Denial has poisoned the GOP and threatens the rest of the country too
The country has a larger problem-‘intellectual nihilism,” as the writer Noam Scheiber recently labeled it. Since 9/11, often but not always under the right’s aegis, truth has been destabilized in America. The Bush administration’s contempt for what it dismissed as the ‘reality-based community” was vindicated when it successfully ginned up a war by convincing Americans that the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis and that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Our susceptibility to elaborate, beautifully wrought myths remains intact-whether we’re being spun by politicians, captains of finance pumping up a bubble, or sports heroes like Lance Armstrong and Joe Paterno. The news business, which we once counted on to vet hoaxes and fictions, is now so insecure about its existential future that it was cowed to some extent by the Scarboroughs, Noonans, and Roves, with most of the networks, not just Fox, ignoring the ! statistical data of Silver and others and instead predicting a long, nail-biting Election Night. (In reality, the election was called for Obama at 11:12 p.m. EST on NBC, just twelve minutes after it had been in 2008.) Our remaining journalistic institutions have even outsourced what used to be the very core of their craft, fact-checking, to surrogates relegated to gimmicky sidebars (awarding Pinocchios and ‘pants on fire”). The fact-checkers have predictably become partisan targets, only further destabilizing the whole notion of what is meant by ‘news.”
Daniel Patrick Moynihan might be surprised to learn that he is now remembered most for his oft-repeated maxim that ‘everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Yet today most Americans do see themselves as entitled to their own facts, with one of our two major political parties setting a powerful example. For all the hand-wringing about Washington’s chronic dysfunction and lack of bipartisanship, it may be the wholesale denial of reality by the opposition and its fellow travelers that is the biggest obstacle to our country moving forward under a much-empowered Barack Obama in his second term. If truth can’t command a mandate, no one can.