Floating Free Above the Real World

South Carolina is a strange place – that should be stipulated. There it’s all NASCAR and pulled-pork sandwiches, and South Carolina is home to the Christian Exodus movement – all fundamentalist evangelical Christians should personally secede from the United Sates and maybe get together and form their own Christian nation, keeping the wrong sort of people out. They said that was going to be South Carolina, finally its own nation, living right, as God intended. Then it was going to be Idaho – but both states are still in the union. It didn’t work out, but not because they didn’t try, and of course they’re still working on it. While they do, while South Carolina is still just a state, their governor is Nikki Haley – a Sarah Palin protégé without Palin’s aggressive certainty about everything. Actually Haley seems a bit dim at times, as do the state’s two senators, Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint – the former a somewhat moderate Republican who found he needed to move to the Tea Party edge of things, and happily did so, and the latter a man who was there already, long ago, and simply waiting for the Tea Party to form. DeMint is the real deal – “perhaps the most conservative member of the Senate.” He opposes everything.

That’s the state of things down there, but that’s nothing new. In August 2010, Steve Benen noted this:

I’ve been fascinated with the plight of Rep. Bob Inglis, a conservative Republican lawmaker from South Carolina. Inglis’ congressional career will wrap up – involuntarily – later this year, and he prepares to leave, he’s sounding a whole lot more reasonable.

To briefly review, Inglis was recently humiliated in a GOP primary, losing by a ridiculous 42-point margin in a district he represented for more than a decade. What precipitated such a defeat? Inglis expressed a willingness to work with Democrats on energy policy; he urged his constituents not to take Glenn Beck too seriously; and he said his main focus as a lawmaker was to find “solutions” to problems. Last year, Inglis said the Republican Party has a chance “to understand we are all in need of some grace.” The result: GOP voters turned on him.

Benen goes on to cover the interviews where Inglis finally unloads on all the nonsense he just couldn’t accept – what he saw as pretty obvious racism in the Birther stuff, and really, that small number on the back of your Social Security card, the card now issued at birth, doesn’t establish to which major bank you are collateral. And he wasn’t fond of Sarah Palin – “I think that there are people who seem to think that ignorance is strength. If I choose to remain ignorant and uninformed, and I encourage people to follow me while I celebrate my lack of information, that’s not responsible.”

Maybe so, but Bob Inglis was wiped out in that election – hardly anyone voted for him. There was no room for anyone like him in the Republican Party, and that was the year the Republicans swept into power in the House, pretty much running the table – it wasn’t just a South Carolina thing.

Inglis is long-gone now, a forgotten man, but he’s still speaking out for some reason. The Hill reports that now he’s saying that his beloved party will have no choice – they’ll have to come around on climate change, the facts will “overwhelm” them:

“What we have been doing so far is sort of shrinking in science denial and holding onto shaky ideology that really will be overwhelmed by the facts,” the former GOP lawmaker said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

“You can hold back the facts only for so long and eventually they overwhelm you… I think that is happening on climate change. The science is pretty clear – I think that eventually the champions of free enterprise, which is who conservatives are, who Republicans generally are, will rise to the occasion and come forward with real solutions here.”

Benen now says this:

I don’t doubt that Inglis’ heart (and mind) is in the right place. Indeed, it’s genuinely heartening to see a conservative Republican in the Deep South who not only cares about the climate crisis, but is serious about credible policy proposals to address the unfolding catastrophe. But if Inglis is counting on facts to “overwhelm” Republicans, forcing them to take action, he has infinitely more faith in his former GOP colleagues’ capacity for decency than I do.

As of now, the official Republican line varies, but it falls somewhere between “this’ll work itself out somehow” and “climate science is a Marxist conspiracy to destroy the American way of life.” Facts haven’t even fazed GOP officials thus far – the notion of these folks “rising to the occasion” is, at best, a pipe dream.

Well, facts haven’t fazed the Republicans for a long time now, because, at best, facts are not politically useful, and at worst too many actual facts can be dangerous – but of course that’s probably true of both parties over time, depending on which party is out of power and wants back in. You spin what facts you cannot deny – you say what you’re seeing is really what’s going on, or you rename it. The Estate Tax (which rich kids like Paris Hilton have to pay) becomes the Death Tax (which distraught grieving widows have to pay, and which drives them into endless poverty) and so on.

That’s clever, and perhaps fair enough, but since Obama took office, the method has changed a bit on the Republican side. It’s now more than renaming things. We saw a rise in new facts that aren’t facts at all – the fact of those Death Panels that would declare your poor grandmother economically and socially useless and order her execution and all the other facts, like Obama’s Kenyan anticolonial mindset, or his hidden plots to take away your guns, or that mysterious tiny number on the back of your Social Security card that officially designates you a lifelong slave to JPMorgan-Chase or whatever. Democrats – those wimps who always lose – don’t generally make up new facts. They seem to think they have to explain what is. That’s their problem. Republicans make up facts, or at least now they do. They call it aggressive hardball politics, and it sometimes works.

The Associated Press tries to follow this all with their Spin Meter series, and the most recent item concerns the big story at the moment – Mitt Romney saying, over and over, that Barack Obama doesn’t think entrepreneurs built their businesses. The AP notes the problem is that’s not what Obama said at all:

Romney and his allies continue to hammer Obama for comments taken wildly out of context, pummeling the president as a government-obsessed figure who thinks Washington gets the credit for the success of small businesses.

That was not Obama’s point when he spoke in Virginia on July 13 about the government’s supportive role in providing a stable environment in which businesses can thrive. Nor was it Romney’s point when he used similar phrasing in 2002 about Olympic athletes who benefited from supportive parents and coaches.

But in a campaign that makes facts secondary to a good attack, the context doesn’t seem to matter.

The Spin Meter covers all the back-and-forth, all the ads that were based on what Obama had said in a campaign speech in Virginia:

“Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own,” Obama said then. “I’m always struck by people who think, ‘Well, it must be because I was just so smart.’ There are a lot of smart people out there. ‘It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.’ Let me tell you something: There are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.”

Obama cited teachers and mentors who helped “create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges.”

Then, Obama teed up the line that left Republicans giddy. “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet,” Obama said, returning to his thesis.

“The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

Romney and his SuperPAC allies ran ads using the “you didn’t build that” portion of the comments and ignored the rest. Obama ran ads and made speeches laughing at them for missing the point. You guys built your own roads and bridges and schools and your own power grid and communications network? Get real. Yes, Americans built their own businesses, but there was an America there already that made that possible. Romney shot back that Obama hates businesses and hates success, and so on and so forth – really he does, even if, in context, that’s not what he said at all. Romney’s position was that you just know Obama hates businesses and businessmen and hates success – it’s just a fact, no matter what he really said. What he really said isn’t what he really meant, or some such thing. Okay, Obama actually did say we built our own businesses, but damn it, he’s flat-out wrong – we DID build our own businesses. It gets confusing after a bit.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent posts a clip of Obama now saying the same thing, again, not backing down at all, and Sargent offers this:

In the speech, Obama reiterates his belief that individual initiative is what powers business success, but says that’s not incompatible with also recognizing that a smoothly functioning society partly enabled by government is also a necessary ingredient. And Obama again reiterates his belief that government investment is the best way to secure the middle class’ future.

This sentiment is virtually identical to the supposedly controversial speech Obama gave that included the “don’t build that” quote.

Sargent argues this points to what he calls the larger falsehood, what’s underneath this all, underneath what is basically an outright lie that Obama “demeaned success” in any way:

Ultimately, what this disagreement is really about is over how jobs are created and what steps should be taken to end the unemployment crisis. Obama thinks that the way to speed the recovery, and to secure our economic future, is with public investments in infrastructure that create jobs in the short term and create more demand for businesses; public investments in education to increase opportunity; and long term deficit reduction that combines less radical cuts to entitlements with tax increases on the wealthiest among us.

Mitt Romney doesn’t believe in short term government investment to create jobs. His policies are geared towards long term growth, and include still more tax cuts for the rich and (as a result) entitlement reform along the lines of Paul Ryan’s plan. Romney says the best way to speed the recovery is to “get government out of the way,” unshackle the potential of the free market, put someone in charge who (unlike Obama) values individual initiative and wants people to succeed, and allow “economic freedom” to power the recovery.

That’s boring policy-wonk stuff, but that seems closer to the facts, and here the facts are dangerous for Romney:

As it happens, mainstream economic consensus is closer to Obama than to Romney on the broader questions here. Many economists believe the stimulus worked (albeit not as well as we’d like); that tax cuts for the wealthy won’t magically create enough growth to pay for themselves; that more spending now would indeed create jobs; and that more austerity now could make things worse. The public’s views on these matters are not nearly as clear cut. But on the question of the relationship between government spending and job creation, Romney’s positions are at odds with mainstream economic opinion.

Sargent has links to the facts, the data from economists, if you’re one of those odd people who likes facts – if you’re not a Republican perhaps. And he cites a Bloomberg item from Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers – “The debate in Washington has become completely unmoored from this consensus. Republicans have pushed their representatives to adopt positions that are at odds with the best of modern economic thinking.”

When a major business media organization tells the one party that it has become unmoored, that it is drifting away from anything like reality, then that one party might worry a bit:

Let’s start with Obama’s stimulus. The standard Republican talking point is that it failed, meaning it didn’t reduce unemployment. Yet in a survey of leading economists conducted by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, 92 percent agreed that the stimulus succeeded in reducing the jobless rate. On the harder question of whether the benefit exceeded the cost, more than half thought it did, one in three was uncertain, and fewer than one in six disagreed.

Or consider the widely despised bank bailouts. Populist politicians on both sides have taken to pounding the table against them (in many cases, only after voting for them). But while the public may not like them, there’s a striking consensus that they helped: The same survey found no economists willing to dispute the idea that the bailouts lowered unemployment.

And there’s this:

How about the oft-cited Republican claim that tax cuts will boost the economy so much that they will pay for themselves? It’s an idea born as a sketch on a restaurant napkin by conservative economist Art Laffer. Perhaps when the top tax rate was 91 percent, the idea was plausible. Today, it’s a fantasy. The Booth poll couldn’t find a single economist who believed that cutting taxes today will lead to higher government revenue – even if we lower only the top tax rate.

Maybe it’s time to get real:

The consensus isn’t the result of a faux poll of left-wing ideologues. Rather, the findings come from the Economic Experts Panel run by Booth’s Initiative on Global Markets. It’s a recurring survey of about 40 economists from around the U.S. It includes Democrats, Republicans and independent academics from the top economics departments in the country. The only things that unite them are their first-rate credentials and their interest in public policy.

Sargent adds this:

Romney does not have a plan to fix the short term crisis, in the sense that he’d be proposing exactly the same things if the economy were doing great. But the politics of the presidential race are such that Romney needs to promise that electing him would fix the crisis. To make this case, he has to sell the American people on the idea that government – and Obama’s hostility towards individual initiative and American free enterprise – are to blame for holding back the recovery, and that shoving both of those things “out of the way” will reignite the economy. That’s why Romney continues to falsely claim that stimulus spending only succeeded in growing government and didn’t help the private sector at all. That’s why he continues to falsely claim that Obama “demeans success.” That’s why he continues to falsely claim that Obama thinks only government and not individual initiative creates jobs – and that this is why you’re suffering.

These ideas are essential to Romney’s entire argument. Without them, he doesn’t have one.

Andrew Sullivan adds this:

The sheer phoniness and surrealism of Romney’s version of the last three years – and the utter emptiness of his proposals to move forward – is beautifully laid bare here by actual economists operating on reality-based judgments.

There’s more to it than that. In Slate, Dahlia Lithwick and Raymond Vasvari discuss what they call the Republicans’ war on facts – it seems that truth becomes dangerous for the Republican Party when it runs out of arguments. Lithwick and Vasvari are brutal about that:

Someday political scientists will try to date the decline of reasoned discourse in America to the moment when the left and the right began to invent their own facts. Climate change deniers, the purveyors of lies linking abortion to breast cancer, and creationists will all be blamed for the end of meaningful debate between liberals and conservatives. But that’s not quite right. The real end of civic discourse can be traced to the new conservative argument that facts themselves are dangerous.

It’s a dangerous contention not just for what it hides, but also for what it reveals: a lack of any other arguments.

They ask you to simply consider what’s going on:

First Mitt Romney – interviewing for the position of president – declined to release his tax returns because, as he explained, the Obama team’s opposition research will “pick over it” and “distort and lie about them.” He isn’t actually claiming that his opponents will lie. He’s claiming he’s entitled to hide the truth because it could be used against him. As Jon Stewart put it, “You can’t release your returns, because if you do, the Democrats will be mean to you.”

These are tax returns. Factual documents. No different than, say, a birth certificate. But the GOP’s argument that inconvenient facts can be withheld from public scrutiny simply because they can be used for mean purposes is a radical idea in a democracy.

There’s also this:

Probably not coincidentally, last week Senate Republicans filibustered the DISCLOSE Act – a piece of legislation many of them once supported – again on the grounds that Democrats might someday use ugly facts against conservatives. The principal objection to the law is that nasty Democrats would like to know who big secret donors are in order to harass, boycott, and intimidate them. The law requires that unions, corporations, and nonprofit organizations report campaign-related spending over $10,000 within 24 hours, and to name donors who give more than $10,000 for political purposes. Even though eight of the nine justices considering McCain-Feingold in Citizens United believed that disclosure is integral to a functioning democracy, the idea that facts about donors are dangerous things is about the only argument Senate Republicans can muster. Last week even Justice Antonin Scalia told CNN’s Piers Morgan that “Thomas Jefferson would have said the more speech, the better. That’s what the First Amendment is all about. So long as the people know where the speech is coming from.”

That’s a ringing defense of the need for disclosure, which Scalia has always supported. Yet GOP senators aren’t brave enough to have true facts on display anymore.

Lithwick and Vasvari note that Mitch McConnell compared the disclosure requirements involved here to an “enemies list” of some sort – “This amounts to nothing more than member and donor harassment and intimidation, and it’s all part of a broader government-led intimidation effort by this administration.” The FCC, SEC, IRS, the Department of Justice and all the rest – they’re all out to get us, to silence poor helpless patriotic Republicans, by harassing them into silence, by forcing these poor helpless patriotic Republicans to reveal they’re the ones saying certain things Obama doesn’t like. It’s just not right!

That’s novel, but Lithwick and Vasvari, being lawyers, see how this is like the arguments donors from the National Organization for Marriage raised in their unsuccessful 2009 legal challenge to a California statute that requires political campaigns to disclose the identity of donors who contribute more than a hundred bucks to their cause, which was making sure gays would have no right, ever, to marry:

Supporters of Proposition 8 – the California same-sex marriage ban enacted with substantial out-of-state financial support, and recently overturned by the Ninth Circuit – alleged that disclosing their identities would expose them to harassment by political opponents, and the contested statute cast a cloud of intimidation over the exercise of their protected First Amendment rights.

The plaintiffs in that case submitted dozens of sworn statements (many of them anonymous) to a federal judge in Sacramento, chronicling what they characterized as past abuse and harassment. While the court found their evidence to be somewhat exaggerated, it was quick to condemn the few genuine acts of violence and vandalism involved. Nonetheless, the court found those incidents too few and too isolated to outweigh the compelling interest California had in the public disclosure of campaign contributions: preventing the threat of corruption, while letting the public know where campaigns got their cash, information which itself plays a role in helping people decide how to vote.

In short, the National Organization for Marriage, funded by tens of millions of dollars from Romney’s Mormon Church, lost that argument. And maybe you had to be out here at the time, with all the fresh-faced clean-cut Mormon kids on every corner, telling you they liked gay folks, and that gay folks were fine people, but gay folks really shouldn’t marry each other. Even if you were straight it was pretty irritating, and yes, it would have been nice to know who else helped pay to have all those insufferably smug young people bussed in from Utah, and who paid for all the matching J. Crew outfits. Maybe whoever paid for all that should have hid after all.

But Lithwick and Vasvari have it right:

There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance. Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.

That seems rather obvious, but what if people do stand up in public for their political acts and those acts consist in making up nonsense and saying over and over that it’s true, it’s true, it’s really true? There’s no disclosure issue, there’s just actual economists and other experts, operating on reality-based judgments, tearing their hair out in frustration. There’s no legal recourse for dealing with someone detached from reality, saying the sky is green, not blue, and up is down. It’s a free country after all.

There may be no recourse for that – but then there is the voting booth. You could vote for reality.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Lying to Win, Mitt Romney, Reality and all that..., Republican Denial of Reality, Republican Framing Devices and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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