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Opinion

Opinion

U.S. politics dealing in fear, not facts

July 1, 2012

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“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’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care.” — Sarah Palin, Aug. 7, 2009

The death panels are back.

Sarah Palin’s vision of a dystopian society in which the elderly and infirm would be required to justify their continued existence before a jury of federal functionaries has been widely ridiculed since she first posted it on Facebook three years ago. It was designated “Lie of the Year” by Politifact, the non-partisan fact-checking website, something that would have mortified and humiliated anyone who was capable of those feelings.

Last week, Palin doubled down. “Though I was called a liar for calling it like it is,” she posted, “many of these accusers finally saw that Obamacare did in fact create a panel of faceless bureaucrats who have the power to make life-and-death decisions about health-care funding.” Note that that’s not actually the claim she made in 2009. Of course, “Obamacare,” a.k.a. the Affordable Care Act, was upheld by the Supreme Court on Thursday, which must gratify Team Obama.

But we are not here to discuss that. Neither are we here to litigate Palin’s claim about “death panels.” That you could fertilize the Great Lawn of Central Park with that lie has been well established. No, we are only here to ask whether that matters, given the increasingly obvious impotence of fact.

Not long ago, if you told a whopper like Palin’s and it was as thoroughly debunked as hers was, that would have ended the discussion. These days, it is barely even part of the discussion. These days, facts seem overmatched by falsehood, too slow to catch them, too weak to stop them.

Indeed, falsehoods are harder to kill than a Hollywood zombie. Run them through with fact, and still they shamble forward, fueled by echo chamber media, ideological tribalism, cognitive dissonance, a certain imperviousness to shame, and an understanding that a lie repeated long enough, loudly enough, becomes, in the minds of those who need to believe it, truth.

That is the lesson of the birthers and truthers, of Sen. Jon Kyl’s “not intended to be a factual statement” about Planned Parenthood, of Glenn Beck’s claim that conservatives founded the Civil Rights Movement, and of pretty much every word Michele Bachmann says. It seems that not only are facts no longer important, but they are not even the point.

Rather, the point is the construction and maintenance of an alternate narrative designed to enhance and exploit the receiver’s fears, his or her sense of prerogatives, entitlement, propriety and morality under siege from outside forces.

This is the state of American political discourse, particularly on the political right, where a sense of dislocation, disaffection and general been-done-wrongness has become sine qua non, coin of the realm, lingua franca of the true believers — and of their true belief in the desperate need to turn back the unrighteous Other and his unwelcome change.

To score Palin for being unfactual, then, is to bring boxing gloves to a knife fight. The death panels are not about fact. They are about fear and the shameless manipulation thereof for political gain.

The result of which is that Americans increasingly occupy two realities, one based on the conviction that facts matter, the other on the notion that facts are only what you need them to be in a given moment. That ought to give all of us pause because it leads somewhere we should not want to go. When two realities divide one people, the outcome seems obvious.

They cannot remain one people.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.

Comments

Lateralis 1 year, 9 months ago

"It is the American people's will to survive that is moving us forward, not a bunch of lawyers and con artists" - jayhawklawrence

I don’t see much in the way of the American people’s will. We’re fat, lazy, and ill informed. If you measure will at the voting booth it’s a depressing sight. Fewer and fewer Americans are voting and becoming less involved in shaping their communities. We’re not moving forward by anyone’s account. The destruction of our country has materialized from deficit spending and foreign policy. Our will needs to be imposed in the voting booth.

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jayhawklawrence 1 year, 9 months ago

You elect a bunch of lawyers and the results are predictable. They love to argue but they don't produce anything.

10 years from now we will look back at this health care debate and realize that none of the nightmare scenarios ever had a chance to take place other than the one where we wasted 4 years of our nations time doing almost nothing to actually fix the economy.

It is the American people's will to survive that is moving us forward, not a bunch of lawyers and con artists.

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Richard Payton 1 year, 9 months ago

Those States that refuse the new federal Medicare rules lose the federal dollars. Does that mean those individuals on Medicare lose the present coverage they have offered by the State they reside in now? Might be something to those death panels if this is the case.

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Gotland 1 year, 9 months ago

Like fear of a great depression, so give me unlimited economic power.

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Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 9 months ago

It is my opinion that the whole health care debate is being done in the wrong fashion. What should be done first is a very careful study of how other nations manage their health care systems.

Compared with other nations, our health care system wins no awards, according to the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America. In fact, the CIA ranks the USA at #48 out of 222 nations that were studied. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2091rank.html

A clip from the above: "Country Comparison :: Infant mortality rate
This entry gives the number of deaths of infants under one year old in a given year per 1,000 live births in the same year; included is the total death rate, and deaths by sex, male and female. This rate is often used as an indicator of the level of health in a country."

I am sure that some nations are doing a few things right. So, the best thing for our government to do is determine exactly what type of health care and payment system works well for other nations, and then incorporate all of the best portions of each system used by other nations, instead of dreaming up a whole new system.

Why is our government trying to reinvent the wheel, when 222 other nations have their efforts, and results, for us to study?

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hotmess 1 year, 9 months ago

Maybe Pitts is bothered by too many facts out (re; SC says it's a tax on in decision) and he's in denial? There are volumes of facts relating to this administration and every administration and again, Pitts may just be in denial and simply defending his heroic president. I don't find fault with him for that. He's a left leaning Pulitzer prize winning editorialist and has every right to state his opinion. Right leaning talking heads do it to. Just so happens that for every right leaning, there is probably at least five left leaning.

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Mike Ford 1 year, 9 months ago

you forgot to mention coolidge or harding in the typical gop ignore other parts to make you arguement valid move which the gop uses frequently. many of their campaign platforms make sense to them if they ignore what doesn't and their clueless constituents fall right in line. much of the gop twenties political philosophy reminds of romney now and everyone remembers what followed the 1920's gop economic philosophy......the great depression. don't learn much from history do you liberty????

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Darrell Lea 1 year, 9 months ago

Excellent piece by Mr. Pitts. I agree wholeheartedly.

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yourworstnightmare 1 year, 9 months ago

The biggest coup of the modern GOP, and a quite remarkable political feat, has been to turn corporate leaders and the uber-wealthy into populist heroes.

"Job creators" is the ultimate expression of this populism of the elite.

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beatrice 1 year, 9 months ago

Not Pitts's best. If running a story to demean those who tell blatant lies, don't include the line "and of pretty much every word Michele Bachmann says." While perhaps trying to be funny, he ends up just alligning with the same group of people he is criticizing. I am no Bachmann fan, but that does mean she is a constant liar.

Beyond that, the way elected officials throw false statements around anymore, knowing that only in rare occassions will anyone really care, is rather alarming.

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hotmess 1 year, 9 months ago

Title says 'U.S. politics dealing in fear, not facts' but writer pretty much goes on full rant against just Republicans. Anyone remember ad portraying Ryan pushing granny in a wheelchair off a cliff? And that's just one example.

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tange 1 year, 9 months ago

/ hmm... from the outset, commentary on this—as on other—forums:

too much ego, too little super-

_

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Mike Ford 1 year, 9 months ago

best H.L Mencken quote...."Never underestimate the stupidity of the American people"... in the 1920's there was prohibition and the scopes monkey trials over evolution and three terms of do nothing and sometimes very crooked republicans.... harding, coolidge, and hoover. most of the decaying population and business bleeding parts of Kansas and the rest of the midwest never made it beyond this era. their religiousity makes them vulnerable to fear which is what the gop counts on. gop rallies in these areas aren't too far beyond evangelical tent rallies from the 1920's. Also in the 1920's the decade began with xenophobia and the fear of communists.....blaming dirty foreigners when workers fought for work place rights......not much has changed has it....thanks unevolving gop for causing intellectual decay amongst easy targets.

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yourworstnightmare 1 year, 9 months ago

"Fear not facts" has been a political strategy since politics began. Facts are the enemies of the craven, and many politicians are craven.

While not confined to either political party, the commonality is that populists, on the left and right, promote fear over facts.

The populists once resided with the democrats, and they used fear of corporate fat cats, elitists, and intellectuals to promote their political agenda.

About 25-30 years ago, the populists fully switched to the GOP, and they have been running strong since.

Right wing populism is now in full throat, encapsulated in the tea party. These folks were once or would have been democrats.

Populism is characterized by selfishness, childishness, xenophobia, fear, and an allergic recoil from facts.

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pizzapete 1 year, 9 months ago

Born and False, please stop posting. You guys are giving true Republicans a bad name. It's bad enough that Romney is our nominee, we don't need you all to dumb down the party or the message any further. Please, for the love of country, stop.

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hotmess 1 year, 9 months ago

How can Pitts or anyone for that matter--Palin included--predict the long term of AHA? Afterall, one of it's biggest proponents of the bill said we had to pass the bill to really know what's in it.

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Kathy Getto 1 year, 9 months ago

Right on cue, FHNC and BAA! Way to bring in the truth! And shame on Leonard fpr mentioning Palin's (the GOP's MS America) name.

As I pointed out to L1 - Lie Rinse Repeat It's the republican way!

“The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.” H.L. Menchen

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ThePilgrim 1 year, 9 months ago

Actually, the only way for true healthcare reform to work is for there to be rationing and panels, most likely of doctors and healthcare administrators, who decide whether people get care and when. It would most likely be elderly people affected. Some of that is not necessarily a bad idea, with 95%+ year old people getting heart surgery and new knees.

Note that I'm not saying Obamacare. Obamacare is the Republican idea of mandating that everyone buy insurance, with the progressive idea to expand Medicaid (and bankrupt the states in the process), and taxing the heck out of employers ($2K to 3K per employee, according to link on Kansas Department of health and Environment website - see link below). And they do call the penalty for no insurance a tax: "Impose a tax on individuals without qualifying coverage of the greater of $695 per year up to a maximum of three times that amount or 2.5% of household income to be phased-in beginning in 2014." And the legislation raises the medical expenses deduction on tax returns from 7.5% to 10% of salary.

See Summary of Legislation at: http://www.kdheks.gov/hcf/ppaca/default.htm

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hotmess 1 year, 9 months ago

It is Pitts job to analyze selected news. That I suppose is why he is so controversial as he is a big cherry picker on what he writes about and how he writes it. Very polarizing---on the Limbaugh level or worse.

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observant 1 year, 9 months ago

Do any of the Pitts haters ever read what he writes and analyze his logic and facts?

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BornAgainAmerican 1 year, 9 months ago

Pitts once again channeling Sarah. Hey Leonard....this is old news. Why not be more PROGRESSIVE?

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hotmess 1 year, 9 months ago

The sting must still be there for Pitts as he remembers Palin's backdrop role when 2010 gained the house for Republicans. She's out there again. Watch out everybody.

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FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 9 months ago

What is 'it' about Pitts and Palin? He must have a 'thing' for her....

People in government 'are' going to decide which 'menial' gets the 'extra' asprin.

Private sector people in 'for money' insurance companies did it.

Is Pittsy telling us people in government are different? lol

Pittsy and Palin sittin' in a tree. K-i-s-s-..i-n-g

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jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

This is a huge problem, and you can see it on these boards - people will continue to repeat things even when they've been demonstrated as false.

We need to start with facts, and then decide what needs to be done.

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ugottabekiddin 1 year, 9 months ago

This article isn't about "good ol' days...nothing new under the sun." Mr. Pitts is calling it correctly.

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Liberty_One 1 year, 9 months ago

Sigh. Yet another writer mythologizing the good ol' days not realizing there is nothing new under the sun. People believing easily debunked lies is not something new.

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