by Bud Cothern
We’ve all heard the aphorism about telling a big lie often enough and folks start to believe it. The saying is often credited to dictators and propagandists, but scholars cannot accurately attribute it to any one historical character. Perhaps it’s not really important to pinpoint the origin. What the maxim may tell us more importantly is that it is often part of a politicians’ bag of tricks.
We have certainly seen plenty of it with Donald Trump of course. According to Trump, we have the highest murder rate in 47 years; the first travel ban only affected 109 people; he had a massive electoral college victory; 14 percent of noncitizens are registered to vote; his inauguration was the largest ever attended; and so on. We’ve come to expect it from him. In a sense, the lies are becoming normalized.
Is the Big Lie being normalized for other politicians as well? Well, in one case locally that may be true—right here in the 7th Congressional district of Virginia, where on at least three occasions, Rep. Dave Brat seems to have been “stretching the truth” about his accessibility.
In Brat’s Facebook town hall of January 31, for instance, he said, “I’ve done over 31 town halls in over 11 counties…hundreds of meetings across the district with business groups, sports groups, church groups, women’s groups, religious leaders across the board.”
In his Facebook town hall of February 14, 2017 he again stated, “There’s a new narrative out there I’m not doing town halls. I want to correct the record a little bit on that…I had over 31 public town halls in county seats.”
Similarly, Brat covered the same ground in his hastily organized town hall in Blackstone, Virginia on February 21. He was under tremendous pressure to hold a face-to-face meeting after Facebook encounters didn’t exactly meet the criteria for many. The venue he selected only accommodated 150 constituents, leaving hundreds outside. In a carefully scripted session, using his own special comment cards from participants, he began by saying:
“And I started reading, where’s Dave, and I don’t, I haven’t shared my background with you, so I’ll just give you a two minute bio but I had a pretty big political win a couple of years ago based on being available to constituents, that was the number one thing I ran on, and probably won on. And so I’ve had 500 meetings with constituents in the last two years, not including politics before that, right? Not including running and all that kind of stuff. So, 500 meetings with constituents. I’ve been to every Rotary, they’re sick of having me at the Rotary. I go to every sports thing, every church thing, every business thing, every chamber of commerce in every county. I’ve been to every single government center….”
In a recent interview, Brat said:
“I ran on accessibility and listening. I was a college professor. It’s who I am…In the first two years, I got to about every county every month. We had about 500 constituent meetings in the first two years…[to] every Rotary, sports, church meeting you can name.
[I kept hearing] ‘Where’s Dave?’ [and I replied] Are you kidding?” Outsider on the Inside (episode one), TheResurgent.com, March 15, 2017
So is there a Big Lie here? Is it Trumpian in nature? Not exactly, but the truth certainly seems to be strained. Brat said:
“And so when this new narrative came up where’s Dave I’m kind of like, uh, okay, that’s new to me, so that told me what’s going on, right? It’s all after Trump won the election, and that’s a bitter divide, right? That’s the reality.” (February 21, 2017 Blackstone town hall)
To the Congressman we ask, setting the reality of Trump’s election and the “bitter divide” aside, how exactly did he manage to hold “500 constituent meetings in the first two years?” Given that there are approximately 730 days over this period of time, that would mean Brat spent over two thirds of his days meeting with constituents? Is there any supporting information for those facts? What is being counted? Every time the Congressman goes to his own club meetings in Henrico? Every time he goes to church and meets fellow parishioners? Every time he goes to a sporting game with his kids? Every photo-op with a constituent? He could straighten all of this out by publishing a calendar of dates and times on his Congressional page. He says he is all about transparency. He’s mentioned that several times. Surely his office keeps a calendar of his meetings and this information would be easy to generate. A number of us have asked him to provide this in the past. Where does this 500 number come from? Is it supported by records or is it just Trumpian in character? Like Don the Con, are we seeing a pattern with Brat of bending the truth to another purpose?
If Trump and Brat can ensure that their supporters believe lies and “mis-speaks” spread by them, then their followers may never realize they were fooled by Don the Con or Dubious Dave, and that things may not pan out the way we were told (like healthcare reform or vouchers in our schools). It will always be someone else’s fault (those up in Brat’s grill…or Obama or Paul Ryan or paid protesters). They were working hard and being accessible. Just hear them: if past is prologue, Dubious Dave will have done 1,000 meetings before 2018 comes along and there will be no more signs saying, “where’s Dave”?
The Russian chess champion Kasaparov, author of Winter Is Coming, a book about Vladimir Putin summed it up well in this Tweet:
“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
When you hear Brat speak, ask yourself, does some of his inexhaustible blathering not stretch the truth? Is this more than just a philosophical difference of opinion you might have? Is this lying or, to be generous, degrees of truth stretching, in search of an excuse? Has Brat perhaps convinced himself that what he is saying is the truth? Congressman Brat is a former seminarian, so this writer will be more generous with him than with his deceitful leader.
If the congressman can back up these numbers with acceptable facts, then I will be the first to acknowledge his truthfulness. Until then, however, I am left with the question: are his statements essentially like Don the Con’s or are his numbers and facts just the product of a Dubious Dave?