Going into tonight's Republican debate on CNBC, we can expect there to be a lot of truth-fudging and outright lying going on: About Planned Parenthood, the budget, the debt ceiling, the Democrats. But over the past few months, it's become clear that Republican candidates don't just lie about present-tense issues. Many of the candidates have a strange habit of lying about history, even though their lies are almost laughably easy to fact-check.
Rand Paul likes to present himself as a rigid idealist who is just trying to live up to the values of the Founding Fathers that he venerates. But it came out this week that Paul lies, with an alarming frequency, about those men that he claims to idolize so much. On Tuesday, Andrew Kaczynski and Megan Apper of Buzzfeed published an open letter to Paul, begging him to stop using falsified quotes from historical figures, mainly Founding Fathers. In both books and speeches, Paul frequently attributes quotes that happen to uphold his world to men like Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Washington and even Abraham Lincoln.
The problem is that there's no historical evidence that these men ever said these things. Often they're laughably out of line with anything these men would have said, such as when Paul attributes "let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and Thy Son, Jesus Christ" to George Washington, who was a frequent church-goer but not fond of showy displays of piety such as this quote implies.
Ignorance is no excuse for this behavior of Paul's. As the Buzzfeed reporters point out, they brought his attention to his habit of using fake quotes four months ago. His new book full of fake quotes came out just this week. Paul might be able to write off the first two books full of fake quotes as a mistake, but this time around, it's clear that the behavior is deliberate.
When confronted by David Weigel of the Washington Post about his habit of lying about men he claims to venerate, Paul unleashed a bunch of defensive gibberish. "The only criticisms have come from some guy who’s a partisan. We discount partisans," he sneered, while apparently using the royal "We" to refer to himself. "However, there’s a ridiculous cottage industry out there of people who think they’re smarter than everyone else, and because certain quotes are disputed – well, yeah! If you want to say something’s not a Thomas Jefferson quote, you can get a whole book on whether it’s a quote or not."
That's where we're at when it comes to Republicans, circa 2015: Being right about the facts makes you a bad person who thinks you're "smarter than everyone else." Because you're right. On the facts.
Paul clearly thinks he's entitled to just straight-up rewrite history to suit his and his supporters' political ends, and it's no wonder, as he's far from the only Republican that will be on the main stage tonight who does that. Ben Carson is quickly gaining a reputation for his flagrant disregard for historical facts, lying frequently about great historical atrocities. The list of things he has claimed are like the Nazi fascism and genocide is mind-boggling: Tax audits, Obamacare, and gun control are favorites.
Carson gets called out a lot for this because it's gross to make Nazi comparisons, but even more importantly, it's just straight up false. On gun control, Carson argued that the Nazi power grab in Germany "would have been greatly diminished" if citizens were armed. This is a lie on a number of levels, starting with the fact that the Nazis actually liberalized gun laws. There was a ban on Jews owning guns, but despite Carson's implication to the contrary, that did not actually stop Jews from fighting back. They frequently did. They just lost, because, armed or not, it's not actually that easy for a tiny minority in rebellion to overcome the power of the state.
Carson also loves comparing legal abortion to slavery. "During slavery, a lot of the slave owners thought that they had the right to do whatever they wanted to that slave," he told Chuck Todd recently.
Carson is right that depriving people of autonomy is terrible. Why he therefore thinks that justifies denying women of reproductive autonomy is, well, pretzel logic. But the mendacity of the line only grows more astounding when you consider the actual facts of how slave owners behaved with regards to women they enslaved. "During slavery, Black women were systematically stripped of their reproductive rights and their humanity," Imani Gandy of RH Reality Check writes. "Black women were raped, beaten, and treated as brood mares whose sole purpose was to produce more slaves." She goes on to point out that enslaved women often used contraception and abortion to regain a small part of their autonomy.
Carson also likes lying about Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, claiming that she established birth control clinics because she was "not particularly enamored with black people" and thought they "should be eliminated or kept under control." This is a flat-out lie. Sanger had some opinions that modern people recognize as unsavory, for sure, but there is no real reason to believe she was a racist who saw birth control as a way to eliminate black people. Sanger's interest in birth control was driven by her desire to empower women, and her outreach to black women was structured along meeting demand, not trying to impose anything on the unwilling.
Of course, this entire line of rhetoric shows that Carson is more than a liar. The implication of his argument is that birth control itself is wrong and that a woman, regardless of her race, should simply have one baby after another until her body gives out. That will show that fake Margaret Sanger! And he's one of the top candidates of the Republican Party.
Carson's far from the only candidate who uses attacks on this dead woman as a proxy for implying that the entire practice of birth control, which she popularized and helped dramatically improve, is inherently evil. Using the same false claim that Sanger was somehow trying to wipe out black people with contraception, Ted Cruz, along with two dozen other congressional Republicans, demanded that Sanger be removed from a display in the National Portrait Gallery about social justice.
Looking over these events, it's easy to see why lying about history is such a temptation for Republicans. A lot of conservative beliefs are nearly impossible to defend logically in a direct argument about their merits. So instead they set up these lies about history to imply there's an intellectual richness to their claims that simply isn't there.
Ben Carson and Ted Cruz know they'll be laughed at if they start arguing directly against the use of birth control. Instead, they try to demonize the woman who made birth control popular, hoping to make the whole practice seem like it's rooted in evil. Rand Paul knows ordinary people will blanch if he quotes the "states rights" opponents of civil rights and repulsive people like Ayn Rand that are the real intellectual backbone of his libertarian views, so he just makes up quotes from Founding Fathers instead.
But what all this suggests is that when a conservative starts citing history, it's wise to double check the facts. It will frequently turn out that the past is opposite of what they say it is.
Watch Ben Carson flat-out lie about his involvement with Mannatech:
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