Civic-minded Americans of all political stripes have plenty of reason to dislike the online proliferation of culture-war conspiracy theories: They raise partisan temperatures, distract from real issues, and foreclose the possibility of compromise. But Republican partisans should be particularly hostile to the growing brand of toxic right-wing culture-war nonsense for an entirely self-interested reason: Democrats use it to cast even the most rational and widely shared critiques as loony.
When right-wing celebrities such as Representative Lauren Boebert and Donald Trump Jr. rant about how Biden is going to steal your cheeseburger before spending your tax dollars on Kamala Harris’s children’s book, they’re inadvertently providing cover for Democrats who’d like to pretend that every national Republican dons a tin foil hat before going out the door in the morning.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki is a pro at this particular sleight-of-hand, as were her predecessors in the Obama White House communications shop. Psaki demonstrated this mastery during her Thursday appearance on her predecessors’ podcast, Pod Save America.
“How did you guys come to the decision to leave out [Biden’s] one-burger-a-month plan?” former Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer asked Psaki with a chuckle.
“In all seriousness, it speaks to the broader challenge you face everyday in getting his message out,” Pfeiffer continued. “You have this totally messed up information ecosystem, you have Republicans who are actively engaging in disinformation. After the speech, Kevin McCarthy went on Hannity and once again brought up the disproved burger lie. How are you thinking about how you navigate that on a day-to-day basis.”
“It’s a challenge because last week there was a whole day . . . about whether or not the vice president’s books were being distributed through packages that were going at the shelters,” Psaki responded. “I mean it’s crazy, of course not. . . . Our focus so far has been on trying not to get distracted by sideshows that are attempts by Republicans to distract us. So whether it’s Dr. Seuss or even for a while it was school reopening — as if we were against school reopening — and that was even in Senator Scott’s speech last night.”
Did you catch that? Scott’s entirely reasonable criticism of Democrats’ failure to challenge their teachers’-union benefactors on school reopening is equivalent to pedaling nonsense Daily Mail articles about Joe Biden trying to steal your cheeseburger.
When right-wing political and entertainment figures spread conspiracy theories, they don’t just make everyone dumber and angrier, they hand their political opponents a shield to deflect real criticism.