Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Big Lie

Imagine that you're the manager of the local Megalo-Mart. One day you begin to suspect that one of your employees is using customer credit card numbers. Of course, you can't arrest him yourself - but you do what you can. You save all the transaction histories, make sure your security cameras are watching him, and notify the police. Sure enough, you manage to confirm your suspicions. The police come in, take the evidence you provide, arrest the culprit, and thank you for your help. With a smile, you tape a termination notice to the criminal's chest as they take him out in cuffs.

The next day you open the paper to read the headline:


The story continues, noting the efforts of the police in catching a Megalo-Mart employee stealing credit card numbers. Your efforts are ignored - the only mention of your name is that you were "unavailable for comment." In fact, the story mentions that further investigations are ongoing. Worse, the day's editorial is a vitriolic piece decrying the greed of large department store chains, unsatisfied with their massive profits from high prices and low wages, putting local stores out of business, now apparently turning to crime.

Soon the crusade against you escalates. Every step of the thief's path through the justice system is highlighted - and at each step, his association with your store is emphasized, while your efforts in stopping him are ignored. Even an unrelated crime provides a way to tarnish your name - a home burglary a mile away is reported as being "suspiciously close to the notorious Megalo-Mart, home to the recently-caught fraud ring."

Then Phase Two begins. Apparently now satisfied that your store's name stands for crime, the paper uses it against others. Suppliers are noted as being "associates of Megalo-Mart, home of an earlier criminal enterprise;" other criminals portrayed as having shopped at your store. Even your charitable efforts are smeared - "Megalo-Mart computer found in use at local school! Inspections for password-stealing software are not yet complete..."

Sounds pretty horrible, right? Maybe even unimaginable? Well, that's pretty much what has happened to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - better known as ACORN. Many years ago, they began efforts to register voters in the communities they serve. A few of the people they hired for this task decided it would be easier to copy names out of the phone book or simply make them up than to actually go out and knock on doors or stand in public places. ACORN had procedures in place to detect such fraud. They separated out the suspected forged registration cards and noted who provided them. As the law required, they still turned those cards in to election officials, but they included all that evidence with the cards - and when the officials determined them to truly be fraudulent, ACORN assisted with the prosecution of those individuals responsible.

For their pains, the organization has been branded part of a conspiracy to commit voting fraud, and to steal the last election from McCain. This despite every investigation of ACORN and fraud has turned up no evidence of conspiracy. Also despite the fact that registration fraud - where the person registered is unaware of the fact, and may not even exist - is a far cry from actual voting fraud. Registration fraud has no effect on the elections - unless, of course, Mickey Mouse shows up at the polls.

And why has ACORN been so frequently attacked? Well, it seems that the poor and minority people they tried to register tend to vote Democrat - and unsurprisingly, their attackers have been Republican. But it has now gone much farther than that. Just as in my opening analogy, we are now well into Phase Two - where the original false accusations are now being used to fuel new false accusations.

First, Boehner and Vitter, aided by Fox News, implied that $5 billion from the stimulus package would go to ACORN - when in fact, ACORN was merely one of hundreds of community groups eligible to apply to work for that money.

More recently, Rep. Bachmann (R-MN) claimed that ACORN would be paid to handle Census data, not only receiving Federal funds, but gaining access to that "mother lode" of private information. It turns out that ACORN's only connection to the Census would be to publicize the availability of the temporary jobs; that ACORN would receive no money or data for this service; and that they were one of 30,000 organizations performing the same partnership role.

And now, a conservative group is attacking Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor because she worked for a legal defense fund that did some work for ACORN.

It seems to me that any time any politician or pundit brings up ACORN in any context, rather than jumping to their intended implication that they're showing me a conspiracy, I'm probably pretty safe in assuming that they're lying. In fact, I suspect that I'd be fairly safe in dismissing anything else that comes out of their mouths. Nice of them to provide me with such a shortcut.

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