They Know So Much That Isn’t So

Ronald Reagan once said that “The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” This came to mind as I watched Rep. John Gannon in House State Affairs on Wednesday morning.

The committee heard testimony regarding House Joint Memorial 8, a message to Idaho’s congressional delegation demanding they hold President Joe Biden and his administration accountable for not enforcing border security and immigration law. Rep. Gannon continually brought up an immigration reform bill that was negotiated by Republican Senator James Lankford and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer.

This bill was touted by Democrats and their friends in the media as a solution to the border crisis, but it quickly became obvious that it actually codified an acceptable level of illegal border crossings before instructing the administration to take action. The bill also included billions of dollars of funding for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.

Senate Republicans defeated this bill before passing a bill focused only on funding those foreign nations. A narrative was quickly promulgated that this was exactly the sort of border security that Republicans had been demanding, and their rejection of it proved that they were not acting in good faith. However, it’s that narrative that is not in good faith. If you go to a restaurant and order a filet mignon, but the waiter brings you a dog poop souffle, does your rejection of the dish mean you actually hate steak?

This brings us back to Rep. Gannon. He appears to be an intelligent man, a lawyer by trade with a wide knowledge of the law and politics, but in this case he clearly had only read the headlines. In fact, Gannon was under the impression that the border security bill had passed the Senate but had been unilaterally stymied by House Speaker Mike Johnson.

During this exchange with Fred Birnbaum of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, Gannon suggested that the memorial be amended to include a call for removal of Speaker Johnson for interfering with democracy by refusing to allow the bill to be heard. Birnbaum responded by saying the House passed a better border security bill last year, HR 2, and the Senate hasn’t heard that either.

Birnbaum himself didn’t catch Gannon’s mistake at the time, but pointed it out on Idaho Signal the next day:

Why would an otherwise intelligent person like Rep. Gannon push a false narrative? Did he know the truth, but decided that it was better for his argument to promote a lie? Or did he simply not realize that the information he perhaps gleaned from headlines over the past few weeks as not complete?

We like to think our lawmakers are well versed on every issue on which they are asked to cast their votes, but that’s not true. Many are experts in narrow fields, and none have the time to fully read and understand the hundreds of bills that are printed each year. I would hope that most lawmakers are humble enough to recognize they don’t know everything, but Gannon’s continual harping on the compromise bill in the US Senate shows that is not necessarily the case. Intelligent people with wrong ideas are more dangerous than unintelligent people. Rather than being simply ignorant, as Reagan said, they know so much that isn’t so, and have the capacity to use that false information to accomplish political goals.

In the spirit of bipartisanship, Sen. Doug Ricks exhibited a similar myopia on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon. He debated against Sen. Brian Lenney’s bill to establish an anti-SLAPP provision in the Idaho legal system. Ricks pointed out that one of the testifiers (Dustin Hurst, though he did not name him) tweeted something about another testifier (Greg Graf, also left unnamed) and those tweets gave him “concern about whether there’s something in this bill that’s not true, that could be a problem, because it evidently is not stopping some of those who are real bold going out after others.”

Did Sen. Ricks completely misunderstand the purpose of an anti-SLAPP provision? It’s not about stopping unkind speech, and it doesn’t stop lawsuits based on actual defamation from proceeding. It simply would have given judges a tool to dismiss lawsuits that are clearly politically motivated.

Ricks clearly did not come to his position through careful study of the bill text, nor by listening to expert testimony. He saw a tweet he didn’t like by someone who supported the bill and used that as a reason to oppose it. The fact that Graf, one half of the feud whose suits and countersuits demonstrated the need for anti-SLAPP in Idaho, helped run Ricks’ campaign a few years ago, surely played a part.

Dustin Hurst discussed Sen. Ricks’ debate on Freedom Bros last night, starting at about 55:20:

In the next few years our legislators will be tackling issues related to lawfare, artificial intelligence, social media, and a rapidly changing national discourse. Is it too much to ask that they have the humility to know what they don’t know, rather than charging forward knowing so much that isn’t so?

Update: Rep. Gannon reached out via Substack with a statement:

Mr. Almon (Brian): I want to sincerely apologize to Fred Birnbaum, Representative Hawkins and yourself. You are correct. The Senate did not pass the border bill compromise that included Ukraine, Israel (Gaza) Taiwan and border reform. They came close, but it didn’t happen. The Senate did pass Ukraine, Israel (Gaza) and Taiwan aid which Speaker Johnson has not put on the agenda. I was thinking about that bill at the hearing, and clearly after looking it up, that bill does not include any reform at the border. I absolutely agree that accuracy at our meetings is very important, and you may be assured that I will correct the matter at our next State Affairs meeting. Yes, I probably read headlines. I can’t promise you that I will never make another mistake, but I can represent to you that any mistake I make like this is not intentional

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