Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The late, splendid Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously asserted, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." The senator was wrong. (Of course, for those of us who still believe that objectivity is objective, a fact is still a fact, though the heavens may fall.)
The key word here is "entitled." In today's entitlement-crazy Washington, not only do folks believe that about half the country is entitled to other people's money and health insurance policies, they feel they are entitled to their own facts to support their claim to their own entitlement to other people's money and health insurance policies.
Not only that, they believe they are entitled to their own facts to describe the character and conduct of their political opponents. The Democratic Party collectively smeared scores of millions of American Tea Party participants as racist, homophobic, violent terrorists in the absence of a single verified fact in support of even one such incident being attributable to a single individual. Nor did their media pals even bother with the word "alleged."
At a more personal level, two prominent liberal magazines led their readers to believe (as evidenced by multiple reader comments) that in one of my columns last week, I plagiarized Winston Churchill's most famous speech as my own -- despite the fact that I expressly stated immediately before and immediately after the paraphrase that I was paraphrasing Churchill's "Finest Hour" speech from June 1940. I even stated that I apologized for paraphrasing his immortal words. New Republic did have the decency to correct that misimpression after I wrote to complain. The other magazine I will leave in its obscurity.
Not only was Moynihan wrong, so was John Adams, who said, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. ("Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials," December 1770).
Though he may have been correct technically -- the facts cannot be altered in the eyes of God -- he was wrong to the extent that the facts cannot be altered in the eyes of the public.
The advocates of the new "thing" that was passed a week ago Sunday and signed into law by the chief executive claimed it would reduce the deficit by $140 billion over the first 10 years. No informed person believes that "fact." Also, fairly happily, according to Sunday's Washington Post poll, 65 percent of the public think the new law will increase the budget deficit.
Still, that leaves 35 percent (or close to 100 million Americans, counting the kids) who either believe the incorrect "fact," think the law will be budget-neutral or are otherwise confused.
So, currently, the fact that it will increase the deficit by at least half-a-trillion dollars (probably much more) rather than reduce it by $140 billion is just 65 percent stubborn. It will be interesting to see, seven months from now, how stubborn that fact will be. How effectively the advocates of the non-fact "communicate" to the people -- and how effective the rest of us are -- will determine whether it will be more or less than just 65 percent stubborn. And remember, American elections tend to be won or lost on the margin. If 30 percent of the voters are motivated by incorrect "facts" to vote, that may well be enough for them to be the winners -- who, as many cynics claim -- get to write the history.
Of course, it is not a novelty of our time that there is often a struggle over convincing the public of the truth. As has been said, "A lie is halfway 'round the world before truth has got its boots on." (Attention liberal journalists: I am not claiming that phrase as my own. It is a loose translation from Virgil's "Aeneid": "Fama, malum qua non aliud velocius alium," which itself was paraphrased by Shakespeare in the introduction of "Henry IV," Part 2.)
So, we have a jolly seven-month public match over both economic and political theory -- and the honest facts -- with the advocates of the monstrosity that we dare not call by its name. (Last week I quite upset more than 800 digital "commenters" at the Huffington Post -- and thousands of other friendly, if often obscene and contemptuous, e-mailers -- because I used the word "socialism" to describe a government-designed, -taxed, -deeply regulated and -mandated program that will hire 16,000 new IRS agents to make sure we enjoy the benefits the federals require we pay the government to receive.
We're in for quite a brawl. (Note to Democratic Party talking-points drafts people: I am using the word "brawl" as a metaphor.) I am not calling for violence against your dainty selves, so you can come out from pretending to be trembling under your desks and bask in the physical safety of debating Republicans, conservatives, Tea Party folks and other fine Americans. After all, when was the last time you saw thousands of us filthy-rich, middle-aged, paunchy white guys from gated communities riot? (With the possible exception of the first day of the 30-percent-off sale for Bermuda shorts at the country club golf shop. "Where are the 40s?")
Come out, come out where ever you are, my little pretties. We want to debate the facts, not duck your mud balls. What are you afraid of? Admittedly, the truth may hurt you -- but only metaphorically. And, as the phrase goes, the truth will set us (even you) free.
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