One thing that makes arguing with Republicans so hard is that they don’t seem to care that much about the facts. Even though we all inhabit the reality-based community, they apparently do not. It’s like beating your head against the wall–if the wall wanted to rework the Bill of Rights and legislate everyone’s personal ethical choices for them. The brutal effectiveness of telling people they don’t need to worry about the facts, thus freeing everyone to basically do whatever they like, has been demonstrated in the last few elections.
There is, however, an Achilles Heel to this irritating Right Wing tactic. Clues like the existence of the Discovery Institute (Challenging Darwin’s Theory of Evolution), the promulgation of the “just a theory” meme, and the endless repetition of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous quote, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” actually serve to demonstrate that facts do still matter. That’s why Republicans exert so much effort to confuse issues and character assassinate their critics: they know that authoritative facts are their enemy, and our ally.
The Case of Global Climate Change
Study this graph. Do you notice anything about it? For example, it has what we might call an upward trend. A rather striking one at that. This graph shows that the global temperature has been above its 30 year mean by increasing amounts for the last sixty years or so. You’d think, then, that the claim that the globe is getting warmer would be obvious. Yet we see that Republicans are not interested in doing anything about it.
The secret is this: they rarely dispute that the temperature has been warming lately. Instead, they obfuscate, and talk about warming cycles, and solar radiation, and natural variance, and a bunch of other invented jargon that makes it seem so boring and complicated that no one remembers what they were talking about in the first place. Republicans know that they don’t have to win the argument, they just have to make it so complicated that people decide it’s okay to just keep doing what they are doing.
The Case of the Iraq War
I am confident in our plan for victory; I am confident in the will of the Iraqi people; I am confident in the skill and spirit of our military. Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win, and we are winning.
Umm, how are we winning? Certainly not in the sense of reducing our casualties in any meaningful way. Indeed, as above, the Republicans can’t fight the facts directly, so they obfuscate and confuse the issue by citing the brutality of the enemy, or the virtuousness of our struggle, or, sometimes, the traitorousness of dissent. Yet the fact remains, they avoid a head on conforntation with the facts, and just do what they can to muddy up the issues so that people don’t know one way or the other.
The solution to this problem, in my opinion, is to step back from the wall. Wipe the blood and sweat from our foreheads. When you think about it, the facts are overwhelmingly liberal. No one wants to privatize Social Security. Everyone wants the government to make an effort to help them if there is a natural disaster. The War in Iraq was a mistake and people know it.
We do them a favor when we keep trying to debate the facts. All they have to do is make everything seem confusing until the viewer changes the channel. We have to short-circuit their tactic by granting that they may be right. We know they are not, but that’s not the point. Once we grant that they may be right, we can use the power of the facts to make a pretty strong case anyway. Imagine this hypothetical talking heads exchange on TV:
Liberal: You know, I think Global Warming might be–
Republican: (interrupting) That’s all just junk science and you know it. You know it! Dr. Chester Fothergill has shown this just to be the result of cosmic radiation.
Liberal: You may be right. The climate is a complex thing. But I know that the weight of the facts we have now implies we might be headed for trouble, and over 90% of climatologists agree. If I take my car to the shop and 90% of the mechanics tell me I’ve got a serious problem, I don’t think I’d just drive away with a smile. Would you?
Republican: Well, I, I mean, cars are complicated, and, and ERROR FUNCTION NOT FOUND
Liberal: (Wipes brain goo off face)
See, isn’t that fun? I really think this is a strategy that could work.
And as thanks for staying with me to the end, here’s a final graph:
What’s that? Why, it’s George W. Bush’s plummeting popularity. That’s a fact we can all be happy with.