Friday, November 9, 2012

Time to end Post-Truth Politics

The win by President Obama was a win for facts. For reality. For truth, if you will. Does this mean Obama only told the truth on the way back to the White House? Hell no. He’s a politician. But unlike Mitt Romney, his entire campaign wasn’t based on a foundation of lies. Actually – it was worse than that – Mitt’s was founded on an alternate reality.  He argued against a health care system that was based on one he had introduced as Governor of Massachusetts. He argued that he and his running mate Paul Ryan were fiscal conservatives all the while running with a tax policy that didn’t add up. He was for abortion, against it, for it, against it; he said he would create 12 million jobs in 4 years and based this assertion on reports that said he might create 7 million jobs over 10 years and an extra 3.6 million jobs over the next 8 years and 2 million jobs from “cracking down on China” which no one would suggest would occur. He lied about Obama and the auto bailout – probably the final lie really – the one that broke the back of the voters carrying 12 months plus of bullshit. He and the GOP lied and lied and lied.

In these lies Mitt was unfortunately assisted by the right-wing elements of the media in the USA – namely Fox News, talk-back hosts like Rush Limbaugh and blogs like the Drudge Report.

Everything Obama did was “a conspiracy”. I fully envision in the next few months “Hurricane Sandy Truthers’ coming out to show how Obama actually did things to ensure the Hurricane hit the east coast when it did, and that he probably did an under the table deal with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to get him to thank Obama for his efforts. You know it’s true.

Anytime Obama said anything that if twisted could be shown to be a “he clearly hates America” “gaffe” then we’d see it. From “You didn’t build that” (oh my God did the right wing think that would cost Obama the election) right up till last weekend when Obama quietened a crowd that was booing mention of Romney’s name by saying “no, no. Don’t boo. Vote. Vote. Voting is the best revenge.” 

And of course the right wingers and Mitt played ignorance on ever having heard a line like “Living well is the best revenge”, and thinking it was a play on that; instead Obama hated America:


But in the end Mitt was just telling those who were already firmly lodged in his fundament that what they were smelling was roses and honey. And it wasn’t.

We see this factless and reality lost politics here in Australia as well. Our debt will have us like Greece and Spain; the carbon price will kill the economy; Julia Gillard is just a gender card playing victim who was a corrupt lawyer; welfare is bad except when the Govt decides to take some away; climate change is a global conspiracy; we’re on the cusp of a wages breakout; the unions are back in charge; the mining tax will send mining off to Sierra Leone; the newspolls are rigged; the newspolls are the only polls that matter; gay marriage will destroy our society; low interest rates are bad; low interest rates are good; if we don’t have a surplus that means Labor never wants to pay off the debt.

Look there are more – and Labor throws out a few of them as well – mostly related to asylum seekers.

But this type of debate led by fools who use data when it suits and then promptly ignore it – or suggest it no longer really matters – helps no one. It leads to a debate where it boils down to “ideology”. Today in The Australian, Adam Creighton, apparently with a straight face, wrote:

CALLS for more "evidence-based policy" in Australia are routine. For former prime minister Kevin Rudd, under whose watch little reform occurred, it was "at the heart of being a reformist government".

But more "ideology-based policy" is what this country needs. Evidence is useless without underlying principles to guide what to do with it. Statistics are often crafted from poor data and reported tendentiously.

Yep, apparently we suffer from too much data. But don’t worry Creighton knows how to fix things:

How can we improve productivity in Australia? Shrink government and thereby expand the fraction of the labour force producing goods and services that people are willing to pay for.

Does he offer any proof that this is correct? Proof? What are you a hippie? If you don’t know that this is true then clearly your ideology is wrong and really it’s time for you to piss off and let the intelligent people run the country. Don’t worry about the fact that such an assertion is bollocks – it won’t do anything for productivity because if you expand the labour force producing goods, you only improve productivity if that increased labour force produces goods more efficiently than does the current market sector of the economy. Shrinking the government won’t do anything to improve the productivity of the mining sector.

He continues:

At the federal level, abolish patently absurd departments -- and their attendant expenditures -- such as "innovation", "climate change", "agriculture", and "families". At the state level, contract out the management and operation of hospitals and schools and deliver subsidies direct to the people consuming these services.

At the local level, sack diversity officers and community outreach programs in favour of fixing potholes and approving new developments.

How wonderful life is when you don’t need to support your assertions with evidence. You get to kill off everything in society you don’t like. I really should have adopted this strategy earlier.

Creighton ends with this doozy:

Not only does "evidence-based policy" thwart sensible reform with a barrage of data, the very process of producing statistics and "evidence" encourages governments to meddle with the economy. No one would pay to know Australia's gross domestic product or supposed aggregate productivity, for instance. Australia would be far freer and more prosperous if government produced fewer statistics.

Yep. There you go – finally the solution to our productivity. Less data! And why? Does he have evidence to support this? (You know for those deluded types who still think evidence maters). Why nope. He just asserts:

Australian businesses do not even measure their productivity in the way the Australian Bureau of Statistics does. They are more interested in profit, a far more reliable indicator of success.

To the extent any principle guides modern economic policy it is a crude utilitarianism that mandates fleecing the many to curry political favour with the few.

What a seriously fucked up vision of the world this bloke has (see I was using ideology there, not evidence). He asserts his ideology is right because it’s his ideology. So what does he do if he meets someone who disagrees with him? Well clearly evidence is not what we need, we just need whoever is strongest to prevail. Because that’s what happens when you trumpet ideology over evidence. If you want to see the germ of every totalitarian regime in history it starts with people asserting ideology over facts.

But it’s not surprising that Creighton would argue such things given back in April he wrote:

It doesn't matter which party is in power. As Winston Churchill said, democracy may be the best form of government among known alternatives, but it is probably not sustainable.

Democracies subsidise bad decisions. Voters, especially ones who pay no tax, care little for the preferences of future generations. The benefits of considered, sensible votes and the costs of careless ones mainly accrue to other people.

Yeah, that cursed democracy.

It is the view that flows underneath most of the right wing’s commentary post the Obama win. Take this nausea inducing excrement from RMIT lecturer of Economics Steve Kates on why Obama won:

The confluence of the mendicants, the envious, the abortion lobby, what I will call the cohort of damaged women, and the social sciences know-nothings has proven a formidable combination. They are a new constituency amalgamation that will affect the politics of the United States for the foreseeable future.

Damaged women? Yep, you see women are now all pretty slutty really – they conform to the Playboy view of the world, but unfortunately it has left them hurt:

But who has come out of this genuinely hurt by the changed attitude to women. Both men and women are worse for it, but if you ask me, it is women who have been psychologically damaged far more than the men. And I suspect Miss 29 has not avoided the deep and fearsome pains of commitment-free sexual relations either.

These are the attitudes that Obama was tapping into. Watching the Middle East burn and the American economy trashed by debt and deficits are irrelevant to such women whose anger is beyond all understanding, particularly for men of my and Romney’s generation.

I sure as shit wouldn’t want to have to make a list of things that are beyond Kates’s understanding.

He ends:

We are in dangerous times. Obama and Gillard are two of a kind. Empty of ability, proven failures at everything they have tried to achieve, but nevertheless able to command majorities in the legislative systems of our two nations. But the American election is the one that will matter most and whose outcome will resonate far into the future in ways that are incalculable. Re-electing Obama has endangered our way of life and may even make it unsustainable.

It’s almost impossible where to begin with such a paragraph. Perhaps it is best not to at all. It’s perhaps best just to quietly walk past and hope Kates doesn’t catch our gaze.

But Kates is not alone. Many of his Quadrant mates are on board the unhinged express. Try this on for size from Christopher Carr:

At this early stage, a few random thoughts will have to do. It seems that there are two Americas, which inhabit parallel universes. In addition to the obvious demographic divisions, there is an information division. Unless voters were tuned to the Fox News Network or followed conservative blogs, they would scarcely have heard of the scandal concerning the White House’s repeated denial of requests for backup during the terrorist attack at Benghazi. The mainstream media did a brilliant job covering for Obama.

Mitt Romney played Mr Nice Guy. President Obama played the demagogue.

Wait. Fox News? The same Fox News that used graphs repeatedly to mislead and outright lie? The same Fox News that frequently refers to “we” when talking about the Republican Party?

And if you still have any strength left, go read Peter Smith parrot every blog written on the National Review where he blames the loss on Obama being mean to Mitt and painting him as an evil capitalist (and ignoring that that was exactly what his fellow Republicans did during the Primaries).

There’s only so much delusion you can handle. And it helps no one – not even the other side – because what usually happens is when the contest of ideas becomes a contest of ideology then stupidity rises.

On this aspect Rachel Maddow of MSNBC conveys it all perfectly, and I have no more to add:


Anonymous said...

Paul Krugman wrote a good article about Romney's claim that the mere raising of 'confidence' that his presidency would bring would fix the economy. I call this the 'vibe'.

In Australia, this means that because businesses prefer the LNP, then the economy will have a better 'vibe' and therefore things will get better.

dufussy said...

Don't overlook all the other factors we have in Australia.
We'd have almost instantly better economic prospects because of the vibe, the law, AND Mabo.
But mostly the vibe.

Andrew Elder said...

The idea of separate media for people of different political beliefs has taken a battering too. Fox made people look and feel stupid on Tuesday. No media outlet can do that and keep its audience.

That said, there is a market for dissent and for those who wish things were different to the way things are. Rather than simply project all good things onto Romney/Abbott, the challenge is to see whether those hopes are sustainable from people who promise everything and nothing (often at the same time).

I doubt aslsw is right about business preferring the Coalition, except in some fundamental theoretical sense, but we'll see.

Michael Powell said...

fishpro 428Great piece Greg, that Maddow video is something. BT the Hurricane Sandy Truthers started before landfall !

Sancho said...

Don't, for god's sake, interrupt these guys while they're making such an epic blunder.

You go, Steve Kates! You GO, you good thing! Keep telling women, young women in particular, that they get raped and choose abortions because they're psychologically damaged.

Perhaps the strangest and most entertaining part of watching the conservative establishment drift further away from relevance is the way they seem to truly believe that Romney put up a strong, consistent campaign that got nobbled by Obama.

Reading Kates and Carr, you wouldn't realise that Romney changed his core principles several times, told lies so massive that even his natural allies had to pull him up, and that everything that made him unelectable was pointed out BY OTHER REPUBLICANS during the primaries.

Oh, and a campaign of voter suppression that Republicans openly applauded on television.

Three days ago this would have been infuriating, but now it's just fascinating.

Mercurius said...

Yep. A two-party system is one thing, but right now we have a two-reality system. Time for head-in-sand conservatives and denialists to come back to reality. Maddow nailed it.

Greg Jericho said...

Good point Sancho!

Yes aslsw Krugman is pretty good at smacking down idiotic "this is good for the economy because you know, it is" policies.

Yep Andrew. Tough road back for Fox. A lot of stages of denial to work through first.

Oh geez Michael. And here I thought I was joking!!

Anonymous said...

What. The. Fuck.

What these guys to need to accept is that their white male privilege is slipping through their fingers. They don't get to define the world around them anymore and just ignore everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Karl Rove's 'reality' is crumbling around him.

Bill said...

After accusing the media, the polls, the employment figures, the weather and eventually even maths of having a liberal bias, the right wing is finally going to have to take a look at itself and wonder if maybe they are the ones who are out of touch.

Of course, you can't expect anyone to stand by what they say on election night. It may provide a rare moment of candour, but it's never long before they revert to type. There was a brief moment exactly four years ago when the crazy right seemed to realise their time had passed but it was only a few weeks before they were talking tea parties and revolutions.

Bill O'Reilly observed on election night that the white male establishment was now the minority. NOW the minority, Bill? You've only just realised that?

David Perth said...

Rachel Maddow is probably wasting her breath unfortunately. I read a recent research report that its not usually possible to get an ultraconsevative to change their mind through reasoned argument. If cornered by reasoned argument, typical behaviour for them will be to make sillier and sillier escalating assertions in an attempt to hold their ground. So if you are a progressive and there are two of you in the room - save your breath - otherwise fire away and they will make themselves look silly if your arguments are valid enough.

The recent behaviour of the US Republicans and our right wing commentators certainly seems to bear this theory out as you have outlined in your article. I think the Republicans felt under pressure right from when things started to go wrong with their primaries selection.

A progressive faced with reasoned arguments on the other hand will shift ground and can be made to look untrustworthy viz the recent Australian examples of carbon pricing and internet filters.

In the Australian context I think the most powerful thing that needs to be done is simply more fact checking. Stephen Koukoulas has been doing a great job recently - so good that I can almost parrot him. Trend growth, low unemployment, inflation under control, low debt to GDP, lowest percentage tax to GDP, falling interest rates, numbers repeated constantly which seem to have slowed a lot of bullshit that our economy is bad.

Fact checking of Joe Hockey quickly stopped the bullshit about phoning Costello to confirm they "never ever" published opposition costings. We seem to have skipped over the debate about the -$4.5 billion though. Hockey says that Treasury didn't account for their axing the Carbon Tax. Definitely a big fact check needed here to confirm that it would be almost impossible to unwind straight away, and even if achievable, very costly to unwind, and would presumably still require funding for their alternative proposals.

These examples are items that should never grow legs in our media thus requiring fact checking - but it just has to be done unfortunately.

Greg Jericho said...

David - having watched the post election day Hannity, I'm inclined to agree with you.

kymbos said...

I just wonder whether they won't just double up with the rhetoric for next time. I don't think it will work, but I don't see any evidence that a 'moment of clarity' has arrived.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I suspect that a lot of the people who need to listen to what Rachael Maddow said won't listen to her simply because she's female, and a known liberal, and therefore eminently ignorable as far as they're concerned. So instead, they're going to continue insisting that the political sky in the USA is red, and that they wuz robbed.

Or there's the ones who are busy bitching about how they wuz robbed, and they're going to "Go Galt", or move somewhere else (various candidates include Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and - surprise, surprise - Australia). For my own part, I'm quite happy to welcome them here, since I figure the exploding heads when it comes to election time should be worth it. After all, our major conservative party is called the Liberal Party of Australia, and they're colour coded blue. They also occupy ideological territory which is largely congruent with the US Democrats. If some lovely little Freeperite decides they're voting against the Liberals, or voting for the party colour coded red, they're going to be voting for the ALP, who occupy ideological territory which is probably congruent with the US Greens. The nearest match for US Republican political "values" in Australian terms would probably be some kind of weird alliance of One Nation, Family First, and the Bob Katter's Australia Party, possibly with a bit of the Shooters and Fishers mixed in for garnish. None of those are likely to succeed in mainstream terms here because the majority of Aussies are secular suburbanites who regard them all as nutters!

So yeah, send us your poor repressed conservative masses, America. But send 'em by boat.

Sancho said...

I'm not convinced that the Republicans are a lost cause. Here's a clip I just listened to. It's a drunk Republican woman complaining that her Facebook friends don't share any of her Drudge dross.

I know how exciting that sounds, but what's interesting is that she excoriates Republicans for wallowing in conspiracy theories when they could be challenging the Democrats on facts.

(She goes in for the whole Bengahzi conspiracy, but still fairly rational for a Tea Partier.)

If she's representative of any significant portion of politically active Republicans, there could be some genuine change.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post—nice summary of the fallout in Aus. I've noticed a few conservatives talking about Obama voters as if they voted based on envy (implying Obama voters are poor and uneducated),
like Kates; "They were there in their numbers with no greater aim in mind than to bring down those whom they resent and envy for their perceived success in life."

I'm guessing that's not quite the case. Just looking at the voting map shows that large rural areas across the US vote Republican. Ugly reality rears its head again?