Civic Discourse Jumps the Shark

When the nation’s most trusted newsman is Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, it’s no surprise that sensible debate about public policy is at least hard to find. Lately, however, such policy debates have become positively surreal.

The health care bill that just passed is a clone of Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. Nevertheless, this extremely modest (Republican) measure is vilified as too far left for the country.

Previously, when interviewed by Sean Hannity, former Bush 43 Press Secretary Dana Perino went unchallenged when she asserted “We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term.”

Really? That 9/11 thingy didn’t happen when Bush decided to ignore the Presidential Daily Briefing memo entitled “Ben Laden Determined to Attack U.S.”? Apparently it, the shoe bomber and the Anthrax scare just never happened.

This surrealism extends to even the debate’s common terms. Consider “Tax and Spend Liberal.” Does such a thing exist? Aren’t deficits just taxes you haven’t paid yet, plus interest? And wasn’t the only U.S. administration in the last three decades that balanced the budget a “liberal” Democratic one? Aren’t “conservatives” therefore really the ones who implicitly tax, and spend? And what are they conserving?

Even more bizarre: These “conservatives” appear horrified by the prospect of actual conservation and want to consume every natural resource as fast as humanly possible. They call this “wise use.”

Let’s not forget that old neocon chestnut from the Reagan years: “If you lower taxes, the economy will do so much better that government revenues will increase.” (Unspoken: And just ignore those record-setting deficits…) What next? Lead bricks to make baloons go higher?

This surreal dialog has been developing for some time, certainly since Civil Rights were expanded in the 1960’s. After all, the U.S. literally enslaved, lynched, persecuted and ostracized people of color for centuries — and, unsurprisingly, people of color are over-represented among the poor and incarcerated. Why is that? Because giving them welfare made them weak, don’tcha know!

A more recent version of the welfare/weakness delusion accompanies the conversations about gay marriage. Yes, the Bible does decry (male) homosexuality in some obscure passages, where it also condemns eating shellfish and wearing clothes of mixed material. But the prohibition against covetousness is one of the Ten Commandments, and is certainly more theologically significant. So where’s the outrage about the covetousness industry pioneered by Madison Avenue? Advertising to stir up covetousness gets a pass, while the gays must suffer.

The Bible also has a phrase for this: “Straining at a gnat, while swallowing a camel.”

I’ve received many racist and xenophobic hoax e-mails from my conservative friends, and even some with high production values — for example narrators who sound like professionals. When I Google their subject, with the word “hoax,” the result invariably exposes the lies. (“No, Iran is not a country of child abusers, even if this email shows, out of context, some street performers who are children”). Nevertheless, when I respond with the truth to these same friends, they reply that they’re “entitled to their own opinion.”

So dear “conservative” friends: Yes, you are entitled to your own opinion. What you’re not entitled to, however, is your own facts. And spreading racist or xenophobic hoaxes does not elevate civic discourse. That degrades it. I know that facts may be inconvenient, but they are distinct from the delusion you are spreading since they are actualy true.

Sadly, as one blogger writes, “We’re losing the war on truth.”

Adam Eran


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