This week, President Obama announced a series of actions on guns. The word that journalists most often used to describe them was "modest." Obama clarified exactly who is "in the business" of selling guns, and thus must perform a background check on potential customers. In a nutshell, the old rule allowed many who sold guns regularly enough that they should have been required to get a license -- and perform background checks -- to avoid doing so, in particular if they operated only online and/or at gun shows rather than in a brick-and-mortar store.
Its vagueness made the existing regulation largely unenforceable. The president's new clarification makes things, well, clearer. It is, however, in no way an imposition on the right of anyone to purchase a gun. It simply helps to more effectively enforce the longstanding requirement that those in the business of selling guns -- whether in a store or not -- do their part to prevent those whom the law says should not have a gun from legally obtaining one.
The Republican reaction? The guy who was supposed to bring those crazy House Republicans in line, Speaker Paul Ryan, characterized President Obama's action on guns as "a form of intimidation that undermines liberty." Never mind that, as recently as 2013, Ryan supported closing the aforementioned "loopholes" that allow so-called private sales online and at gun shows to remain private. Doing so, he stated, was "reasonable" and "obvious."
Could it be that Ryan only opposes what Obama did on guns because of the Speaker's high-minded and principled opposition to overreach by the executive branch (yes, I'm smiling as I type this)? You see, as Jennifer Bendery helpfully reminds us, Ryan said back in 2012 that a Romney-Ryan administration would repeal the entirety of Obamacare through an executive order. Not exactly an executive action journalists would call modest.
As for those who seek to replace the president, Marco Rubio launched a new ad where he darkly intoned that Obama wants to "take away our guns." Even before hearing the details of what the president was going to say -- although the general thrust had already been leaked -- Donald Trump offered: "Pretty soon you won't be able to get guns." Chris Christie beat the drums of fear as well, declaring: "This president wants to act as if he is a king, as if he is a dictator."
Last, but certainly not least, Ted Cruz spoke of an "abuse of power." He also added to his website a page dominated by the photoshopped image you see above -- depicting Barack Obama as some kind of jack-booted thug -- and which shouts: "OBAMA WANTS YOUR GUNS". The New York Times op-ed board slammed the president's opponents on this issue for "deliberately mis-stat[ing]" what his actions would do. I'll just call them liars.
That's my larger point here, it's about the lying. You see, what Barack Obama did last week on guns, and what Democrats seek to do in general, are well within the bounds of reason and appeal broadly to the American people. That's why Republicans have to lie. They need to bleat about dictatorship and gun confiscations because the truth isn't scary enough to get people to vote their way. They have to get people worked up with lies about Mexico sending rapists across the border, or lies that Obamacare included "death panels" that would kill grandma, or the particularly poisonous lie that President Obama has "deliberately weakened America," a falsehood uttered by the supposedly not crazy Marco Rubio.
This isn't just about Trump and Cruz, or gasbags like Sarah Palin -- who got the whole death panel ball rolling back in 2009. When Rubio -- the last, best hope of the GOP grown-ups -- essentially accuses the sitting president of treason, you know that lying to paint our side as extremists is simply coded into the Republican Party's DNA.
Projection refers to the act of attributing what one is or does onto others. This strategy defines the Republican approach to politics. They paint their Democratic opponents as extreme in order to deflect from the extremeness of their own ideas. You see, we don't have to lie to demonstrate that Republicans are extreme. They do that all by themselves.
For example, which party's leading candidate called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," yet continued to rise in the polls after doing so? Which party's members -- both in the House and Senate -- voted overwhelmingly to end Medicare as we know it by privatizing the program? Which party's candidates for president -- across the board -- offered tax plans that, according to an analysis done by the conservative Tax Foundation, would "deliver disproportionate gains to the most affluent"? And that's just a few to start with.
Republicans consistently take extreme positions on issues of profound importance. If our political discourse consisted of a substantive debate, and if it punished politicians for the kind of absurd lies and distortions the GOP tells on a daily basis, it would bear little resemblance to the carnival barking currently inflicted on the American people.
Conservatives need to distract the great mass of voters from what they actually believe. If they didn't, they'd lose. Republican demagogues have no choice but to use fear and lies because the truth is on our side.