More Factual Relativism

As I wrote in this post, as I think of the GOP’s many awful tactics, one common thread concerns the devaluation of facts and/or evidence as the foundations of a coherent argument.

In this vein, two more examples of this phenomenon have occurred recently, and if we unpack and examine the phenomenon in these contexts, we can learn a lot about how Democrats can turn these into winning issues.

We’ve all read about the ex-press aide for NASA who left his job amidst accusations that he had attempted to censor scientists, but the interesting thing about the coverage has been the total lack of either general evidence presentation or specific scientific analysis.

The second case worth taking a look at is the Abramoff-Bush Photo Hunt. In this case the Factual Relativism kicks in when the Bush Defenders try to claim that these pictures were initially withheld because people might try to use them for political purposes. They don’t even slow down to try to explain a) Why Bush and Abramoff had their picture taken together, b) Whether the two men knew each other, c) Whether anything about the relationship that may or may not have existed was improper. In other words, the facts of the case are discounted.

Let’s look first at the case of George C. Deutsch, sometime NASA Press Aide. From the New York Times we get this amazing series of grafs:

George C. Deutsch, the young NASA press aide who resigned on Tuesday amid claims that he had tried to keep the agency’s top climate scientist from speaking publicly about global warming, defended himself publicly yesterday.

Speaking to a Texas radio station and then to The New York Times, Mr. Deutsch said the scientist, James E. Hansen, exaggerated the threat of warming and tried to cast the Bush administration’s response to it as inadequate.

Mr. Deutsch also denied lying about having a college degree.

So, what facts might be relevant to this article? Off the top of my head I can think of: Did the scientist exaggerate the threat of global warming? Did the scientist try to cast the administration’s response as inadequate? And, of course, the real winner, Is the administration’s response adequate or inadequate?

There is evidence that pertains to these questions out there, but the article just continues. Oh, and don’t forget the part about lying about graduating. I’ll close up that loose end at the end of the post.

Meanwhile, from a White House Press Briefing, we get this charming explanation about the Abramoff Photos with Bush Scandalette:

Q What do you hear or your staff hear about releasing of photographs of Jack Abramoff with you, Mr. President? If you say you don’t fear anything, tell us why you won’t release them?

THE PRESIDENT: She’s asking about a person who admitted to wrongdoing and who needs to be prosecuted for that. There is a serious investigation going on, as there should be. The American people have got to have confidence in the — in the ethics of all branches of government. You’re asking about pictures — I had my picture taken with him, evidently. I’ve had my picture taken with a lot of people. Having my picture taken with someone doesn’t mean that I’m a friend with them or know them very well. I’ve had my picture taken with you — (laughter) — at holiday parties.

My point is, I mean, there’s thousands of people that come through and get their pictures taken. I’m also mindful that we live in a world in which those pictures will be used for pure political purposes, and they’re not relevant to the investigation.

Q Do you know how many?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t have any idea.

Fine, I get all that, but what of the relevant factual questions: How many times did Bush meet Abramoff? What did they discuss? In this case, I actually suspect that the President is sort of telling the truth in that he lets Rove run the whole K-Street deal, but rather than answering the Press’ claims with evidence, he approaches the question from a footing of political tactics.

As Talking Points Memo has brilliantly covered, these photos were being scrubbed for weeks. This makes the question all the more interesting.

I promised above to satisfy your burning curiousity about George C. Deutsch’s college degree, so here you go

The Times reported on Wednesday that contrary to his resume on file with NASA, Mr. Deutsch, who is 24, never graduated from Texas A&M. Yesterday, in an interview with The Times, Mr. Deutsch said he had written the resume in anticipation of graduating.

“When I left college,” he said, “I did not properly update my resume. As a result, it may appear misleading to some. However, I was up front with NASA about my undergraduate status when they hired me.”

I’m pretty sure that my employer would have had a problem with this kind of impropriety on my resume. Oh well. Must be fun being a Republican.

But seriously, this Factual Relativism is a real probelm for Democrats, because our strengths are all in the real, factual world. If facts are inadmissible, we’re in trouble, and the Republicans can get away with reprehensible garbage (like that time they intimated that Max Cleland was a terrorist) unscathed. To counteract this Democrats must push the Common Sense Solution hard: we argue that even though it may be true that the evidence is not 100% pure in a given situation, we ought to roll up our sleeves and do our best nonetheless. The truth is, after all, Democratic.

PS Big shout out to dopper0189 at Daily Kos for pointing out even more ways this problem is hurting us.