Politics & Policy

An Epidemic of Dishonesty on the Right

David Hogg, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaks at a rally calling for more gun control in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, February 17, 2018. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)
Enough with the rancid conspiracy theories

First it was the Holocaust, now Parkland — is there any act of depravity to which the less respectable right-wing media cannot imagine a connection for George Soros?

David Clarke, the sheriff of Fox News, insisted that the Florida students’ reaction to the shooting “has GEORGE SOROS’ FINGERPRINTS all over it,” idiotic capitalization in the original and, one assumes, in his soul. The idiots at Gateway Pundit suggested that one of the student survivors was a fraud because — get this — he’d been interviewed on television before about an unrelated incident. Dinesh D’Souza joined in to mock the students as patsies.

To be fair, D’Souza doesn’t think George Soros is behind Parkland — he thinks George Soros was behind the Holocaust.

About that, a few thoughts.

There are many reasons to dislike George Soros. The slander that he was a Nazi is not one of them.

The Soros-was-a-Nazi story is a staple of talk radio and the less responsible conservative corners of the Internet. The facts are rather different: Soros was a three-year-old Jew living in Budapest when Adolf Hitler came to power. He was still a child when the war ended. During the Nazi occupation of Hungary, he was ordered to report to the local Jewish registry, where he was given the job of delivering deportation notices to Jewish families, something his father prevented him from doing. The Soros family was well-to-do, and his father was able to purchase fraudulent documents identifying the Soroses as Christian. Toward the end of the war, Soros was under the care of a government official who helped protect Soros — and his own Jewish wife — even as he went about his official task of inventorying the estates of dispossessed Hungarian Jews. From this comes the spate of libels about Soros — that he was a member of the SS, that the origin of his vast fortune was property stolen from victims of the Holocaust, etc.

Soros is a genuinely nasty guy, and his influence extends into some of the worst crevices of the Left. But he is not a Nazi.

Lying about George Soros is wrong for a number of reasons. The first and most important of them is that lying is wrong, and those of us who play roles in the public discourse have a special responsibility to be scrupulous with the facts, especially those touching our opponents and rivals. That is related to another good reason to avoid this kind of dishonesty: When people get used to hearing prominent conservatives lying about their opponents, it makes it easier for honest and fair-minded people to dismiss conservative arguments and conservative claims out of hand.

D’Souza is hardly the only offender here. Scott Baio suggested on Twitter that the woman presented as Charlottesville murder victim Heather Heyer was the same woman presented as Sandy Hook mother Vicki Soto. He posted pictures of them side by side, with the oh-so-innocent remark “Thoughts?” The implication — that the events in Sandy Hook and Charlottesville were some sort of hoax pulled off by a powerful and far-reaching conspiracy of wily political operators who could not be bothered to hire an extra actress to fortify their schemes — is poisonous, lunatic conspiracy-theory stuff. Normally, I would not give one furry little rat’s patootie what Chachi says or does, but this is a man who was invited to speak on the opening day of the Republican National Convention in 2016, who is a regular representative of the conservative view on Fox News and other outlets, and who is, therefore, a figure of some cultural consequence, peculiar as that fact may be.

And of course there is the fact, inconvenient for conservatives, that the president of these United States, who is in the habit of denouncing “fake news” from the bully pulpit, spent years trafficking in a daft conspiracy theory about Barack Obama: that he is a Kenyan and possibly (as Baio has suggested) a Muslim, possibly a closet radical Muslim (call him “The Meccan Candidate”) sympathetic to the aims of al-Qaeda et al.

Trump and his apologists have failed to learn the sad lesson of Hillary Rodham Clinton: When people have come to assume that every other word out of your mouth is a lie, it becomes very difficult to tell the truth effectively. If Mrs. Clinton had had a good and true explanation for her email shenanigans, no one would have believed her. If Trump has a genuine “win” to talk about, all thinking adults will treat his claims with skepticism. Even his allies and members of his staff know better than to take him at his word.

That’s a problem for the president in particular, but it also is a problem for the conservative movement, which has become infected with Trump’s dishonesty.

Dinesh D’Souza should be ashamed of himself. David Clarke should be ashamed of himself, and not just for his ridiculous hat. And conservatives should be ashamed of them, too, and for bending the knee to Scott Baio, Ted Nugent, and every other third-rate celebrity who has something nice to say about a Republican from time to time. And we should be ashamed of ourselves if we come to accept this kind of dishonesty in the service of political expediency. If conservative ideas cannot prevail in the marketplace of ideas without lies, they do not deserve to prevail at all.

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