Was the President planning to use drones against American citizens on American soil to fight terrorism? All of the factual evidence seems to indicate that the idea was never under any kind of serious consideration, and Senator Rand Paul’s filibister prior to the nomination of John Brennan was the first inkling the administration got that there was anyone who was even thinking about the possibility. The reaction to the Senator’s thirteen hour filibuster, however, indicates that there was a fringe group, made up of some tea partiers and libertarians, and a few liberals, who believed that it was not only a possibility, but some were worried that it was already happening. Those kinds of conspiracy theories are always out there, and the usual response is usually not much more than a laugh in casual conversation. Social media has made it possible for various networks of conspiracy theorists to get the word out on the latest thing going around pretty quickly, so that is also not surprising. I even saw one post on Facebook from someone who was insisting she had seen drones over her county in East Texas (I wonder who they were after there?). But this particular incident is disturbing, because a U.S. Senator failed to check the facts prior to spending thirteen hours rambling not only about this particular theory, but using the opportunity to whip up a whole lot of other fears about high tech weapons, the possibility of gun control, and to play on the fears of fringe groups and their dislike of the current administration. He pushed the fear forward by invoking the name of Hitler, and the things the Nazis did to take over Germany.
The problem with this sort of thing is not knowing who your audience is, and not taking into account the responsibility that comes with your office, setting someone off who might take some action which would lead to people getting hurt or killed, and first responders being put in the line of fire.
This isn’t the first time Senator Paul missed his facts. It makes you wonder where he gets his information, and what kind of help he has vetting it. He picked up a talk radio report about a group called “Friends of Hamas” providing financial support to then Senator Chuck Hagel, and went so far as to express his own concern about the contribution. There was just one problem. There is no such group as “Friends of Hamas,” and there was no contribution made by them to Senator Hagel. That’s a tactic picked up from right wing talk radio. The idea is to try to play to people’s fears, insert something that people can’t distinguish as fact or fiction, and then tie it to the issue. It makes it difficult for the other side to respond, because they obviously aren’t familiar with the subject matter, and it takes time for them to look it up and figure out that it is a ruse. By the time that happens, its old news. But the thing that bothers me about it, besides the lack of integrity and truth, is that those who use the tactic are admitting that they don’t believe they can win the argument or the point on its merits, but they believe they have to win it at all costs. In the long run, that erodes trust, and when the facts come out, as they usually do, there’s a higher price to pay.
With the rapid spread of information, people generally react to what they hear before they bother to check its accuracy. If they ever bother to check the accuracy. Increasingly, people are willing to believe something from what they consider a credible source without bothering to check the accuracy of the assertion, especially if it appeals to their fears or prejudices. Let me share a couple of examples.
There has been a long standing belief, since prior to 2008, that if the current President was elected to office, he would attempt to take people’s guns away. The effect of this rumor was to send thousands of people into gun shops and gun shows, and a sharp increase in the sale of personally owned weapons. The bottom line, as it turns out, is that there wasn’t even a proposal on the table, or a discussion about one. But that didn’t matter. Since Sandy Hook, the same thing has occurred. The only proposal this time around is a universal registration system, and background checks to screen out mentally ill individuals from purchasing and owning weapons. There’s been nothing proposed that would involve “taking guns away,” and it seems pretty clear that this administration isn’t going to propose anything like that. But the rumor keeps circulating, and the gun buyers keep purchasing. It’s beginning to look more like a marketing campaign than a political issue…
As a former history teacher, I always cringe when people cite historical examples to make a point, but they get the historical facts wrong, or they twist them out of context and misinterpret their meaning. The poor quality of education in this country is a directly contributing factor to the ability of misinformation to make an impact. Hitler did not take over Germany by taking people’s guns away from them. He took over Germany by political pressure that came about in part from the threat that his private army, the Brownshirts, had the power and ability to stage a coup or launch a revolution. Private gun ownership was a contributing factor. During the buildup of the military, and at the beginning of the war, the only reason private citizens couldn’t get access to guns was that virtually every one manufactured or purchased by the German government went for military use.
There is at least one adverse effect that attempting to build a political agenda out of made up information is already having. There are a lot of legitimate political issues that conservatives are attempting to get passed into law. I have a particular interest in education reform and school choice. But it is always getting pushed to the back burner, delayed, or ignored because stuff like this keeps coming up. And while Rand Paul is probably pretty safe in a state that is as politically backward as any in the nation, and has the local support of a lot of fringe elements in his state, his harrangue in the senate will have a political cost to other Republicans who are in more vulnerable positions, including Pennsylvania. That’s why Lindsay Graham and John McCain spoke up, as they should have.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayanna