Thursday, August 13, 2015

Campaigns Based On Lies Never Succeed

We learned in 2012 that basing a slogan on a lie is a bad idea.  When Barack Obama said "You didn't build that" he was referring to the fact that government builds roads and bridges and infrastructure, not businesses.  He was explaining that government creates an environment of safety, stability, and predictability, all of which encourages entrepreneurship.  Supporting infrastructure, defense, and law enforcement are just a few of the ways that government does this.

So, when the Romney campaign seized on the "You didn't build that!" sound bite and adopted the "We Built It" slogan, I knew it was a mistake.  Even though the campaign was pushing the idea that private business, not public policy, is the primary driver behind the economy (a true statement), the slogan was willfully ignoring the real meaning of the president's statement.  Jon Stewart famously skewered Fox and Friends for it's edited version of the speech.  The entire thing was based on a lie.

Romney's campaign suffered for that, and deserved to suffer.  By deciding that the president had committed a huge gaffe and shown himself to be a statist, planned economics, Marxist douche (which really isn't what happened), the campaign, the party, and the right wing seriously damaged their own credibility.  It made them look unprincipled and partisan; willing to push any narrative that appeared to hurt their opposition, regardless of facts.

In August of 2015, #BlackLivesMatter is making the exact same mistake.  Just a couple of days ago. there was a parade in memory of Michael Brown.  Activists are remembering Michael Brown as a "victim of police violence."  He was actually a "robbery suspect who was shot while resisting arrest."  Despite this, the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" slogan (based on something that never happened), is still popular.  All of this despite the fact that the Justice Department cleared Michael Brown's shooter, Darren Wilson.  All of this despite the fact that the independent medical examination ordered by the Brown family lawyer does not support the narrative.

This is not the only falsehood upheld by the movement.  Activist Deray McKesson claimed that Vonderrit Myers, another black youth shot by police, did not fire at police.  There is overwhelming evidence showing that Vonderrit Myers did shoot at the officer who killed him.  McKesson also bizarrely refused to say when lethal force was justified.  Other activists, including Mark Lamont Hill, have been pushing the "Every 28 Hours" narrative.  Hill claimed that an unarmed black man was killed by cops every 28 hours.  This was thoroughly debunked by Politifact.

Now, there is a valid point to some of what is said by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the same way that the "You Didn't Build That" people had a point.  The former is a movement formed primarily because black people are more likely to encounter police, (frequently with negative results) and mechanisms that hold police accountable seem inadequate.  The latter was a reminder to the more statist/collectivist amongst us that the best way humanity has found to produce opportunity for ordinary people is through free markets.  But in both examples, activists willfully repeated false statements, robbing themselves of credibility and distracting from the true message they were trying to get across.

If the #BlackLivesMatter movement wishes to gain broader acceptance, they must acknowledge where they've gone wrong.  They must acknowledge, as Jonathan Capehart did, that Darren Wilson was innocent.  They must acknowledge that Michael Brown is not a hero or a victim, but a suspect shot during an arrest.  They must acknowledge that some of these shootings of black men were justified and certain others (like Eric Garner) were tragic mistakes, and not acts of racist brutality.  They should direct their focus on incidents that actually appear to be murder.

As the Romney campaign learned, failure to acknowledge facts and building a movement on lies ultimately fails.  If #BlackLivesMatter activists want meaningful reform, they must stop pushing false narratives.  They must not assume that every officer involved shooting is murder, but instead carefully review each case.  If their grievances are not based on facts, they are not legitimate grievances, and there will be no reason to take the movement seriously.

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