<i>BOTH SIDES NOW</i>: 'Stubborn' or 'Stupid' Facts on Boston, Syria, Rogoff?

While both sides can lapse into "content bias," should the following facts alter pre-conceived views: the Boston bombers were young Muslim men; some sarin gas was detected in Syria; the Reinhart-Rogoff study is flawed? Erick Erickson and Ron Reagan debate.
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While both sides can lapse into "content bias," should the following facts alter pre-conceived views: the Boston bombers were young Muslim men; some sarin gas was detected in Syrian; the Reinhart-Rogoff study is flawed? Erick Erickson and Ron Reagan debate.


John Adams, Vladimir Lenin and Ronald Reagan all said "facts are stubborn things" (ok, the latter misspoke and said "stupid" things).

Most people think "facts" matter. But think again since a) the economy rose rapidly after Clinton's tax hikes and fell dramatically after W's tax-cuts, with no discernible effect on the Norquist crowd; and b) all climate studies and the slow-motion drowning of the Maldives (and downtown Manhattan post-Sandy) have not disuaded climate-deniers. So we present three known facts in context to see if they are stubborn or stupid and whether they alter the views of the closely matched Ron Reagan (of MSNBC) and Erick Erickson (ofFox & RedState.com).

*On Two Muslims in Boston. Fact: the brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon were self-radicalized Muslims; also, Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph and those who killed two abortion doctors were anti-government reactionaries. So where are we on the issue of individual guilt vs. collective blame?

We listen to Rep. Peter King say that law enforcement should more closely watch the Muslim community since that's where the problem lies while Rep. Keith Ellison warns against a "dragnet" that can ignore real threats.

Erick dismisses those who argue for explicit profiling but notes that "while all Muslims are not terrorists, many terrorists are Muslims... and that religion is the only one (whose followers) riot and kill when their holy book or prophet are defamed." He and Ron then agree that what many terrorists have in common is not religion but age and gender. So also let's look more closely at young, white men who love guns and have mental problems. Ron: "Thirty three Americans have been killed by terrorism under Obama, while 66 have been killed by mass shootings. Let's keep an eye out for radical young Muslim men and young white supremacists."

Rep. Rick Cotton argues that the number of domestic terrorists "who reached their targets" under President Obama was five, while the number who did under Bush other than 9/11 was "zero." (Host: Other than 9/11! As SNL's Rosanne Rosannadanna would say, "isn't that convenient!") Erick acknowledges that the number of terrorist attacks in the U. S. in the past decade have been few. Ron is contemptuous of those who seize on Boston to argue that Obama has been weak on terrorism: "Ask al-Qaeda's leadership, if you can find them!"

Remember when left and right were speculating right after the Boston bombing about what would happen once the race, religion and motive of the attackers were known? Now we know and it appears that the issue may have settled into more of a law-enforcement model rather than an islamophobic model. Like Israel suffering suicide bombers and London during 'the Troubles,' an open society like America may be evolving into being watchful but not panicked after every incident.

Despite standard Chicken-Littles like Fox News, Peter King and Rudy Giuliani, the country may have learned a lesson from the post-9/11 overreaction when America invaded Iraq and rounded up 5000 young Muslim men without any serious charges being filed. Would Fox, King, Giuliani have looked differently on their GOP if the Marathon culprits had turned out to be white, second amendment nuts? The question answers itself. Perhaps their uncle had it right when he said the Tsarnaev brothers were not so much religious fanantics as "losers."

*On Sarin Gas in Syria. Fact: Israeli and American intelligence believe that some sarin gas has been used in the Syrian civil war...but while Obama previously said a chemical weapon would cross a "red line" that'd be a "game-changer", now he's arguing that he won't "rush to judgment." (Who dunnit? Accident? Fertilizer, rebels?)

Consensus: After curveball and WMD in Iraq, a President has to be careful here. But Erick and Ron (and George Will and John Bolton) agree that POTUS 44 used excessiverhetoric though now has the right policy of caution given the lack of any easy military options since a no-fly zone or safe havens involve the quagmire of war. And if you do only send arms to rebels, how do you know which ones are hardened al-Qaeda who will later use them against Israel or us? Perhaps "give them background checks," jokes Jon Stewart.

We listen to Bill Kristol say that while Obama wants to avoid another war, "he's gotta do what he's gotta do." Ron: "What does that even mean? It sounds like a line from a Clint Eastwood movie. Bill, you go over there." Erick: "How is it in our national interest to again intervene like in Libya to further destabilize and already destabilized situation?... I don't listen to people like McCain who say we need to use American military might to show we're a superpower and give democracy to the world."

So far, then, in the context of Obama running against "stupid" wars like Iraq in 2008, it appears that a handful of dead Syrians from a small use of sarin in a civil war claiming 70,000 lives is a "stupid" fact if it lures America into yet another Middle-Eastern conflict.

*On the Reinhart-Rogoff Study & Sequestration. Erick cops to the simple spread sheet error of this much-cited study for spending cuts "but that doesn't mean you throw out its conclusions... Look at Iceland, Ireland, Japan where excessive debt led to higher interest rates and lower growth. Government spending crowds out private sector spending which is more efficient and effective than... spending on social programs."

Ron disagrees: Austerity has failed in Ireland and throughout Europe as well -- Reinhart-Rogoff were not only numerically wrong but believe in Keynesian stimulus spending in this slow recovery -- and there's no crowding out since interest rates are at historic lows.

He adds that a) the process of exempting Sequester cuts via special interest lobbying (airlines and airports) is ridiculous (what about cancer clinics and Head Start slots?) and that b) the Reinhart-Rogoff goof should but won't have any affect on the Sequester debate. Whatever its origins, Erick does not think the Sequester reductions are wrong since it "shouldn't be hard to cut 3 percent from federal spending."

Of course the study and European experience won't change minds of who have wanted to drastically cut domestic spending for generations. For beyond any stubborn or stupid 'facts', the two-pronged theology of hard-core conservatives is that government should be smaller and the wealth of the wealthiest larger. That's about it. Everything else is just window-dressing.

*Quick Takes: Gitmo, Sanford, WHCD. The two panelists debate the impossibly difficult question of whether President should release many likely innocent prisoners from Gitmo and risk a Willie Horton x10 if one or more later attack the U.S. Erick leans no, while appreciating that due process of law would suggest otherwise, while Ron concludes that the Administration has to "take the risk" because we're a nation of laws.

There's an implied consensus that Mark Sanford is a strange, flawed dude but, as with Weiner's likely comeback attempt in NYC, private sins should not be publicly disqualifying -- let the people decide.

And yes, there's a consensus that Obama again killed at the White House Correspondents dinner (this time not literally, as with OBL exactly two years ago). Ron, who's seen presidential wit and humor up close, thinks POTUS 44 is comedically about the best ever presidentially in this setting... but then "he has great speech writers, timing and material from opponents."

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

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