The Problem With Conservatives Isn't Ideology -- It's Lying

Connecticut was the only state in the union to move completely to the left after the 2010 elections. While other states rushed to elect Tea Party-backed Republicans, the Constitution State sent liberal Democrats to the House. Life-long Democrat Richard Blumenthal beat billionaire Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, for Chris Dodd's Senate seat. The governorship, held by Republicans for 20 years, went blue, too.

So it's peculiar that one of the driving forces behind the Tea Party, the arch-conservative Americans for Prosperity (AFP), decided to set up shop in September. While Connecticut does have a wild-ass libertarian streak, it tends to get behind things the AFP abhors, like regulation, taxes and labor rights.

For those who don't know, the AFP is a front group that channels cash to the Tea Party. The AFP, in turn, is backed by Charles and David Koch who - with $50 billion between them - are No. 4 on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. What began as a mad-as-hell populist uprising quickly turned into a billionaire's shell game put in the service of hard-line party politics.

That brand of politics? Anything that gets in the way of business is un-American. What's the logic? Well, in the filigree fantasia of orthodox libertarianism, society doesn't exist, just individuals who choose to engage in market exchange. All the real-world forces - political, social and economic - that influence and coerce individuals, especially the powerless, are of no concern. Because freedom is defined by an individual's right to engage in this exchange freely, any encumbrance is tyrannical. Hence, regulation of business is a form of government tyranny - and unemployment is a choice.

So what was the AFP's first step? A website "celebrating" the 20th anniversary of Connecticut's income tax. "Happy Taxiversary," it said sarcastically: "Since the passage of the income tax, Connecticut has dramatically risen to the third worst personal income tax environment ... Until this governor starts tightening the government's belt, Connecticut will sadly stay on this path of no growth."

It's just the thing a billionaire hedge-fund manager wants to hear. (Never mind that it's not true - more on that in a little bit later.)

There's another way of looking at the AFP's arrival, a much more terrifying way. What if the corporate class's 30-year ground war to undermine government credibility has been so successful that an extremist group like the AFP finds opportunity even in supposedly liberal strongholds like Connecticut?

Since Democrat Dan Malloy's election, we have seen how closely Malloy's views match the GOP's. He raised taxes on the middle class, broke the public unions and killed proposed legislation for universal health care. Instead of spending on infrastructure, education and renewable energy, he has pledged about $106 million in corporate subsidies for about 800 jobs, many of which are not new. (His notion of job creation would make any Republican gleeful.)

Some might say: So what? The AFP has a right to spread its ideology during a governorship that shares some of that ideology. That's the price you pay for democracy. To which I would say, you're absolutely right - and wrong.

Forget that the AFP is backed by billionaires continuing to mold domestic policy. Forget that the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling removed all legal obstacles to pursuing that end. And forget about ideology.

The real problem with conservatives, the Tea Party, the House, the GOP presidential candidates, isn't ideology, however flawed or insane it might be.

The real problem is that they lie.

Connecticut residents do pay more in taxes. We make more money than the national average, so of course pay more in taxes. But not by much. The U.S. Census estimates that residents pay $118.89 per $1,000 of income. That includes Fairfield County's many millionaires. The national average is $116.22.

And it's not just that the AFP lies; it's how it lies that matters, too.

Its preferred strategy is to lie on the state level long and hard (what it calls the "grassroots"). It digs in. It tells bewildered and beleaguered residents that government is the enemy, that the cause of unemployment and out-of-sight health insurance rates is taxes, that deregulating capital to make more capital will be a boon for everyone, even the poor, disenfranchised and helpless.

Eventually, such lies have been in currency for so long that by the time they rise up to the national level, they have taken on the shape and force of truth.

None of this is because of an ideology. It's because individuals make a choice.

As libertarians, they know this more than most.