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A Man Hears What He Wants to Hear and Disregards the Rest

April 18th, 2011

In politics, when speaking to the public, it’s far easier to tell a lie, and much harder to tell the truth. This is mostly true because people believe certain things more than others: they more easily believe claims that jibe with their personal beliefs, they quickly believe things that sound attractive, and they just as quickly believe things that frighten them.

Take the whole Reaganomics thing: cutting taxes will increase revenues. Everyone loves cutting taxes, even when it’s not for them. Tell them that you can do this and the government will actually take in more money, and you’ve got most of the public believing you–despite the fact that the claim is contrary to basic logic. Not to worry–just make the claim that there is some expert that supports your statement. “Oh, we’ve got this thing called the Laffer Curve, these expert economists back us up.” “OK, good enough for us!” It’s the same principle that scam artists use to fleece people of their money. It works.

Telling the lie is easy, you don’t really need to explain or prove anything. Just present the thesis, claim you have support, and you’re done.

Debunking the lie is far harder. People won’t simply believe the same thing in reverse, because it’s not what they want to hear. So you’ll need to prove what you say. And that involves using explanations–facts and logic which take time and require listeners to actively think, all to conclude that what they want to believe isn’t true. Naturally, it doesn’t take very long before most of your audience loses interest and stops listening. So your best chance is to conclusively prove the lie is false in a clear and concise statement–and that’s often extremely difficult, if not impossible.

This is how it is going with most Republican claims and proposals these days. They have become extremely adept at the easy lie. Despite having been lied to–demonstrably–on multiple occasions in the recent past by the GOP, people still generally accept whatever they say.

Take, for example, the new Republican plan to cut spending:

At first glance, the survey results aren’t exactly encouraging. When respondents were asked whether or not they favored the Republicans’ a 10-year plan to cut spending $6.2 trillion, it scored pretty well — 48% supported the idea, which is pretty high, while 33% were against it.

But then respondents were given an accurate description of the same plan, noting, among other things, that the GOP proposal “makes small cuts in defense spending,” repeals health care reform, cuts taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and makes “major cuts” to Medicaid and Medicare.

At that point, support dropped from 48% to 36%, and opposition rose from 33% to 56%.

What’s more, the pollster explained the Republicans’ plan for Medicare: “This plan would cut Medicare spending and replace Medicare with a voucher system, which will force seniors to negotiate with private insurance companies, which are free to raise rates and deny coverage. Medicare’s guaranteed coverage of care would end, and seniors would have to pay more and more out of pocket.” All of this is accurate, by the way.

After hearing this description, 66% of respondents said they have “serious doubts” about the GOP proposal. [Poll (PDF)]

This is how it goes in general: most people simply accept what Republicans say. They don’t think about it, they don’t check the facts. The more you tell them the facts, however, the more they would go against the Republican proposal.

Unfortunately, this survey was unusual, because it created a context in which people were willing to sit and listen attentively to certain statements and then respond with a considered opinion. This will not happen with most people in real life. They will read the headlines, see the false claim, not bother to read the details (even if they are presented, which all too often they are not), and remain solidly with their initial impression.

In the end, believing what you like or what you fear is easier, because it is a matter of feeling rather than thinking. Most people prefer not to think; as Colbert put it, most people like to go with their guts–facts, on the other hand, have a liberal bias.

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  1. Troy
    April 18th, 2011 at 10:29 | #1

    The real dumb thing about the proposed voucher system is that it will just RAISE the cost of care.

    This idea is the same thing as giving everyone say $100/mo in vouchers to buy gasoline.

    WTF do these geniuses think would happen to the price of gas under that system?

    Same thing with senior care! Doctors specialize in senior care and will charge what the market will bear. Increase senior’s buying power and they’ll just rake that money in.

    Removing Medicare’s single-payer gives the entire system a license to steal.

    It’s really amazing how utterly useless the Republicans are these days. They’re beyond actively stupid, they’re bordering on actively destructive.

    But the voucher system is important for Republicans, for they know for the “Great Society” promises to be maintained, taxes have to go up and cost-controls (actually profit controls) have to be implemented.

    The core problem is that Medicare Parts A & B are Democrat initiatives, and C (HMOs) & D (pharma plans) are Republican initiatives. Democrats targeted Part C with PPACA, and now the Republicans are returning the favor, proposing to scrap the entire system for everyone born after 1957.

    Tellingly, 1957 was the peak baby boom birth year, so Ryan’s plan is attempting to divide the baby boom into haves & have nots.

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