Some of you are relatively new here. You have have heard the phrase "reality-based community," and accepted it for its facial validity, without knowing where it comes from. This diary is primarily, though not entirely, for you.
The phrase derives from this article by Ron Suskind in the New York Times Magazine, eight years and eleven days ago. It's called "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush." It shows, among other things, the awakening of the since-further-awakened Bruce Bartlett, but the deepest impact has been left by the following paragraphs:
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency."We'll act again, creating other new realities." And that brings us to Mitt Romney's campaign -- and to the critical question of the next nine days:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
How do you get people not to believe something that an apparently respected source is telling them is true?
It's not easy to get people to believe that someone is lying to them as audaciously as Suskind's source proudly pledged to do. Check that: it's not easy to get most people to believe it. Some people, mostly (but not entirely) of the right wing, are primed to believe anything that their trusted leaders tell them -- "Obama's a socialist," "climate change is a myth" -- and we're not going to get their votes no matter what. Thankfully, they are not quite yet a majority -- although our opponents are working on it.
Our problem is that we have to come pretty damn close to running the table of people who don't care about what's true, but only what's convenient and comfortable for them to believe. How do we accomplish that?
In the wake of the disastrous 2010 election, I wrote a diary here entitled "GOP strategy: being worse than credibly believable" that addressed these issues. I won't repeat its contents here, but it's there for you -- and it's probably better reading before an election than after one. The thesis is that it's hard to get people to believe that the GOP is being as audacious in its lies as it really is -- because it goes against both social conventions and common sense. "If they were lying and badly as you say," people logically respond, "wouldn't we have heard about it?"
Well, no -- not necessarily. They wouldn't necessarily be have been paying attention and those whose job it is to spotlight the truth wouldn't necessarily be doing it well.
(Say that to people's faces, though, and they're insulted! Furthermore, it makes you sound like a raving cultist. See how clever this gambit is?)
To me, the Romney campaign is the application of Suskind's "make our own reality" from global politics to political campaigns. Romney's thesis is that he is an empire that makes his own reality -- and that others are left trying to explain it after the fact.
I've finally come to grips with the first Presidential debate -- and I'm more forgiving to President Obama than most others are. First, let's recognize that a lot of Romney's success wasn't simply a matter of his aggressive style -- it was a matter of substance. He presented himself in that debate as a moderate Republican -- the sort of Republican that people were prepared to like. President Obama wasn't ready for that -- because it should have been impossible for Romney to get away with it. No matter how cynical you try to be, this gambit should have caused the system to crash. We all knew, we've all joked, that Romney would eventually shake the Etch-a-Sketch -- but he hadn't. He didn't do it after he won the nomination, he didn't do it at his convention, he didn't do it until just before the debate. (And then after doing it, of course, he went back onto the campaign trail and pretended that he hadn't done it.) Obama's failure was that he wasn't prepared for this audacious a level of contempt for the public.
Romney's gambit was insane, but it worked -- and it worked because it seemed to work. From the moment that that bogus CNN/ORC poll (representing a population the nature of which we still don't know) came out saying that Romney had had the best Presidential debate EVER, the storyline was set. The media did not go back and do what it should have done -- relentlessly juxtapose Romney's misrepresentations of fact with video of him saying the exact opposite thing for months (and years) before then.
Like the American Empire envisioned by the Bush advisor quoted by Suskind, success meant never having to face being called to account for what one had done. "We create our own reality" -- and that's what Romney has done with respect to himself. Half of the people can know that he's lying and be driven mad by his getting away with it -- but that doesn't matter, so long as the other half are with him.
So now I read diaries saying that Mitt has doubled down on the lie about Jeep job moving to China and other brazen lies and all I can think of is that quote from Suskind's source and the contempt, the Orwellian mindset, behind it. "The truth doesn't matter; we create our own truth."
It's hard -- it violates such strong taboos -- for people who want to be taken seriously to accuse political opponents of such enormities. But maybe, to be optimistic for a moment about something beyond Obama's likelihood of re-election, this will be a teachable moment. We need to not let go of Romney after this election, after he loses. We need to take those juxtapositions and rub his nose in them; we need to call to account those who agreed with the lies or failed in their jobs of identifying them; we need to teach the public to disbelieve what people like Romney say.
The recently departed George McGovern became an iconic target of sport for his supposedly simple-minded reflexive liberalism as a Presidential candidate. Romney needs to become an iconic target for his contemptuous lying to the public. Let us not be gracious and forgiving in victory; let the pursuit and depiction of his smugly faked sincerity be relentless, let there be no succor for him ever in the future.
We are at a sad moment in our national history where we must teach people to disbelieve what they are told by Republicans. This doesn't come naturally to a generous and good-hearted audience, but it must be done. This Romney campaign, this creation of it's own false reality -- let this, for years, be the core of our lesson plan.