Fighting Against Facts

by Michael Sean Winters

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The late great senator and public intellectual Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously said in debate, “You are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Facts are stubborn things or, at least, once they were. But, now they seem to be continuously used in such a highly selective fashion to make an ideological argument, it is hard to recognize the truth at times.

The dictatorship of relativism, about which Pope Benedict XVI has spoken so often, is no mere philosophic construct: That phrase describes the subjugation of truth to power that seems to be a commonplace of our political discourse today.

I realized this yesterday while listening to Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin testify before Congress. He was slippery in his efforts to avoid affirming some of the outrageous statements made by his allies, calling teacher salaries “lavish” for example. But, what really caught my attention was when he said that his predecessor, a Democrat, has raised taxes to close the state’s budget shortfall two years ago, what followed was unemployment and economic lethargy. Gov. Walker suggested there was a causal connection between the two. But, there were other states that did not raise taxes in the past two years and they, too, experienced high unemployment and a lethargic economy because, whether Walker noticed it or not, the whole country was afflicted with the fallout from the economic meltdown of 2008. But, why give the full picture when a partial picture can seem to support one’s ideological agenda?

In seeking to free the private sector from the ugly influence of government intrusion, Republicans are now suggesting we do away with Medicare, turn it from a guaranteed benefit into a coupon program. Never mind the fact that Medicare creates peace of mind for every single American who knows their hospital bills will be paid for in the later years when they get sick. Among the principal beneficiaries of Medicare are America’s insurance companies. They get to insure us when we are younger and healthier, knowing that as we age and need more expensive care, the government will pick up the tab. That is a good deal for the insurance companies, no? But, you never hear about that.

But, the most outrageous assault of facts came on the House floor Tuesday when Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia began explaining our Constitution. Needless to say, his reading of that document was tendentious in the extreme. But, what was really galling was his suggestion, unsupported by any evidence, that President Franklin Roosevelt has sent his advisors and Cabinet officers to the Soviet Union to study Stalin’s approach to government so that Roosevelt could “replicate” it here. How had the Stalinist source of the New Deal so long escaped historians? And, did the New Deal really mimic Soviet collectivization? No, the New Deal brought electricity to the rural South, but evidently not much light has penetrated the dimness of the Congressman from Georgia. The video of Broun’s comments is below: The bit about FDR starts at 11:50 in the tape.

How can this nonsense pass for seriousness? Do the people saying these things really believe them? I do not doubt Cong. Broun’s sincerity, nor that of Gov. Walker. And, it is no surprise that a politician might not be the brightest bulb in the room when it comes to understanding complicated historical or economic arguments, but all of these obfuscations of the truth share a similar characteristic. They are all designed to deny the complexity of history and the economy. The objective is to provide a simplistic answer, a slogan, and let that govern decision-making. America does not need simpletons. He does not need congressmen who denigrate FDR or governors who can’t grasp elementary models of cause-and-effect. There was a time when I could admire conservatives for their commitment to principles and their properly articulated concern about the growth of government, but something fine and bracing has gone out of today’s conservative politicians, and instead they are serving up their own dictatorship of relativism. They are not battling Democrats; they are battling facts.

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