The lies of August

The stakes are high and Republicans are stooping low. But if health reform falters as a result of GOP demagoguery, Democrats may face a reconstituted Gingrich coalition in 2010.

August will be a liar's month, breeding conspiracy theories and falsehoods out of the cynical opposition to health-insurance reform. President Obama's invitation to bipartisanship has been answered by Republicans with expedient delay and a rising cacophony of fear-mongering. South Carolina's retrograde Sen. Jim DeMint explained their purposes perhaps more plainly than his like-minded colleagues would have wished: "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo," DeMint said. "It will break him."

With the political stakes so high, Republicans are willing to stoop very low. The problem is that reform is inevitably complex—and the opposition can opportunistically cherry-pick and distort its individual provisions. The fear-mongering ranges from the false claim that tax increases on the wealthy, included in the House bill, will devastate small businesses—in fact, 96 percent would pay nothing more—to the simplistic fraud that Medicare reforms equal cuts in Medicare benefits. Meantime, the lies multiply about government "bureaucrats" stifling individual choice or rationing care.

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Robert Shrum has been a senior adviser to the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, the campaign of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the British Labour Party. In addition to being the chief strategist for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign, Shrum has advised thirty winning U.S. Senate campaigns; eight winning campaigns for governor; mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major cities; and the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Shrum's writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New Republic, Slate, and other publications. The author of No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner (Simon and Schuster), he is currently a Senior Fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.