Big Lie

Thick-skinned, Rudy Guiliani is not, but despite the mockery he's endured for "forgetting" 9/11, he could still enjoy the last laugh, along with fellow 9/11 deniers Mary Matalin and Dana Perino.  "Bush kept us safe" has been a Republican talking point for over a year (Peggy Noonan used it in a December 2008 column,) and I bet it's taken root in the minds of many voters, along with the mistaken belief that Saddam Hussein orchestrated 9/11.
    
In these mindlessly partisan times, facts naturally matter less than political biases: five years after 9/11, twice as many Republicans as Democrats blamed Saddam Hussein for the attack, according to a 2006 Zogby Poll.  It would be interesting to know how many also blame Bill Clinton: "We inherited a recession from President Clinton and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation's history," Mary Matalin pretended, and it's not hard to imagine some listeners nodding vigorously in agreement -- and objecting even more vigorously when she's corrected.
   
"[W]hoever makes the first assertion about something has a large advantage over everyone who denies it later," Shankar Vedantam remarked in the Washington Post in 2007, reporting on the difficulty of countering false beliefs.  "[O]nce an idea has been implanted in people's minds, it can be difficult to dislodge.  Denials inherently require repeating the bad information, which may be one reason they paradoxically reinforce it."  
   
Still, it takes chutzpah, and confidence in widespread public ignorance, to lie about a recent national trauma that most adult voters probably remember (as older voters remember the Cuban missile crisis or the assassination of President Kennedy). It's easier to comprehend the success of lies about death panels, the Holocaust, the perpetrators of 9/11 and other matters about which direct knowledge or experience is scarce or relatively difficult to obtain. (Few if any of us will read even small sections of health care legislation; we depend on commentators and politicians we trust to read and interpret it for us.)  But we tend to remember 9/11.  Indeed, I bet most of us remember where we were on 9/11; the question is how many of us remember who was president?

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Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional.

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