at all for ten years. So, whether Reid's actually got something on Mitt or not, this thing just keeps on keeping on, slowly seeping into the conventional wisdom, slowly, in the back of the public's mind, becoming "truth" whether it's true or not.

I mean, that's how the news media seem to function at the public discourse level, just a cacophony of words and images and phrases and ideas over the long haul without much specificity, but ultimately congealing into what everybody "knows." Remember Al Gore inventing the internet? He never actually claimed that, but weeks and weeks of Republicans on TV twisting his words turned it into the "truth." And the pundits picked up on it and it became even more "true." In short, conservatives have understood for a very long time how the mainstream media are received by voters, how the mainstream media embrace a sort of unthinking herd mentality among themselves. And conservatives have played the media like a fiddle, much to their success over the years.

Meanwhile, the Democrats offer arguments and evidence. But nobody ever gives a shit.

The reality is that, in the current media environment, truth is totally subordinated to assertions, and the stronger such assertions are, the more dominant they become. I think Harry Reid has figured this out, and is trying the tactic on for size. Don't get me wrong; I'm definitely uncomfortable with it--indeed, it really is pretty sleazy. But the Republicans have been wiping the floor with the Democrats on this since the Clinton era, and the news media have only become more willing to enable the assertion tactic as the years have gone by.

So, like it or not, this is the game board. And it may very well be that the Democrats have finally gotten around to reading the rule book. If that's the case, the political equation in this country could change dramatically over the next few years.