How Las Vegas Hurt Itself

A recent campaign ad tells us a lot about the law of unintended consequences.

Crossroads GPS is the super PAC masterminded by Karl Rove, the noted ethicist from the Republican Party and Fox News. It has been running an ad designed to cost Barack Obama votes in Las Vegas. Not, as Jerry Seinfeld said, that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s politics.

 Except when it’s a lie. This ad is indeed a lie. But, Democrats, before you complain, let’s check out who’s responsible for it.

The ad says, “Under Obama—nearly 62,000 fewer Nevada jobs. Our home values—gone. America’s worst recovery, and a new recession could mean more jobs lost. But as Nevada struggles, Obama says, ‘Don’t blow a bunch of cash on Vegas.’ Crossroads GPS is responsible for the content of this advertising.”

Now for the speech from which the quote from Obama is taken: “When times are tough, you tighten your belts. You don’t go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage, you don’t blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you’re trying to save for college. You prioritize. You make tough choices. It’s time your government did the same.”

Independent fact-checkers will tell you what you already should know: The people behind Crossroads GPS are lying, and either they know it but don’t care or don’t know it and therefore lack the capacity to tell the truth.

It’s easy to add that Nevada had lost 93,000 jobs in the year before Obama took office, and that Nevada’s reaction has been to pursue the same economic policies that have gotten the state into this mess, so rattling on about Obama hurting Nevada’s economy doesn’t take into account that his critics have done far more damage to it than he has. And it’s easy to blame this on the Citizens United decision, in which the Supreme Court claimed it upheld everybody’s First Amendment rights and actually enabled the wealthiest Americans to try to be more blatant in buying elections.

But let’s assign some blame for this ad where it’s due. About a month after taking office, Obama referred to bankers who had spent government-bailout money on a Las Vegas trip by saying, “You can’t take a trip to Las Vegas or down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime.” After that comment and the later one quoted above, Nevada politicians criticized Obama, including Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.

Well, they can say, they were defending their state and its largest city. They also brought additional attention to Obama’s remarks and helped to remove them from their context, though not to the degree that Crossroads GPS has done so.

Now Berkley is in the political fight of her life. Whether she wins could possibly determine whether Reid continues as majority leader or becomes minority leader. They can and should worry about the impact of this ad. They can and should criticize Crossroads GPS and the Republicans for lying about Obama. But they also should remember that words and actions have consequences, and they could have done more in the first place to make sure that so dishonest an ad couldn’t have an effect. Ideally, now they know better, and their response the day after the election will be relief rather than regret.