From silly smear to public policy

Updated
One of the challenges of scrutinizing a 1,582-page spending bill, put together fairly quickly, is that there are going to be some easily missed policy riders stuffed into the package. I didn’t know until Chris Hayes mentioned it, for example, about this.
Despite concerns for embassy security following the Sept. 11-12, 2012, attacks on two U.S. outposts in Benghazi, Libya, the bill provides $224 million less for embassy security, maintenance and construction costs than in fiscal 2013. The bill bans the construction of a new embassy in London and bars the State Department from closing the chancery at the U.S. Embassy in the Holy See and merging it with the one at the U.S. Embassy in Rome for security reasons, a project first pushed by George W. Bush’s administration.
Wait, what?
 
Yes, right before Thanksgiving, some far-right media outlets began pushing a blisteringly stupid smear: the Obama administration had decided to “close” the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican. Almost immediately, Republican lawmakers, officials, and candidates pounced, taking the reports seriously, and throwing over-the-top tantrums about President Obama’s “anti-religion pursuits.”
 
They were spectacularly wrong. The Obama administration, implementing a plan crafted by the Bush/Cheney administration, intended to move the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican into the same building as the U.S. Embassy to Italy. It would mean the diplomatic outpost would actually be physically closer to the Holy See, while saving taxpayer money and improving embassy security.
 
Other countries have done the same thing, and the church didn’t care in the slightest. The entire smear lasted about a day, before vanishing into the ether.
 
Except, it didn’t actually disappear because Republicans included a provision in the spending bill to prevent the embassy move. The new policy would save money, but for the GOP, that doesn’t matter. It would improve security, but that’s irrelevant, too. What matters is that right-wing media came up with a silly idea, and now the congressional response to the nonsense will be federal law.
 
Our politics shouldn’t be this dumb, but stuff like this comes up all the time.
 
Indeed, consider this gem from the same spending bill.
In response to allegations that the administration has been stockpiling ammunition for use by federal agents, the measure also requires DHS to provide detailed reports on its purchase and use of ammunition.
Look, we’re talking about the truly unhinged, loony-tunes fringe of American society that argued the Obama administration is “stockpiling” ammo, but now the response to this will be federal law, too.
 
Heck, the spending bill even included provisions to block funding for ACORN, despite the fact that ACORN hasn’t existed for several years.
 
The fact that there’s a political fringe isn’t new, but the fact that there are elected members of Congress who take nutty ideas from the fringe seriously is new. Some nonsensical seed will take root at a right-wing website, and with remarkable speed, it ends up in the halls of Congress.
 
Or more to the point, these  nonsensical seeds sprout into the federal spending bill that funds the government through the end of the fiscal year.
 
Good ideas fail because of right-wing paranoia that congressional Republicans take seriously, and bad ideas advance because of right-wing paranoia that congressional Republicans take seriously. We can no longer focus on what is true; we must also consider what far-right media perceives as possibly true.
 
It’s just not healthy to see this in the political system of a global superpower.
 
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From silly smear to public policy

Updated