Intent on making good on his post-2008 election promise to "never get out-hustled on the ground again," Ralph Reed, who leads the right-wing Faith and Freedom Coalition, this week unveiled the organization's ostensibly "non-partisan" presidential election voter guide, which will be inserted into church bulletins throughout the nine battleground states in which the November election will be won or lost.
In his Christian education, though, apparently Reed never learned that it's a sin to tell a lie. His voter guide contains three big ones, in its characterizations of President Barack Obama's positions on Medicare, environmental regulation and abortion.
Reed's voter guides resemble the handbills distributed by the Christian Coalition in the 1990s, at that time delivered by that quaint operation known as the U.S. Postal Service, when Reed ran the organization for the Rev. Pat Robertson.
While the Faith and Freedom Coalition says it will mail 2 million of the hard-copy version to churches and social conservative voters, it's also invested in high-tech methods of delivery, services provided by a subsidiary of Reed's own for-profit consulting firm , Century Strategies. (When I reported on the relationship between Reed's non-profit Faith and Freedom Coalition and Century Strategies, Reed did not return my phone calls requesting information on whether or not he was personally profiting from the arrangement.)
For example, the guide is available in PDF form for individuals or churches to download and print out -- and it also contains a nifty little bar code for scanning into one's smart phone that prompts a video to play, offering more spin on the candidates' positions. There are also order forms for churches to request thousands of the hard-copy guide, free of charge.
But it doesn't end there. As AlterNet reported in July, the Faith and Freedom Coalition also intends to send out text messages with links to the voter guide embedded in the message, and claims to have on file the cell phone numbers of 13 million social conservatives. As David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network notes, the Obama campaign, known for its social-media and high-tech prowess, had only 8 million cell phone numbers in the 2008 campaign.
But the biggest difference between the Reed operation and the Obama campaign is the sheer mendacity of several of the claims in the Faith and Freedom Coalition voter guide. Here's our own little guide to the three big lies being pushed by the holier than thou.
1. The "Medicare cut" lie. We thought we had dispensed with this one when AlterNet's Joshua Holland so thoroughly debunked it , but that didn't stop both Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan from repeating it often. And now Reed is serving it up as gospel in his voter guide.
The guide features two columns, one under a photo of each candidate, with an angry-looking Obama occupying the left-hand column, and a benign-looking, smiling Romney on the right. A center column lists a highly spun set of 10 issues, with the word "Yes" or "No" under the photo of the respective candidates.
Issue #5 reads "Cut Medicare $716 billion." Under Romney's name, it reads "No;" under Obama's it reads "Yes."
The truth is that, in the Affordable Care Act, some $716 billion in cost savings were made to Medicare, with no reduction in benefits to those who receive it. There is no "cut."
But the irony is that Paul Ryan offered up a Medicare plan that also cut Medicare costs by the same amount, and applied them to the budget deficit.
2. The "cap-and-tax" lie. It it was up to right-wing leaders such as Reed and Americans For Prosperity President Tim Phillips (who happens to be Reed's former business partner in Century Strategies), there would be no environmental regulation at all. Why? Because their billionaire bankrollers, such as David Koch and Foster Freiss, don't want it. So, they're trying to convince everyday Americans that regulations that limit the amount of toxins a polluting entity can emit into the air and water amounts to a "tax."
Listed on line #6 of the Faith and Freedom Coalition voter guide is "Cap and Trade Carbon Tax," which bears a "Yes" in the Obama column and a "No" in Romney's. At issue is a proposed program known as "cap and trade" that would regulate pollutants by issuing permits to polluting businesses allowing for prescribed amounts of emissions of certain toxins. Businesses, however, would be able to buy and sell units of these pollution permits to one another, meaning that if a power plant did not have the capacity to reduce its emissions, it could buy additional permits from a business that wasn't using its own allowable units of emissions. That's not a tax. In fact, it's not so unlike passing a regulation and then fining an entity that violates the regulation.
But don't get those billionaires started on regulations...
3. The government-funded abortion lie. Right-wing leaders obviously know they can't win their no-abortion-under-any-circumstances with a majority of Americans; why else would they need to promote lies about abortion? So, on line #7 of the Faith and Freedom Coalition guide, we find the words "Taxpayer Funded Abortion," with, predictably, a "Yes" under Obama's name and a "No" under Romney's.
One assumes this stems from the trope peddled by right-wingers to this day that the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a., Obamacare), contains government funding for abortion. It does not. What it does is allow women to purchase, at their own expense, supplemental women's health coverage that may include coverage for abortion -- in states that permit the purchase of such coverage through government-managed exchanges.
That's right -- states are permitted to restrict the use of their own health-care exchanges for the purchase of such private coverage. (And when you think about it, from a women's rights point of view, that's pretty horrible, considering the fact that women have a legal right to abortion. But that's what it took to get the bill passed.) In fact, an article by Timothy Stoltzfus Jost in the Catholic magazine, Commonweal, states that the Affordable Care Act "may be the single most prolife piece of legislation ever adopted by Congress."
Right-wingers also claim that the Democratic Party platform endorses taxpayer-funded abortion because it affirms a woman's right to choose "regardless of ability to pay." But less than a week ago on 60 Minutes, Mitt Romney endorsed the idea of making hospitals treat critically ill uninsured people, regardless of ability to pay, but no one assumed he was telling government to pick up the tab.
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Just as these so-called voter guides hit the Sunday bulletins in evangelical churches in those all-important swing states, voter registration forms will be hitting the sanctuaries -- at least if Gary Marx, Reed's right-hand man at the Faith and Freedom Coalition, has his way. At a training session conducted at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. earlier this month, Marx suggested to activists that they lay those registration forms right in the pews, and collect them from congregants before they leave the church, leaving as little as possible to chance.