Friday, September 18, 2015
The Second Republican Debate: Truth and Democracy Lost
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the states of facts and evidence.”
—John Adams, 1770
‘Facts are stupid things – stubborn things, should I say.”
“Listen, when you make comments that fly in the face of what 98 out of 100 climate scientists have said, when you call into question the science of evolution, all I’m saying is that, in order for the Republican Party to win, we can’t run from science”
"Denial ain't just a river in Egypt."
By most accounts Carly Fiorina won the second presidential debate while Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee clearly lost. Others had mixed performances at best. But the real losers were truth and American democracy. Across the board the Republican candidates lied, fabricated, or spewed out stereotypes in ways that reinforced the prejudices of the voters.
The distortions were on different levels. All of them exaggerated their resumes. Rubio again told the story of his grandfather fleeing Castro–even though he left well before he came to power. Trump describes himself as a self-made billionaire (even though he inherited his start in life from his multi-millionaire father) and denies his four bankruptcies. Fiorina is in denial about her horrible business record at Lucent and HP, and Scott Walter and Chris Christie simply inflate what they have accomplished as governors of Wisconsin and New Jersey (and no Christie was not named a federal prosecutor on September 10, 2001). Resume fraud should not be a surprise among politicians, such lying is unfortunately common in the general popular.
Moreover, there are lies or distortions that are not so much based on a contravening of facts as being groundless or highly suspect. Bush saying his brother kept us safe–safe after the largest terrorist attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor? And then there was the general tone of the debate–long on assertions but shy in terms of actual documentation about how dangerous the Iran nuclear deal is or what Obama did or did not do as president.
But there are deeper lies. Lies about public policy, about factual states of affairs in the world which are just not true. I have written about many of them in American Politics in the Age of Ignorance. American politics is dominated by political myths and failed public policies: These are ideas or policies of which we have overwhelming evidence of their failure or falsehood but which nonetheless are constantly repeated and fail. Perhaps the voters can be blamed for their ignorance, but it is deplorable that elected officials and policy makers drool out and constantly return to these myths, pandering to the prejudice and ignorance of, in this case, the Republican voter.
Consider a second level of lies. Fiorina lied about the Planned Parenthood video. First, the videos have been proven to be doctored and several state investigations have validated that Planned Parenthood is not selling baby parts. She also lied about claiming that one fetus had a beating heart as it brain was ready to be harvested. Rubio lied in his assertion that North Korea had a nuclear missile that it could launch to hit the US. It could not even hit South Korea on a good day. Cruz lied in many ways about the Iran nuclear agreement. There are no sites off limits to inspectors. Huckabee lied when he said Hilary Clinton is being investigated by the FBI for destroying government files.
But the deepest lies are policy based, those where the evidence and data is overwhelming. The biggest lie again was the vaccination-autism connection. The original study asserting this claim has been widely and repeatedly refuted yet Trump trotted it out again. Even worse, Ben Carson–a medical doctor–failed to clearly challenge Trump on this. Ditto goes to the other doctor Paul too for failing to challenge Trump.
Then there is immigration. Trump throws out a statistic that says illegal immigration costs the US $200 billion per year. There is no verification or support for that figure and it also fails to account for how much more money undocumented aliens put back into the economy. As I point out in my book and as overwhelming studies show, immigrants have lower crime rates than the general population and put more into the economy than they take out. Rubio’s claim about 40% of those here illegally are because of overstaying visas is unproven, and contrary to what all the non-lawyers said, the Fourteenth Amendment’s granting of citizenship to all who are born here is well-established constitutional law and the US is not alone in granting birth-right citizenship. And by the way, there is little evidence that such birthright citizenship is the incentive for those emigrating from Mexico to the US.
While in this debate no one outright denied global warming, when the topic came up non candidate was willing to acknowledge it was occurring, that it was a problem, or that they should do anything to address it, even just in case it was happening.
But one truth was revealed in the exchange between Trump and Bush over the former’s denial that her tried to get a casino in Florida. Or consider Trump here and in his assertions about being too rich to be bought or previously asserting giving money to Clinton and making her feel obliged to attend his wedding, or listen to Christie’s rants on teacher unions. There is a consensus that money and special interests rule America. But instead of proposing to do something about it the Republican field simply accepts it as given.
The truth that emerged from the second debate is that truth and democracy lost. We saw candidates simply lie about themselves or the state of the world. We saw them accept as given that the democratic process is broken. And we saw them repeat their lies to an American public on yet another media event that was less news than entertainment. Real leadership is about telling the truth, not pandering to ignorance and prejudice. It is looking reality in the eye and leading based on what the world is like and not on what we hope it would be. On this score the 11 candidates in the main GOP debate failed on Wednesday.