Eric Cantor’s lie that his Richmond, Virginia, office was targeted by a gunshot will not die anytime soon. It will not die even though Cantor’s assertion was discredited by police. The facts do not penetrate our brains. We are hopeless puppets of our biases. All of us.
Congressman Cantor, one of the Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, tried to deflect charges that his own party incited violence toward Democrats over healthcare reform. He did it by pointing to his own experiences. To unrevealed tapes of phone threats and to the bullet hole. While Richmond police did find a bullet hole in a window of a Cantor campaign office, a spokesman said today, they saw it as unintentional.
“It was a stray bullet from random gunfire,” a police spokesman said.
The story, like the window, had a hole in it from the start. While the bullet did penetrate the window, it hit the blinds and fell innocently to the floor. Obviously not a direct shot at the office but a bullet with no steam coming down from on high. And Cantor’s office was located in a cluster of offices, not in his district and had no signs identifying it as connected to the Congressman. Cantor knew his assertion was bogus when he announced it at a news conference. But he put it out anyway for political gain.
But no matter. To many Republicans, the office was definitely a target of some left-wing loonie. One posted on the Huffington Post his opinion Richmond police failed to investigate the incident with vigor. We will see if Cantor himself tries to clarify the matter for his supporters. I suspect he will not.
The matter is bigger than Cantor’s lie. It, like other myths, is a small piece of the American insanity that will go on for as long as we breathe. As an op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times pointed out, “People tend to seek out information that is consistent with their own views.” In other words, we are susceptible to propaganda that fits the bill of our biases.
Brendan Nyhan, the author of `The Fight Is Over, the Myths Remain” and a political scientist at the University of Michigan, told of an experiment he conducted with another political scientist at Georgia State. Mock news articles were presented to readers. Some contained misleading statements that were later corrected.
In one telling experiment, Nyhan wrote, “We found a proportion of conservatives who believed that President George W. Bush’s tax cuts actually increased federal revenue grew from 36 percent to 67 percent when they were provided with evidence against this claim.”
Many of us are that way. So hard-headed against corrected facts that, said Nyhan, “(we) end up strengthening the misconception in (our) own minds.”
I am guilty too. I came home yesterday after listening via radio to a young Texas woman wail to Sean Hannity, the conservative propagandist, her greatest fears, that the elections this fall will be barred by President Obama so his Democratic cohorts in the Senate and House will not have to face re-election. I told Nebra how silly this woman was. A school teacher, educated and thinking like that. “Where do these people come from?”
Then Nebra rightfully reminded me of what I voiced two years ago with the 2008 elections looming. I stewed that W and his dirty trickster, Karl Rove, would create a terrorist act and cancel the elections so he could stay in office indefinitely. How smart was that?
In the end, we are left with the biases of the right and left forever. Our only real salvation then as a nation are the few among us receptive to facts and a search for truth. A very small group for certain. But one that will hopefully direct our course onto solid ground.
In the meantime, you can bet the family jewels on one thing. There will be those who believe the Eric Cantor lie forever.