The words in the headline were spoken by Joseph Goebbels, Adolph Hitler’s chief propagandist. I know comparing the lies of the Nazis to the systemic lying in the political culture of America today is certainly not fresh. But every time it seems the leaders of the lying in Washington are ready to inch away from it, the truth scares them back to their safe place of deceit.
This week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy named his preferred appointees to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol. That’s a long name for a rather small committee by congressional standards, with only thirteen slots to fill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had already named eight members weeks ago. What most Americans don’t know about congressional committee appointments, which is also commonplace in state legislatures, is that the Speaker or the Senate leader is the one who chooses. When McCarthy chose two members who are particularly hostile to any story line not blessed by former President Donald Trump, Pelosi objected. McCarthy responded by pulling all of his nominees for the committee and committing that the minority party will conduct its own investigation.
Who are the two objectionable appointees in the Speaker’s view? Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a notorious contrarian whose disruptive committee behavior is more well known than any actual legislative accomplishment, and Indiana’s own, Rep. Jim Banks.
Banks represents Indiana’s third congressional district in the northeast corner of the state, and includes the state’s second largest city, Fort Wayne. His political career has followed a calculated path that led him through the Indiana Senate and a hiatus from that body for a deployment to Afghanistan in 2015 in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He was temporarily replaced in the Senate by his wife, Amanda Banks, during the deployment. After six years in the state legislature, Banks won the open congressional seat in 2016.
He was a consistent and reliable conservative voice from the time he came to the Indiana Senate in 2010, through his first two elections for congress. His commitment to conservatism during the first half of Trump’s presidency enabled him to even occasionally disagree or push back on the former president. But then his public commentary changed in the summer of 2019, when Banks became a full fledged Trump cheerleader, seemingly overnight.
There was no announcement of the transformation. No official news of any transplant was reported. But his public commentary noticeably shifted. That shift is what can be credited for Banks being appointed as the Chairman of the Republican Study Committee in January. This influential leadership position within the House GOP puts him in McCarthy’s inner circle, and requires that he follow wherever McCarthy’s path leads. In normal times, that would mean a bright future for any 42-year-old congressman, but these are not normal times.
Banks has decided, like so many other Republicans have, that unrelenting loyalty to the big lie is the appropriate calculation for him to make right now. He voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election. He joined the silly Texas lawsuit challenging President Joe Biden’s electoral victory in several states. A great summary of who Jim Banks is today is displayed in his May 9 Fox News Sunday interview with Chris Wallace, and recapped by The Daily Beast.
The questions being asked about January 6 are not tough ones. The nation witnessed it, many of us watching it in real time. Establishing the truth there is no monumental task. Lying about it would have been so much easier without the mountains of video evidence, mostly provided by the angry mob itself. Turning an investigation into what we can plainly see into a “partisan” exercise takes a real commitment to lying.
Goebbels went on to write an article in 1941 titled, “Churchill’s Lie Factory,” where he accused Nazi Germany’s enemy of adopting his own playbook. He wrote, “The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”
It’s a playbook that worked eighty years ago. Temporarily, of course. And any political success that comes from the commitment to the current big lie will also be temporary. Much like the crumbling and unsustainable GOP support for the anti-vaccination movement, the rest of the big lie also has a short shelf life.
It’s a shame for people like Jim Banks. He had a long, bright future. I hope he has a plan for his escape later. He will certainly need one.