Consider this obviously heartfelt explanation of Obama’s political troubles from Andrew Sullivan:
I know that Sullivan occasionally still calls himself a conservative, but here he’s reprising a familiar liberal theme, viz., that Obama’s current political troubles are largely a function of willful Republican/conservative disinformation. Sullivan embellishes this liberal cliché with a phrase, “the Big Lie,” coined by Hitler as a description of Jewish treachery and operationalized by Goebbels as a propaganda technique. That’s an apt comparison, as long as you don’t get hung up on the actual meaning of the words “big” and “lie” and aren’t distracted by how the practice of lying actually works.“It seems to me that the last year or so in America's political culture has represented the triumph of untruth. And the untruth was propagated by a deliberate, simple and systemic campaign to kill Obama's presidency in its crib. . . .
“Every one of [Obama’s signature policies] could be criticized in many ways. What cannot be done honestly, in my view, is to create a narrative from all of them to describe Obama as an anti-American hyper-leftist, spending the US into oblivion. But since this seems to be the only shred of thinking left on the right (exacerbated by the justified flight of the educated classes from a party that is now openly contemptuous of learning), it became a familiar refrain - pummeled into our heads day and night by talk radio and Fox. If you think I'm exaggerating, try the following thought experiment. . . .
“This is the era of the Big Lie, in other words, and it translates into a lot of little lies - "death panels," "out-of-control" spending, "apologies for America" etc. - designed to concoct a false narrative so simple and so familiar it actually succeeded in getting into people's minds in the midst of a brutal recession. And integral to this process have been conservative "intellectuals" who should and do know better, but have long since sacrificed intellectual honesty for the cheap thrills of enabling power-grabs.”
To lie is knowingly to say something false with the intention of deceiving the person you’re saying it to. We’ll avoid getting hung up on the alleged liars’ motives by stipulating that, although they say that Obama’s “an anti-American hyper-leftist, spending the US into oblivion,” they really believe in their heart of hearts that he’s a right-wing proponent of American exceptionalism, balanced budgets and supply-side economics.
Let’s focus, instead, on the fact that, as a matter of logic, the possibility of lying depends on the liar’s knowing things that the person being lied to doesn’t know. That means that controlling the victim’s access to information is a necessary feature of lying. Sometimes that’s just a matter of the liar uttering a falsehood with an innocent expression. But getting away with a Big Lie, one that durably deceives a large public as to a fact of vital political importance, demands that the liar block the public's access to information that would expose the falsehood. That was the secret of Goebbels’s success as a propagandist. From his perch atop the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda he maintained a regime of strict censorship that deprived the German population of disconfirming information.
So the credibility of Sullivan’s story depends on his alleged liars having something like Goebbels's iron grip on the channels of communication. Do they? Not exactly. It turns out the closest thing to a Goebbels in Sullivan's story are a bunch of guys writing articles about American exceptionalism in National Review. Let’s generously add the usual suspects to Sullivan’s roster of conservative/Republican liars (Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin the opinion journalists on FNC, et al.). Add anyone else you like and then ask yourself: how much collective control do these people exercise over the torrent of political information that’s now poring out of not only non-conservative daily press, the television networks and the cable outlets like CNN and MSNBC, but proliferating alternative news sources like the Huffington Post and the Daily Dish? I wouldn’t know exactly how to quantify my answer, but “approximately none” sounds like a safe bet.
There’s never been a less auspicious place and time for telling Big Lies than here and now. Yet a guy as smart and well-informed as Andrew Sullivan isn't joking when he talks about Big Lies as a way of consoling himself and the people he’s addressing aren’t laughing. That must mean something.