Your False-Equivalence Guide to the Days Ahead

by James Fallows, The Atlantic, Sep 27 2013

A kind of politics we have not seen for more than 150 years

Two big examples of problematic self-government are upon us. They are of course the possible partial shutdown of the federal government, following the long-running hamstringing of public functions via “the sequester”; and a possible vote not to raise the federal debt ceiling, which would create the prospect of a default on U.S. Treasury debt.

The details are complicated, but please don’t lose sight of these three essential points:

  • As a matter of substance, constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it. The United States can afford it only because we are — still — so rich, with so much margin for waste and error. Details on this and other items below.*
  • As a matter of politics, this is different from anything we learned about in classroomsor expected until the past few years. We’re used to thinking that the most important disagreements are between the major parties, not within one party; and that disagreements over policies, goals, tactics can be addressed by negotiation or compromise.This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate.** Outsiders to this struggle — the president and his administration, Democratic legislators as a group, voters or “opinion leaders” outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority — have essentially no leverage over the outcome. I can’t recall any situation like this in my own experience, and the only even-approximate historic parallel (with obvious differences) is the inability of Northern/free-state opinion to affect the debate within the slave-state South from the 1840s onward. Nor is there a conceivable “compromise” the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.
  • As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a “standoff,” a “showdown,” a “failure of leadership,” a sign of “partisan gridlock,” or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism*** and an inability to see or describe what is going on. For instance: the “dig in their heels” headline you see below, which is from a proprietary newsletter I read this morning, and about which I am leaving off the identifying details.This isn’t “gridlock.” It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us — and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/09/your-false-equivalence-guide-to-the-days-ahead/280062/

The Ignorance Caucus

By PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times, February 10, 2013

Excerpt

[The Republican] party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions…while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place.

The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs…

Full text

Last week Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, gave what his office told us would be a major policy speech. And we should be grateful for the heads-up about the speech’s majorness. Otherwise, a read of the speech might have suggested that he was offering nothing more than a meager, warmed-over selection of stale ideas.

To be sure, Mr. Cantor tried to sound interested in serious policy discussion. But he didn’t succeed — and that was no accident. For these days his party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions. And no, that’s not a caricature: Last year the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

And such is the influence of what we might call the ignorance caucus that even when giving a speech intended to demonstrate his openness to new ideas, Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give that caucus a shout-out, calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research. Because it’s surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we’re trying to change.

Want other examples of the ignorance caucus at work? Start with health care, an area in which Mr. Cantor tried not to sound anti-intellectual; he lavished praise on medical research just before attacking federal support for social science. (By the way, how much money are we talking about? Well, the entire National Science Foundation budget for social and economic sciences amounts to a whopping 0.01 percent of the budget deficit.)

But Mr. Cantor’s support for medical research is curiously limited. He’s all for developing new treatments, but he and his colleagues have adamantly opposed “comparative effectiveness research,” which seeks to determine how well such treatments work.

What they fear, of course, is that the people running Medicare and other government programs might use the results of such research to determine what they’re willing to pay for. Instead, they want to turn Medicare into a voucher system and let individuals make decisions about treatment. But even if you think that’s a good idea (it isn’t), how are individuals supposed to make good medical choices if we ensure that they have no idea what health benefits, if any, to expect from their choices?

Still, the desire to perpetuate ignorance on matters medical is nothing compared with the desire to kill climate research, where Mr. Cantor’s colleagues — particularly, as it happens, in his home state of Virginia — have engaged in furious witch hunts against scientists who find evidence they don’t like. True, the state has finally agreed to study the growing risk of coastal flooding; Norfolk is among the American cities most vulnerable to climate change. But Republicans in the State Legislature have specifically prohibited the use of the words “sea-level rise.

And there are many other examples, like the way House Republicans tried to suppress a Congressional Research Service report casting doubt on claims about the magical growth effects of tax cuts for the wealthy.

Do actions like this have important effects? Well, consider the agonized discussions of gun policy that followed the Newtown massacre. It would be helpful to these discussions if we had a good grasp of the facts about firearms and violence. But we don’t, because back in the 1990s conservative politicians, acting on behalf of the National Rifle Association, bullied federal agencies into ceasing just about all research into the issue. Willful ignorance matters.

O.K., at this point the conventions of punditry call for saying something to demonstrate my evenhandedness, something along the lines of “Democrats do it too.” But while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place.

The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs.

In her parting shot on leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton said of her Republican critics, “They just will not live in an evidence-based world.” She was referring specifically to the Benghazi controversy, but her point applies much more generally. And for all the talk of reforming and reinventing the G.O.P., the ignorance caucus retains a firm grip on the party’s heart and mind.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/11/opinion/krugman-the-ignorance-caucus.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130211&_r=0

Our Dumb Democracy: Why the Untied States of Stupid Still Reins Supreem

by John Atcheson, January 22, 2013 by Common Dreams

Excerpt

…we are still faced with ultra-rightwing terrorists threatening to hold the US economy hostage to a set of demands that the majority of Americans disagree with. These are the same loonies who deny global warming…Want to know how our political discourse got so mind-numbingly stupid? Well, we can start with this little fact:  The press is so enamored with “balance” that they’ll treat even the most ignorant, shallow, fatuous movement – a [Tea Party] movement composed of the selfish, the self-obsessed, the angry, the bigoted, and the blissfully ignorant – as if it were a serious movement….At one time this kind of foolishness would have been laughed off the national stage. Now it dominates one of our major political parties, thanks to the media’s embrace of balance and false equivalence and the Democrats’ silent complicity…today’s political discourse is so thoroughly littered with “conventional wisdom” without an iota of wisdom...our media has replaced truth, accuracy and reality with balance, false equivalency, and stenography and Democrats have been silent co-conspirators. Why?  Because the press is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporations, and too many Democrats feed at the corporate trough. And that’s not funny, but it is stupid.

Full text

Astoundingly, Mr. Obama – the supreme pragmatist and compromiser – gave an inaugural address that was as strong a defense of progressivism as we have seen in thirty years. Yet it will take more than words to make a difference.  As the echoes of his speech fade, we are still faced with ultra-rightwing terrorists threatening to hold the US economy hostage to a set of demands that the majority of Americans disagree with.

These are the same loonies who deny global warming; the same ones who set up a museum showing prehistoric humans walking with dinosaurs; the same ones who think the answer to gun violence is more guns; the same ones who voted against relief for victims of Sandy … the same ones who want to shove ultrasound instruments into women’s vaginas and tell people who they can and cannot marry while simultaneously shouting to the rooftops about freedom and values.

Yeah. Their freedoms, their beliefs and their values, please.  All others step to the back of the bus, or consult Leviticus.  You know, that font of ancient wisdom that tells us when and how to stone our neighbor’s daughter.

Want to know how our political discourse got so mind-numbingly stupid? 

Well, we can start with this little fact:  The press is so enamored with “balance” that they’ll treat even the most ignorant, shallow, fatuous movement – a movement composed of the selfish, the self-obsessed, the angry, the bigoted, and the blissfully ignorant – as if it were a serious movement. 

Consider the following signs seen at Tea Party protests.

There’s the now infamous: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

Or this gem:  “Don’t steal from Medicare to Support Socialized Medicine.”

Or this: “Get a Brain.  Morans [sic].”

Or this:  “Obama Half Breed Muslin” – or maybe cotton or linen?

Or this: “We came unarmed.  This time.”

Or this:  “Stop Illeagles.”  Yup, gotta hate it when eagles get ill.

There’s absolutely no shortage of these tributes to stupidity – the list could go on and on.

At one time this kind of foolishness would have been laughed off the national stage.

Now it dominates one of our major political parties, thanks to the media’s embrace of balance and false equivalence and the Democrats’ silent complicity.

It might be time for a whole new set of “imponderables”.

Imponderables are questions or statements that by their nature expose something that doesn’t make sense. At their best, they’re mildly amusing and instructive. For example, why does Hawaii have an Interstate Highway system? or Why isn’t “phonetic” spelled the way it sounds? or Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

Yes, today’s political discourse is so thoroughly littered with “conventional wisdom” without an iota of wisdom, that there should be a new category – political imponderables. Here are a few examples:

National “Defense: If the US was spending more than the next 16 countries combined on defense prior to 911, why did we need to create the Department of Homeland Security to defend ourselves?

Shouldn’t the Defense Department be called the Department of Offense?

Why isn’t every citizen asking why we have tens of thousands of troops scattered around the world to fight the cold war, nearly 25 years after it ended.

If Citizens United is about Free Speech, why does it cost so much? Republicans and plutocrats are set to spend far more than $1 billion on the presidential race.

Why did Obama call the Patriot Act shoddy and dangerous then essentially continue Bush’s assault on the Bill of Rights?

Climate Change: Why did candidate Obama call climate change an epochal man-made threat to the planet, while President Obama virtually ignored it his entire first term.

Why do states which are experiencing the worst climate-related disasters elect Republican governors and congressional representatives who deny its existence?

Deficit Duplicity: Why are Republicans once again threatening to shut down government over extending the debt ceiling, after voting for the Ryan’s first budget, which required multiple and astronomical increases in the debt ceiling until the year 2062?

If Republicans really hate deficits, why did the last three Republican Presidents run up more than 66% of the nation’s cumulative deficit  – more than all other Presidents combined?  And why didn’t rank and file Republicans utter a peep against it when they did?

Deregulation, Trickle Down Redux, or Fool me once, shame on you … If thirty years of policies featuring deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and starve the beast policies resulted in the economic crash in 2008 – the worst since the Great Depression, which was also preceded by laissez-faire policies – how can more of the same be the solution?

Small Government that Isn’t: If Republicans like small government, why does it always grow  when they’re in office?

Why does the press mindlessly repeat conservative fear mongers’ debt warnings even as the deficit is disappearing?

There’s no shortage of political imponderables.  Given the absurdity of our political process and the media’s malfeasance, our national well of stupidity is deep and wide.

The answer to all these questions is simple – these absurdities exist, because our media has replaced truth, accuracy and reality with balance, false equivalency, and stenography and Democrats have been silent co-conspirators.

Why?  Because the press is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporations, and too many Democrats feed at the corporate trough.

And that’s not funny, but it is stupid.

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/22