Everyone knows about confirmation bias – people will recognize information that confirms their beliefs as the only relevant information. Any information that doesn’t confirm their beliefs must be wrong, if it even exists – so people will often say that certain things just didn’t happen, or those particular words were never spoken. There may be video, or audio, but such things can be faked, and there’s Photoshop. When you know somethings should not be true, well, there’s always an argument that it’s not true, and that means that people seldom argue about the implications of the basic facts. No one will even agree on the basic facts – they have different ones on Fox News and MSNBC.
That plays out endlessly. Obamacare is an epic failure. Obamacare is a stunning success. Which it is depends on how you look at the data, and at which elements of the data, and then each side accuses the other of confirmation bias, although they might not call it that. Those folks are only seeing what they want to see! The odd thing is that that’s absolutely true. That thing everyone always shouts, in outraged anger, that you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts, is the only thing people shout now. There’s no discussion of opinion, of whether the other guy is being logical or not. These days no one gets that far – the issue is always the basic facts – and that precludes one party, through careful argument, from changing the other party’s mind about the issue at hand. The perfect argument, perfectly calibrated, is irrelevant. Without an agreement on what everyone is talking about, the facts of the matter, there are no available means by which one can change the other person’s mind about those facts.
That’s okay. Each side is unhappy, nothing changes, because nothing can change, and eventually everyone just moves on. That happened with Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, and it survived its Supreme Court challenge, and the House Republicans voted to repeal it fifty times, but the Senate would not even take up the matter each time, and Mitt Romney ran for president vowing to get rid of it the first day he was in office, and lost the election rather badly, and the House and Senate Republicans shut down the government, promising the country would grind to a halt, forever, unless Obama abandoned it, and gave up and reopened the government with the thing still in place, as is – and now it has been fully implemented, except for the employer mandate, and the world didn’t end. It’s firmly in place. All the “facts” about it – the Death Panels that would kill granny and how the thing would destroy jobs and ruin the economy, and how every doctor in America would quit and find another line of work – weren’t facts about it after all. Oh well. There are always other facts to dispute, like all the scientists in the world, every one of them, being dead wrong about global warming. Why should scientists be the ones who determine what the facts are? There is the Bible. What about the Bible?
That dispute about those “facts” will go on forever, but if you’re a Republican, the immediate problem, and the seemingly eternal problem, is Barack Obama. The issue of Obamacare is over, for better or worse, and all that Birther stuff also seems to be over. Only Donald Trump still believes that Obama was born in Kenya, and thus he never was entitled to be president in the first place. Everyone else gave that up long ago. The facts that they wanted just weren’t there, so new facts are necessary to solve the Obama problem.
Yes, but where do you find those? The IRS scandal and Benghazi and all the rest, like Fast and Furious, resulted in all sorts of fact-finding hearings, where no facts were found. That’s a bummer, but in the absence of specific facts, there all always general facts, like the fact that Obama is a tyrant and simply refuses to enact laws that Congress passes, and through executive orders, makes up his own laws. Obama did delay deporting those who were brought here as little children, making the administrative decision to use his limited federal resources for other sorts of deportations, of criminals and such – but they say that was not an administrative detail. That was Obama enacting his own version of the DREAM Act, something Congress would never pass, ever, if the Republicans had any say in the matter, and they do. That’s just not right, but Republicans are in enough trouble with Hispanic voters that they’re not going to press that. Instead, John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, is suing Obama, over Obama’s administrative decision to delay one small part of the Affordable Care Act, which no one thinks is very important, the employer mandate, to give businesses with fifty or more workers more time to work things out, to help them out. Boehner claims that Obama has no right to do that. Obama should be forced to implement, precisely, on schedule, this one part of the law that the Republicans hate, and be forced to stick it to those businesses, which Republicans love. It’s the principle of the thing, and this was the day they pulled the trigger:
The House voted along party lines Wednesday to move forward with a lawsuit against President Barack Obama, escalating tension between the executive and legislative branches months before the pivotal midterm elections.
The 225-201 vote authorizes Speaker John Boehner to take Obama to court on behalf of the House for delaying a provision in the health care overhaul that requires that most employers provide insurance to their workers. Republicans see the delay as a clear example of Obama overstepping his executive authority.
“This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats. It’s about defending the Constitution we swore an oath to,” Speaker John Boehner said. “Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?”
All Democrats opposed the measure.
Of course they did, and this should be fun – this is the first time in the history of our nation this was ever tried – because the “facts” here may be a bit of a problem for the House Republicans. The courts, at any level, may refuse to hear the case, because the House Republicans seem to have no standing. For that, they need to present the “fact” that they were materially harmed by Obama changing the employer mandate deadline, because the whole idea of any lawsuit is to seek redress, to be paid damages for the harm done. What’s the harm? Where are they going to come up with the indisputable fact that they were harmed? Then too, every previous president, even Republican presidents, has shifted the timing for implementing certain elements of this law and that, as need arises. All previous presidents have had that administrative discretion, and used it. Where is the “fact” that this is completely different, this time? Finally, the courts have always, until now, refused to rule on political disputes. This will look to the courts like a purely political dispute. They’ll tell Boehner to call Obama and work things out, and then see if he can sell what they come up with to his House caucus. Why is this in court? What “facts” make this a legal, not a political issue?
Obama was almost giddy in a speech about this – he’s doing his job and they’re doing this? Haven’t you guys got something better to do with your time, and with taxpayer money? You could, you know, pass some legislation, sometime, about something – anything. You say you want to show the nation that you’re ready to govern, and that you can govern, and you come up with this? Obama wasn’t very nice, and they deserved every bit of his scorn, and the polling shows the American public agrees with Obama here. This is a joke, but everyone also knows that Boehner is doing this because he’s afraid to impeach Obama. His younger Tea Party associates, and Sarah Plain, certainly want to do that. He, and the other old hands in the party, remembers when they impeached Bill Clinton. The nation turned on them, for a generation.
John Boehner is in a tough spot, but sooner or later he may come to realize that means this lawsuit, or impeachment if it comes to that, will change no one’s mind. His party is decided about this, but that’s an internal matter. Arguments to others, to the courts or to the American public, here about tyranny or whatever, will always bump up against facts. He doesn’t have those. He’s screwed.
That’s the lesson here. Control the facts and there isn’t even a need for logical and precise argument. The facts change people’s minds. People changed their minds about our Iraq War – the second one by the second Bush – and that wasn’t done through any argument about how stupid that war was, or how noble and right. The dismal facts on the ground, eight long years of them, starting with no weapons of mass destruction anywhere to be found, are what changed people’s minds. It was the same with gay marriage. Lots of things were said on both sides, with great passion, and the courts decided what they decided, but public opinion had already changed because of the facts on the ground. Gay folks, coming out and standing up, just weren’t that scary. They weren’t scary at all – they seemed to have the same percentage of jerks as the general population, or maybe even a smaller percentage. There were just folks, and they were just there. There was no denying the fact that they were standing there. Treating them decently would hurt no one. Why not treat them decently? The facts speak for themselves, and arguments aren’t made to convince, only to confirm something or other, often in grand style – as if that matters.
The same thing is happening with Israel in Gaza right now, with Israel passionately arguing its right to self-defense, and its right to exist at all, given its terrorist for, and Hamas passionately arguing the right of the Palestinian people to just live, without being jammed into a no-man’s land and starved and having everything taking from them, by an occupier who hope they just die. Those are the arguments. Everyone’s heard them, but it’s the facts that matter, and passionate people also know that. That’s why this sort of thing happens:
Atlantic senior editor David Frum tweeted accusations late last week that photos of two grieving Gazans published by Reuters, the Associated Press, and the New York Times were staged by Hamas. The charges were immediately and forcefully refuted by news agencies spokespeople and one of the photographers, and Frum promised to “review” his allegations.
On Wednesday afternoon Frum apologized. “I made a mistake,” he wrote at the Atlantic, though he said he was not acting in his post as an editor. “These images do appear authentic, and I should not have cast doubt on them. I apologize especially to Sergey Ponomarev of The New York Times, whose work I impugned.”
David Frum is smarter than John Boehner. Fake facts won’t do. Hamas may have staged such photos before, but Reuters, the Associated Press, and the New York Times are pretty careful. He says he’ll find other facts to make his argument, but that may be difficult:
Most residents were asleep when the strikes started Wednesday at a United Nations school sheltering 3,300 Palestinians displaced by the war between Israel and the militant group Hamas.
Two shells slammed into classrooms packed with women and children, survivors said. Another hit a bathroom where men were performing their ablutions before dawn prayers. At least 16 people were killed and 90 injured, hospital officials said.
It was one of numerous deadly strikes Wednesday as Israel carried out some of the most intense bombardments of its 23-day-old offensive in the Gaza Strip. More than 130 people were killed in Israeli shelling throughout the narrow coastal enclave, raising the Palestinian death toll in the campaign to more than 1,340, said Ashraf Kidra, a Gaza health official.
That’s from the Los Angeles Times, as careful as the other, who also reported that the Israelis screwed up again. The facts are what they are, and that led to this:
The White House condemned the shelling Wednesday of a United Nations school in Gaza, issuing a carefully worded statement that avoided any mention of where the shells came from, despite the strong likelihood that it was Israeli fire.
The U.S. “condemns the shelling of a UNRWA school in Gaza, which reportedly killed and injured innocent Palestinians – including children – and U.N. humanitarian workers,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan. “We also condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza. All of these actions, and similar ones earlier in the conflict, are inconsistent with the U.N.’s neutrality.”
The Israeli military said it was investigating the shelling at the U.N. Relief and Works Agency site and suggested that its soldiers had come under fire from Hamas militants.
In condemning the action but not naming an actor, the U.S. statement illustrated how the administration tries to tread a line: expressing unhappiness without overly straining a relationship with Israel marked by tension on and off throughout President Obama’s tenure.
We support Israel, fully, but the facts are troubling. It’s no wonder there’s tension here. There are fine words, and then there are the facts on the ground, and then there is Rush Limbaugh with Obama Regime Sides with Hamas – which seems to be fact-free. Obama loves Hamas and hates America, and hates all Jews, just like Hitler. Obama should love dead Palestinians kids, or something.
And then there’s Roger Cohen:
I am a Zionist because the story of my forebears convinces me that Jews needed the homeland voted into existence by United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947, calling for the establishment of two states – one Jewish, one Arab – in Mandate Palestine. I am a Zionist who believes in the words of Israel’s founding charter of 1948 declaring that the nascent state would be based “on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”
What I cannot accept, however, is the perversion of Zionism that has seen the inexorable growth of a Messianic Israeli nationalism claiming all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; that has, for almost a half-century now, produced the systematic oppression of another people in the West Bank; that has led to the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on the very West Bank land of any Palestinian state; that isolates moderate Palestinians like Salam Fayyad in the name of divide-and-rule; that pursues policies that will make it impossible to remain a Jewish and democratic state; that seeks tactical advantage rather than the strategic breakthrough of a two-state peace; that blockades Gaza with 1.8 million people locked in its prison and is then surprised by the periodic eruptions of the inmates; and that responds disproportionately to attack in a way that kills hundreds of children.
This, as a Zionist, I cannot accept. Jews, above all people, know what oppression is.
Yes, those Hamas guys are evil, and he “would happily see them destroyed” except for this:
No argument, no Palestinian outrage or subterfuge, can gloss over what Jewish failure the killing of children in such numbers represents.
Then there’s Jonathan Chait:
I don’t mean to overdramatize the change within my own thinking. While less sympathetic to Israel than before, I still find myself far more sympathetic to Israel than to Hamas. I still believe a two-state partition will happen eventually, though the odds are increasing that a catastrophe will be required to bring it about first. I also bitterly attribute the shriveling of the Israeli left to the Palestinian rejectionists who deliberately engineered this very outcome. The change in my thinking is gradational, not transformational. Like many liberal Jews – Roger Cohen today being one of the latest – I recognize that the facts change, and I have changed my mind.
Yes, it’s those facts again:
It is not just that the unintended deaths of Palestinians are so disproportionate to any corresponding increase in security for the Israeli targets of Hamas’s air strikes. It is not just that Netanyahu is able to identify Hamas’s strategy – to create “telegenically dead Palestinians” – yet still proceeds to give Hamas exactly what it is after. It is that Netanyahu and his coalition have no strategy of their own except endless counterinsurgency against the backdrop of a steadily deteriorating diplomatic position within the world and an inexorable demographic decline. The operation in Gaza is not Netanyahu’s strategy in excess; it is Netanyahu’s strategy in its entirety.
And there is Ezra Klein with this:
I used to write about Israel often. It felt, even a few years ago, that peace was a live possibility, that Israel had choices – and that some of them might even turn out well. But Israel seems to have made its choice, at least for now, and the results are painful to watch. I haven’t become less pro-Israel. But I’ve become much more pessimistic about its prospects, and more confused and occasionally horrified by its policies. My sense is that’s happened to Chait, too. I notice he writes about Israel less these days, also. My sense is it’s happened to a lot of us.
The facts on the ground will do that to you, and David Weigel reports on a fourth Jewish fellow:
While covering the Christians United for Israel conference this week, I heard a couple of gripes about Jon Stewart’s reports on Israel’s operation in Gaza. His first, on July 16, was impossible to miss… His July 16 segment mocked the disparity of power between the Israelis and the residents of the Gaza Strip.
“Most Hamas rockets are neutralized by Israel’s Iron Dome technology,” said Stewart. “The Israeli forces warn Gaza residents of an imminent bombing with a smaller warning bombing.”
Supporters of Israel were watching a Jewish comedian who happens to have a direct line to Millennials, and he was fully embracing the worst possible narrative. “His piece on Gaza, I thought, was morally outrageous,” David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, told me Monday.
As Weigel puts it, when you’ve lost Jon Stewart you’ve lost Middle America. Pesky facts will do that, and that leads to Rashid Khalidi in the New Yorker with this:
What Israel is doing in Gaza now is collective punishment. It is punishment for Gaza’s refusal to be a docile ghetto. It is punishment for the gall of Palestinians in unifying, and of Hamas and other factions in responding to Israel’s siege and its provocations with resistance, armed or otherwise, after Israel repeatedly reacted to unarmed protest with crushing force. Despite years of ceasefires and truces, the siege of Gaza has never been lifted.
As Netanyahu’s own words show, however, Israel will accept nothing short of the acquiescence of Palestinians to their own subordination. It will accept only a Palestinian “state” that is stripped of all the attributes of a real state: control over security, borders, airspace, maritime limits, contiguity, and, therefore, sovereignty. The twenty-three-year charade of the “peace process” has shown that this is all Israel is offering, with the full approval of Washington. Whenever the Palestinians have resisted that pathetic fate (as any nation would), Israel has punished them for their insolence. This is not new.
That’s quite passionate, and it could be dismissed as simply not fact-based, except for the facts of the matter. Everyone knows about confirmation bias, and knows that facts, eventually, fatally disrupt confirmation bias. It fails, even if that takes years. It may not take years for it to fail for the Republicans, if they spend every minute until Election Day in November pushing this lawsuit, or go all in and impeach Obama. Netanyahu is working even faster at negating the confirmation bias of everyone outside Israel, who loves Israel, by pretending that the facts on the ground that everyone sees don’t matter. They do. They always do.