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Is something big happening here? In discussions of pubic policy, and politics (the former has all but vanished), we’ve traditionally understood..and been raised to understand, that people have different points of view. Opinions. One of the defining underlying feaures of our country has been a deep acceptance of this reality, grounded in the U.S. Constitution. Today though, we have groups that believe they have a lock on “truth”, and that’s a problem.
Lately, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend amongst liberal/progressive/Democratic pundits, which is increasingly reflected in the media by reporters, the vast majority of whom fall into that category when they’re not practicing their trade as “objective journalists”. Actually, the pretense of objectivity has been all but abandoned in circles frequented by the intelligentsia (and this is not all bad IMO because there is no such thing as objectivity), but word has not reached the general public yet, which creates issues.
But that’s a separate (related) subject. The issue I’m calling out here is an increasing claim to be rallying around the flag of empirical reality…”truth”. The epitome of this has been the hysterical reaction to the Niall Fergusson Newsweek cover story. A host of “fact checkers” sprang up to quickly assert that this Harvard professor had spewed a gigantic pack of lies. Not one real fact in the whole piece, apparently. Paul Krugman said so! Andrew Sullivan said so! (seriously?). The Atlantic said so! The New York Times said so! Politico says so! All the panelists on MSNBC are in violent agreement (as usual) on this point! So…it’s TRUE. We can all relax, secure in our comfy progressive consensus view, having completely dismissed out of hand everything Fergusson has to say as tendentious. Wrong. Any Democrat a la Corey Bookman who may slip up on this will immediately be required to “walk back” whatever they may say too.
A few weeks ago, Dianne Feinstein (no right-winger she) declared the obvious on the Senate floor…that the administration is leaking operational intelligence details like a sieve. It took only hours for the “truth” police to jump in and get her back on track. Now, not only is it officially and in progressive circles not obvious – it’s actually “outrageous” to even suggest it.
I don’t really want to defend the Ferguson article because that is not my point here. It’s a polemic…it uses facts selectively to try to make a larger point..his truth…there are a few errors and a bunch of debatable points. The core of the “fact checkers” arguments has been the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Both sides have traditionally used and abused the CBO for their political purposes, but the vehemence on display this week has really been something. We used to understand that the CBO does analysis based on assumptions (economic growth rates, government revenues, projected expenses, etc.). Their calculations are fair and objective, but garbage in, garbage out. This is why they are always wrong….assumptions about economic growth are usually to optimistic, and projections of revenues as a result are too high, and projections of government “savings” NEVER actually materialize. So by all means, cite the CBO in your argument but don’t construct a towering edifice of self-righteousness around it.
No, my point is the groupthink consensus that their particular political p.o.v. is grounded in absolute empiricism…truth, as opposed to opinion. As Ferguson himself put it in a rebuttal to Krugman and co, “My critics have three things in common. First, they wholly fail to respond to the central arguments of the piece. Second, they claim to be engaged in “fact checking,” whereas in nearly all cases they are merely offering alternative (often silly or skewed) interpretations of the facts. Third, they adopt a tone of outrage that would be appropriate only if I had argued that, say, women’s bodies can somehow prevent pregnancies in case of “legitimate rape.” Well put. This mentality is what leads to journOlism/JournOLists. More troublingly, it leads to POTUS musing about how the problem is the masses maybe struggling to understand “the truth” because they don’t get the “right information” from the media outlets they follow. The White House sporadically toying with the notion of banning the likes of Fox News from the premises. You can just see the nascent thought ‘we ought to do something about it” bubbling below the surface, and on the surface among some of the punditocracy. Given a chance, the Harry Reid’s and Nancy Pelosi’s of the world would absolutely move to “do something” about it. And that is dangerous ground.
Wait. Stop. Political correctness is on the cusp of brainwashing at this point. It’s mutating into dogma. That can very easily lead to a soft totalitarianism if we’re not careful. A group of people believing they have cornered “truth” is a hallmark of the Christian right that we’re all so paranoid about…not the public intellectual. I even see this on Facebook where I still enjoy interacting with very liberal people, and cherish real exchanges of ideas and opinions, especially when we are actually able to discover common ground on issues. But I have to say, it is not easy to be a person on Facebook who does not share the consensus progressive viewpoint on economics, at least not in my circles. Many people just don’t like to engage…and many are quick to resort to loose collections of liberal memes and campaign talking points…outright epithets…in short, they are highly intolerant…of dissent.
Those of you who fall into this “liberal intelligentsia” thought collective, largely east/west coast centered…please stop with the accusations of “that’s not the TRUTH”, “neanderthals” and “racism” whenever confronted with an opposing point of view. Stop and think. Argue your opinion with passion by all means, but do not fall into a pattern of so easily denigrating and demeaning those who don’t agree. Seek the consensus (where most of the middle of the country is). Real fiscal conservatives of good will will try to rein in the tea partiers at the same time…but you aren’t making it easy. IMO.
By the way, here’s Ferguson’s rebuttal of Krugman’s critique: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/08/21/niall-ferguson-defends-newsweek-cover-correct-this-bloggers.html
Feel free to disagree.