Lying in Defense of "the Truth"

It's so perverse, it's almost poetic: The people who argue that there are no facts or who present their own made up facts as the truth know absolutely nothing. The ones who argue that there are no facts also say that there are only opinions and that their opinion is as at least as good as anybody else's. Now we all know the old cliché that everybody has a right to their own opinion, and who can argue with that? After all, the First Amendment does ensure freedom of stupidity. What's more, displays of ignorance can be oddly entertaining. But the fact is that these people are simply wrong. They are wrong that there are no facts; they are wrong when they make up their own facts, and they are in fact wrong that their opinion is as good as everyone else's. In fact, if you know nothing, your opinion is worthless. You have a right to your worthless opinion. You may well be persuaded by your own opinion. You may even be impressed by it, but this is all just proof positive of one simple fact: your own abysmal ignorance and stupidity.

Wow! That felt good, and everything I just said is true, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to retract it all. Why? Well, I realize that everything I just said is beside the point -- at least to the people I was addressing. You see, they are in possession of what they believe are deeper truths, truths that are so profound that it's actually ok to lie in their defense.

Who does this? Well, some of our best-known politicians make up their own facts all of the time, really almost every time they open their mouths. Take Michele Bachmann, for example. She has said that the Founding Fathers "worked tirelessly" to end slavery (they owned slaves); the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation (it doesn't); and the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere is not harmful (it is harmful -- very harmful); Sarah Palin is another one who makes up her own facts. Her Founding Fathers' fact was that they recited the "Pledge of Allegiance," including the "in God we trust" part (The Pledge of Allegiance" was written in 1892; the phrase "in God we trust" was added in 1954). She has also said that the Constitution is based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments. (It isn't, and of course the First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.") She has also asserted that media criticism of her jeopardizes her First Amendment right and potentially the First Amendment right of all Americans to freedom of speech (of course, freedom of the press is part of the First Amendment.)

When Bachmann and Palin fabricate historical, governmental or scientific "facts," they seem really dumb -- from a factual standpoint. They don't seem to know anything about history, government or science. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that their followers love what they're saying. It resonates with them. They get emotionally worked up by it. So in that sense, Bachmann and Palin are really smart. They know how to connect emotionally with the people who share their political ideology.

In the examples I've given, Bachmann and Palin are oddly entertaining. At other times, however, they're small-minded, mean spirited and just plain nasty, engaging in McCarthyism and barefaced lies. For examples of McCarthyism, consider that during the 2008 presidential campaign Palin said that Obama is "someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." Likewise, Bachmann called Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, "anti-American" and said that the press needed to investigate Congress to find out how many other senators and congressmen were anti-American as well.

For barefaced lies, how about Bachmann's statement in the House of Representatives that the Affordable Care Act must be repealed "before it literally kills" women, children and senior citizens. And Palin's Facebook page statement that "the America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panel."

All of this is outrageous, and initially that was what was most disturbing to me about Bachmann and Palin. But something's changed. What's most disturbing now is not how outrageous Bachmann and Palin are but how their rhetoric and their political tactics have become normal, typifying what Rick Perlstein of Mother Jones has called "The GOP's Fact-Free Nation." It doesn't seem to matter any longer when lies are exposed. Emotional "truth" trumps fact. It doesn't matter whether the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation. What matters is that sex is bad, and if you have sex you should get an STD. It serves you right. It doesn't matter that the Pledge of Allegiance wasn't available to the Founding Fathers to recite. They would have recited it every day if it had been available, and what matters anyway is prayer in schools.

Case in point: When Jon Kyl, the former Republican senator from Arizona, stated that abortion services constitute "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does," his lie was immediately exposed. The correct statistic is less than three percent, not "well over 90 percent." You might think that Kyl would be embarrassed since he was caught in a deliberate lie to make a political point. Oh, but you see. That was the point. In fact, Kyl's office explained that his remark "was not intended to be a factual statement but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, an organization that receives millions in taxpayer dollars, does subsidize abortions."

Yes, we have now crossed the line, and there will be no turning back. Facts no longer matter, at least to a significant percentage of Americans. To them, all that matters is the "truth," even if they have to lie to defend it.