President Bush Off the Deep End

On February 17th, George W. Bush, President of the United States of America, said the follwing during a discussion on the war on terror:

I knew we’re at war when they attacked us. As a matter of fact, I was down here in Florida. It didn’t take long to figure out what was going on. And I vowed that day that I would not rest, so long as I was the President, in protecting the people. So a lot of my decision-making is based upon the attack. And I know we’re at war, see — I knew it then, and the enemy has, unfortunately, proved me right because they continue to attack. In order to win the war against the enemy you got to understand the nature of the enemy.

Where to begin? This sounds like the ravings of a madman. I remember 9-11, and it seemed to take the President quite a long time to figure out what was going on. What enemy? Who continues to attack? What is he talking about?

While it would be easy (and fun!) to marvel at such fundamentally unhinged talk, it does occur to me that there are deeper issues at work here, examination of which can give us clues to some Republican strengths, and how to defeat them.

Bush continued in that speech:

First of all, these people are cold-blooded killers, people who will kill the innocent in order to achieve a tactical objective and a strategic objective. They have no conscience. You can’t negotiate with these people. You cannot reason with them. You must bring them to justice.

Still no idea who “they” are. Not really a surprise, since Bush thinks the enemy is, well, whoever he thinks it is. But underneath the silliness lurks a distressing truth. Anyone who has read Chris Hedges’ excellent book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, will remember the point he makes about victimhood. He describes how every side in a conflict seeks to position itself as the victim. That way, any actions they take can be justified because they were taken in self-defense. Bush is performing this maneuver by the book.

It is true we were attacked on 9-11. Bush transfers all the victimhood of that event into an incoherent set of ideas about some “they” who are out there, bloodthirsty and relentless, waiting to victimize us. Obviously, he intends this blanket to cover the Iraq War as well, even though, in that instance, no Iraqi involvement in 9-11 was ever demonstrated. By portraying the US as perpetually about to be victimized again, almost anything can be justified.

There was a creepier instance of this dynamic during the audience Q & A. As you know, audiences at Bush appearances are screened to ensure sympathy and applause, so softballs and compliments are not surprising. One question, though, did surprise me:

Q: We appreciate it. How do you — earlier you shared with us some intimacy about how you make decisions, and I felt that was heartfelt. How do you keep it together? What do you really think about when the biggest story this week was Dick Cheney’s hunting trip, and not Al Gore blasting our troops and being treasonous in his regard to this war on terror in the Middle East? (Applause.) How do you keep it together?

Don’t you see? The media is victimizing Republicans all the time! Imagine, covering a story about the current vice president possibly committing a crime, over a private citizen giving a speech on another continent! How dare they? If you don’t believe me, the President’s answer has a key phrase about the media’s victimization of Republicans:

So to answer your question — and I appreciate that — first, I’m wise enough not to fall into your trap because — (laughter) — there are some keen reporters paying attention to every word I’m saying. (Laughter.) But I really don’t let that bother me. I got my perspective, and I got my priorities. My faith is a priority. My family is a priority. And — (applause.)

Ha ha! Of course he can’t answer your question. There’s reporters listening. Never mind that reporters represent the people, and work to disseminate the information necessary to be an informed citizen. They’re bad, one assumes, because they might spread dissent, which is also bad, because if you don’t believe in the president, how will you know who the enemies are?

The very way that Bush’s operation sets up these appearances shows a paranoid sense of imminent victimhood. I mean, he’s supposed to be the President of all citizens, isn’t he? So why won’t he speak in front of them? Under the current system, you get ridiculous insanity like this:

Q: Thank you for being our President. We are all way better off and very safe —

THE PRESIDENT: Thanks. My high honor, by the way. (Applause.)

Well great! I’m glad they can fill a room with morons! This Republican party is starting to behave like a separate population, feeling victimized by the culture, the media, the government, until it justifies anything in retaliation. The fact that it is all made up does not matter. My friend and I were talking the other day about whether the Republicans would accept a Democrat President. We weren’t sure, and it dawned on me that I’m not sure how seriously the Republicans take their duty as citizens if the people they want are not in charge. Scary stuff.

We must break apart these invented structures of victimhood. The only way this will happen is by questioning the vague assertions that we are fighting a ruthless enemy, or that 9-11 changed everything. We must get rid of this stupid term, the War on Terror. And we must force the Republicans to reconcile with reality, or else we face a dark path.

Glacial Melting Accelerates

Here’s some good news:

Greenland’s glaciers are melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed, the result of a warming trend that renders obsolete predictions of how quickly the Earth’s oceans will rise over the next century, scientists said yesterday.

Well, it’s always good to read something like that. The article continues:

The scientists said they do not yet understand the precise mechanism causing glaciers to flow and melt more rapidly, but they said the changes in Greenland were unambiguous — and accelerating

Incidentally, the first bit of that quote is where the Republicans will most likely focus. In their playbook, any time scientists do not know the reason for something, that means the thing may as well not be occurring. They fail to differentiate between, on the one hand, observing evidence, and, on the other, formulating a theory that coherently accounts for that evidence while making testable and accurate predictions about future results. Even though what is happening is abundantly, painfully clear:

The Greenland study is the latest of several in recent months that have found evidence that rising temperatures are affecting not only Earth’s ice sheets but also such things as plant and animal habitats, the health of coral reefs, hurricane severity, droughts, and globe-girdling currents that drive regional climates.

These types of things ought to be of concern to our leaders, don’t you think? And you are wrong. From the President, we get this totally insane approach to dealing with climate change:

Addressing global climate change will require a sustained effort, over many generations. My approach recognizes that sustained economic growth is the solution, not the problem–because a nation that grows its economy is a nation that can afford investments in efficiency, new technologies, and a cleaner environment.

Right. The solution is definitely not to stop putting so much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Who could disagree with growing our domestic economy as a way of limiting our impact on the planet? You know, besides literally anyone with a functioning brain. In case we forget, the Washington Post article cited above reminds us that

Most climate scientists believe a major cause for Earth’s warming climate is increased emissions of greenhouse gases as a result of burning fossil fuels, largely in the United States and other wealthy, industrialized nations such as those of western Europe but increasingly in rapidly developing nations such as China and India as well. Carbon dioxide and several other gases trap the sun’s heat and raise atmospheric temperature.

So, the White House approach seems to be exactly wrong. What else is new? How does the White House justify this ridiculousness? With a weird piece of invented jargon:

The President’s Yardstick “Greenhouse Gas Intensity” is a Better Way to Measure Progress Without Hurting Growth. A goal expressed in terms of declining greenhouse gas intensity, measuring greenhouse gas emissions relative to economic activity, quantifies our effort to reduce emissions through conservation, adoption of cleaner, more efficient, and emission-reducing technologies, and sequestration. At the same time, an intensity goal accommodates economic growth.

Translation: We don’t want to prevent people from doing anything they want in the quest for more money. Read the quote again if your head didn’t explode. This is how we measure our greenhouse gas output? In relation to economic growth? I wonder if those glaciers care how our economy is doing. How convenient that, by this standard, as long as our emissions were increasing at a slower rate than our economy, we are doing a great job! I guess we can all sleep tight.


The data highlight the lack of meaningful U.S. policy, [Vicki Arroyo] added: “This is the kind of study that should make people stay awake at night wondering what we’re doing to the climate, how we’re shaping the planet for future generations and, especially, what we can do about it.”

Well darn. I guess it might be a good idea to do a little something about it then.

The Case of Facts v. Bush

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


Global Warming

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 created this graph with data from the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count website. Now, George W. Bush said, in the 2006 State of the Union,

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.

Counter Strategy

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:

Bush Approval


What’s that? Why, it’s George W. Bush’s plummeting popularity. That’s a fact we can all be happy with.

Frist: Fuck You, America

This article just posted on the New York Times features a few really amazing dick moves from Bill Frist.

Four cabinet secretaries, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an Army general and the secretary of the Army were supposed to testify Tuesday morning at hearings on matters including Hurricane Katrina and the Bush administration’s proposed budget for foreign affairs.

But their invitations were rescinded and the hearings canceled when the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, scheduled a marathon series of 16 votes on amendments to a pending tax bill–all of them, both parties agree, intended more to score political points than to make policy.

Ultimately, most of those votes were canceled.

Bill Frist is getting it done to the max! By it, of course, I am not referring to the business of governing our great nation, but instead to subverting the people’s house to serve the ends of his political party. It gets better though. Those cancelled votes? Well

They could have been held Monday night, but that did not work for Mr. Frist. He was holding a fund-raiser at his Washington home, with President Bush as the featured guest and some of his Republican colleagues on the guest list, including the Senate whip, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The event raised $3.5 million for Republican Senate candidates.

Oh, I see. He had a prior commitment. Perfectly understandable. Not.

One Senator had this to say:

“The Senate continues to fiddle while Rome burns,” he said in a long speech on Monday afternoon on the Senate floor. He complained that the Senate had previously voted on similar Democratic amendments and urged Republican leaders to “get a grip on this situation.”

Who was that? Why it was Trent Fucking Lott! If he thinks you’re doing a shitty job running things, you are really doing a shitty job running things!

The article goes on to say that things more or less got back on track eventually, and that both parties were at fault (aren’t they always?).(No). Ahh, balance.

A nice money quote to finish the article, though:

Still, the changes created confusion. Mr. Reid was asked if a business could be run like the Senate is. “Yeah,” he replied, “but not very well.”

Cheney: Let’s Keep Our Eye on the Ball

Did you hear about how Cheney shot that lawyer he was hunting with? Really? Where did you hear about it? Oh, that’s right, absolutely everywhere on earth. I get that this is an important story, a story with legs, as they say, because it has all the theatrical elements the SCLM needs to pump up their ratings. Guns, intrigue, fowl foul play–it’s fun. It gives people an opportunity to tie in some broad themes, like in this AP story:

The shooting presents a new problem for the White House as it seeks to repair damaged credibility in a midterm election year in which continued GOP control of Congress hangs in the balance.

Of course, everything is couched in terms of political tactics rather than actual facts, but that’s par for the course. It strikes me, though, that, just before this quail of a story broke, there was another Cheney related development of import. One that related to a heinous crime committed for devious purposes. One that concerned a certain NOC agent named Valerie. From a CBS news story(February 9th):

Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who’s been indicted in the CIA leak investigation, testified that his “superiors” authorized him to leak classified information to reporters.

That’s a huge deal. Remember how revved up we were all getting over that? Libby’s superiors, well, gosh, that must be Cheney! Fitzmas Redux, get the popcorn! Then Cheney shot a guy and the attention-span challenged SCLM dropped that story like a bad habit. There is an upside, though, in that having Cheney in the public eye at all is good. After all, as the AP story above mentions:

Cheney, 65, whose ”favorable” rating was just 24 percent in a recent CBS-New York Times poll, has found himself in other storms swirling around the Bush presidency.

Wow, 24 percent is terrible. I suppose I should be thrilled he’s on TV at all.

Umm, don’t we like Democracy?

I was surprised to see this headline on the New York Times website:

U.S. and Israelis Are Said to Talk of Hamas Ouster

I mean, stop me if you’ve heard this one, but once upon a time, a large, prosperous Democracy invaded a country that represented no serious threat to itself, supposedly (retroactively) for the sole purpose of spreading Democracy. After all, Freedom is on the March! It seems to be the case, however, that Democracy is totally sweet until the guys we don’t like get elected. Then we have to get our hands dirty and spread Democracy all over again, like this:

The United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats.

So, to recap, the Palestinian people duly elect Hamas to lead their government, and we refuse to let it happen!?!?!? Where were the French with this kind of logic when George W. Bush was elected President? It gets way classier though:

The intention is to starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international connections to the point where, some months from now, its president, Mahmoud Abbas, is compelled to call a new election. The hope is that Palestinians will be so unhappy with life under Hamas that they will return to office a reformed and chastened Fatah movement.

This seems a little funny. We make a bunch of speeches about how awesome Democracy is for people. We invade Iraq, and then, once we discover that we went to war for no good reason, substitute the installation of Democracy as our goal. And yet, when an election takes place whose outcome we do not like, we plan to inflict suffering on the people for, I guess, voting wrong? Don’t misunderstand me, I am not a fan of Hamas and I was not psyched when they won the election. But I’m often not psyched by the outcomes of elections (viz. 2000, 2004), and I don’t want or expect other nations to try and ruin my country over it. What a dick move. I find myself eerily in agreement with this guy:

Mr. Asaad, a former Israeli prisoner, said: “We hope it isn’t U.S. policy. Because those who try to isolate us will be isolated in the region.”

. . .

Mr. Asaad laughed and added: “First, I thank the United States that they have given us this weapon of democracy. But there is no way to retreat now. It’s not possible for the U.S. and the world to turn its back on an elected democracy.”

You’re welcome?

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.

Hertzberg’s SotU Thoughts

In this week’s New Yorker Hendrik Hertzberg makes two interesting points regarding the language of W’s State of the Union Speech.

First, the requisite description of the inherent silliness of a term like “War on Terror:”

“War on Terror” has always been problematic, at both ends. The word “war” has the requisite urgency, and it has proved useful in intimidating the political opposition at home. But, as we have seen in Iraq and elsewhere, its associations–pitched battles, clashing states, disciplined armies with general staffs–can invite actions that are, at best, beside the point. “Terror” is not a conquerable enemy, or an end in itself.

This rings very true. As time has passed since 9/11, the War on Terror has become less a system to eliminate extant threats to the United States and more a justification for the President to do basically whatever he wants. Overwrought 1984 references notwithstanding, when the President authorizes himself to do whatever he wants because we are at war, and yet defines that war such that it can never end, it doesn’t take a pessimist to sense dystopia around the corner.

The second point in Hertzberg’s article that I liked dealt with exactly that administration position:

He defended–no, boasted of–the National Security Agency’s vast, formerly secret program of warrantless electronic eavesdropping, undertaken on his orers and rebranded in his speech as “the terrorist-surveillance program.” “If there are people inside our country wwho are talking with Al Qaeda,” he said, “we want to know about it, because we will not sit back andd wait to be hit again.” But those who are questioning Bush’s program, both Democrats and Republicans, agree that terrorists must be surveilled. What alarms them is not jusst that the President is breaking a particular law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but that his rationale for doing so amounts to a claim that he can flout any law at all, as long as the flouting is under cover of an endless . . . war.

Dystopic indeed. I love reading Hertzberg because he gets right to the heart of the matter, and with such clarity. Bush appears to think that as long as the War on Terror is going on, which will be forever, he can do anything he personally deems necessary to prosecute it. I can’t wait for 2006 mid term elections.

Both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life?

As someone who feels that the framing of the abortion debate is a little ridiculous, I was really excited when I came across this “interpolation” in the essay “Authority and American Usage,” by David Foster Wallace:

This reviewer is thus, as a private citizen and an autonomous agent, both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice.

The “interpolation,” even though it is a brief aside presented in a footnote to a review of a usage guide, was the first piece of writing I had seen in a long time that clearly and successfully described why defending a woman’s right to choose makes good sense no matter what one believes about the beginning of life.

A little context is in order. You may have seen the book Consider the Lobster And Other Essays in your local bookstore; I love David Foster Wallace and I bought it as soon as I saw it.

I almost skipped the essay “Authority and American Usage,” because it was dense and narrowly (I thought) focussed on, well, american usage.

Yet at one point DFW mentions the constant battles in our national discourse about “what to call things.” As a footnote, he writes a lengthy exegesis of his views on Pro-Choice and Pro-Life, and he concludes that the logical position is to be both. The quotes below appear on pp. 82-83 of the book.

On the Pro-Life side, he writes:

Given our best present medical and philosophical understandings of what makes something not just a living organism but a person, there is no way to establish at just what point during gestation a fertilized ovum becomes a human being. This conundrum, together with the basically inarguable soundness of the principle “When in irresolvable doubt about whether something is a human being or not, it is better not to kill it,” appears to me to require any reasonable American to be Pro-Life.

As I read this, I felt my world shaking. I am zealously Pro-Choice, a feminist, and a Democrat to the max, and yet none of the argument rang false in any way. Happily, immediately following the above, DFW writes:

At the same time, however, the principle “When in irresolvable doubt about something, I have neither the legal nor the moral right to tell another person what to do about it, especially if that person feels that s/he is not in doubt” is an unassailable part of the Democratic pact we Americans all make with one another, a pact in which each adult citizen gets to be an autonomous moral agent; and this principle appears to me to require any reasonable American to be Pro-Choice.

This statement of our belief in choice is excellent. We all agree to respect each other as moral actors, and that’s that. It even has built in protection against the slippery slope argument that I often encounter in these debates, because of the irresolvable doubt standard.

All of this makes me think about the framing of this issue. As it stands, Republicans get to be Pro-Life, while Democrats get to be Pro-Choice. This is not really fair, because from a linguistic standpoint I suspect life is more important to most people than choice, Patrick Henry notwithstanding. As I think over Wallace’s ideas, though, the thought occurs to me that there are many humans who are clearly alive and clearly suffering, and for whom the GOP is doing nothing (if they are lucky; if not, the GOP is actively legislating them into the poorhouse), and for whose challenges Democrats can offer real, positive ideas.

It seems a powerful way to restate the framing, because by reclaiming the Pro-Life term (for things that are undoubtedly alive) as it applies to healthcare and tax policy, while retaining the Pro-Choice term as it applies to abortion specifically as well as civil liberties generally, we redefine the debate and blunt one of their favorite wedge issues.

Wallace describes the difficulty of holding this position:

Every time someone I know decides to terminate a pregnancy, I am required to believe simlutaneously that she is doing the wrong thing and that she has every right to do it. Plus, of course, I have both to believe that a Pro-Life + Pro-Choice stance is the only really coherent one and to restrain myself from trying to force that position on other people whose ideological or religious convictions seem (to me) to override reason and yield a (in my opinion) wacko dogmatic position. This restraint has to be maintained even when somebody’s (to me) wacko dogmatic position appears (to me) to reject the very Democratic tolerance that is keeping me from trying to force my position on him/her; it requires me not to press or argue or retaliate even when someone calls me Satan’s Minion.

While it is no fun, this approach to the question neutralizes almost every attack of the Anti-Abortion crusaders. We can agree that abortion is wrong, and then coherently remain Pro-Choice. While I don’t personally believe that abortion is wrong, this approach works well no matter what you believe about abortion. As such, I think it represents a clue for Democrats that can lead to successfully reframing the debate.

Cross Posted at The Daily Kos

GOP’s Factual Relativism

Time was, Republicans worried that liberals wanted to infect the United States with cultural relativism, a school of thought whose predilection for understanding other cultures and respecting their varied traditions, as opposed to blowing them up, would cause Americans to lose touch with their moral center.

Yet a different kind of relativism has been sneaking up on the American people. This time, however, it is factual relativism, and it is the GOP that is employing it in the hopes of eliminating the relevance of evidence, which inconveniently tends to favor Democratic positions, in our national dialogue.

We’ve all noticed it on the TV news, or in the statements of politicians. Instances where we shout at the television, “Is that true or not? Do the research!” They never seem to get around to it. Evidence, it turns out, is becoming irrelevant. More examples, and my suggested solution, below.

The success of Factual Relativism depends in part on the growing complexity of scientific research. For example, in a recent NY Times article:

E. Calvin Beisner, associate professor of historical theology at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., helped organize the opposition into a group called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance. He said Tuesday that “the science is not settled” on whether global warming was actually a problem or even that human beings were causing it.

Well, there you have it. An expert in historical theology tells us that the science is not settled. Except, wait. What expertise does this guy have in the area of climate science? What about this assertion, anyway? The paper, it seems, could not be troubled with such questions. And why not? Because the answers would be boring.

That’s the problem with science, and facts in general: they are often boring and complicated. They don’t get readers, ratings, or, unfortunately, voters. Republicans, knowing this, have adopted a strategy which bypasses facts and evidence and heads straight for emotional response.

Like in this CNN story on Bush’s Remarks to the House Republican Caucus:

The eavesdropping program has come under fire from Republicans as well as Democrats. They argue that Bush already has the authority to monitor such communications through existing law that requires a warrant from a secret court set up to act quickly, or even after the fact. Bush has argued that the system isn’t nimble enough.

Is it legal? Does he already have the authority? Who cares? The system wasn’t nimble enough. 9-11. Vote for us or you die. Any questions? Apparently, CNN didn’t have any.

Indeed, once facts are unimportant, balance becomes the standard for which the media aims. We are all familiar with the the crucify-Reid-for-balance’s-sake bandwagon:

Reid, D-Nevada, has led the Democratic Party’s attacks portraying Abramoff’s lobbying and fundraising as a Republican scandal.

But Abramoff’s records show his lobbying partners billed for nearly two dozen phone contacts or meetings with Reid’s office in 2001 alone.

The “But” says it all. There’s probably some kind of evidence in there somewhere, but no one wants to read that, so why check. Why ask, for example, if Reid changed his position after receiving contributions (No), or if this situation is qualitatively similar to the rampant corruption of the K-Street Project (you know the answer)?

It is frightening to think that evidence is becoming irrelevant. This new factual relativism weakens the ability of Democrats to make their points effectively. It weakens education and national unity. I mean, when I read that

President Bush waded into the debate over evolution and “intelligent design” Monday, saying schools should teach both theories on the creation and complexity of life.

it tells me that he’s ignoring the evidence, but it tells American children that there’s no point in studying the facts. After all, if the president doesn’t know which is true, who can?

Here I want to mention this section of Bush’s remarks at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast:

This morning we also reaffirm that freedom rests on the self-evident truths about human dignity. Pope Benedict XVI recently warned that when we forget these truths, we risk sliding into a dictatorship of relativism where we can no longer defend our values. Catholics and non-Catholics alike can take heart in the man who sits on the chair of St. Peter, because he speaks with affection about the American model of liberty rooted in moral conviction.

A dictatorship of relativism, hmm? That would be pretty bad. It would be awfully sad if Democrats could no longer defend our values by citing studies and other evidence to support our claims. After all, that’s really all an atheist like me has to go on. By encouraging people to give up on figuring out the tough questions, the president is irresponsibly imposing factual relativism on all of us.

So what to do about it? I’ve implied above that this tactic is successful because raw facts are boring and complicated, whereas catchy, upbeat slogans are fun and simple. Yet Americans are practical and savvy as well. After all, there’s usually some hack with a Ph.D. willing to peddle the GOP talking points involved somewhere, and there’s usually some bought and paid for “scientific” study that shows whatever the GOP is selling. These are clues that expertise and authority are still relevant, and this creates an avenue of successful attack.

A common sense argument works well. When someone says that global warming science is not settled, I say “you might be right. But I figure, if 95% of the doctors I talk to advise me not to mix certain medications, I probably wouldn’t do it.” And so on. In other words, stop debating the purity of the facts, and start debating the practical course of action given what we know right now. That’s an avenue that Democrats can follow brilliantly.