When Evidence Doesn’t Matter

Political Animal recently reported on negative reactions from rightwing bloggers to a statement made by President Obama.

Now, granted, reporting the fact that rightwing activists would criticize this President falls under the “sun rose yesterday” category of news, but this reaction was unusually revealing, given the point the President was making: that evidence should trump theory.

Here’s Obama’s entire paragraph, so that the context is clear:

I guess to make a broader point, so often in the past there’s been a sharp division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist. And especially in the Americas, that’s been a big debate, right? Oh, you know, you’re a capitalist Yankee dog, and oh, you know, you’re some crazy communist that’s going to take away everybody’s property. And I mean, those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don’t have to worry about whether it neatly fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory — you should just decide what works.

The point being made in the rest of the article is the fairly obvious one (obvious, at least, to folks who follow politics in the real world)–the reactionaries who currently control the GOP are obsessed with ideology to such an extent that when reality doesn’t confirm their beliefs, they opt to retain the beliefs rather than acknowledge the reality. Thus

A simple statement from the President that economies should simply pick solutions that work, somehow becomes a fundamental betrayal.

We see this reaction everywhere. The article refers to Kansas and Louisiana, both of which are in a world of hurt after several years of GOP orthodoxy, and the very different experience of blue states like California. I’ve previously compared Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, where Koch brothers ideology reins, to Mark Dayton’s Minnesota, where the economy is booming despite the imposition of new and higher tax rates and increased public investment in education.

In a functional political ecosystem that would be a cause for reckoning and introspection, but no acknowledgement of failure has been forthcoming from the GOP. Instead its candidates are doubling down on more of the same. For them, conservative orthodoxy cannot fail; it can only be failed.

In the alternate reality built by committed ideologues, changing one’s position because the evidence has demonstrated that the position is in error makes one a “flip flopper.” In the real world, amassing evidence of what works and what doesn’t is called “research,” and successful humans do it in order to bring our beliefs into conformity with facts that can be empirically demonstrated. (In the academy, we call that process “learning.”)

A popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. By that definition, the GOP has gone insane.


  1. The melt down makes great political theatre. After the GOP campaigns of 2000 – 2012, where it was bare knuckles and truth be damned, the monster has turned on its creator and now the core GOP wants to make nice, but they don’t really know how. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion.

  2. How does 50.1% of our population treat this insanity? Last evening’s PBS Hour included the campaign chair of Romney who said the White House and the Senate will surely fall to the Democrats and perhaps even the House if Trump is the candidate, if one believes his negative numbers.

  3. The sane can start to question the facts and reality if told falsehoods repeatedly. There are those who will say the opposite no matter what. Then there are those who thrive on conspiracy theories.

    In this case, the Republican Party chose to tell falsehoods repeatedly. one of the most recent ones is that we don’t confirm Supreme Court nominees in an election year. Now Trump comes along. Why wouldn’t they like him? He’d rather lie than tell the truth.

  4. Vladimir Lenin said, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” This has been the driving theory behind right winged politics for 30 years. What to me is most abhorrent is the cynicism of the people behind these lies. They have used their money and their access to media to create a nation that denigrates truth and mocks science, two things that really could, “Make America Great Again!”

  5. Todd Young is running for the US Senate. I saw one of his ads and he says > Todd supports a repeal of Obamacare and wants to replace it with common-sense health care reform that keeps your health care decisions between you and your doctor – not between you and the government. He knows that our free enterprise system helps drives down the cost of other goods and services, and it will work for health care, too. <>> To reform government health programs like Medicare to give patients the ability to choose coverage that suits their needs.<<<<
    You can read this as Step One in getting rid of Medicare.

  6. Bravo, bravo and thank you to Peggy Hannon!!! Nothing else really needs to be said. A total bullseye!!!

  7. Much history, both that of our individual and our collective lives, can be traced to experimentation performed in the absence of evidence in order to learn what works and what doesn’t.

    Of course in our individual lives some of that was unnecessary as we could have learned it less expensively from those invested in teaching us but youth must experience life in order to ultimately figure out who to grant teacher credibility to.

    So we live and learn. Or we don’t.

    Collectively we now have actual experience with all kinds of politics and economics especially for those paying attention. The world has converged on what works, democracy combined with mixed competition based capitalism and socialism, because of evidence that it works best for the greatest good. I think that that is indisputable (again for those paying attention).

    This is bad news if you are a Communist or a socialist or a dictator or theocrat or oligarch. What you want requires an uphill sell or is only attainable by pure power.

    So would be theocrats and oligarchs and dictators have taken on that challanges using Vulcan mind melding technology through the now ubiquitous screens central to modern life. And they’ve had remarkable success not in establishing evidence that what they want provides the greatest good but in creating faith that what they want is ordained by the god of what they want.

    Evidence vs faith, an ancient as well as modern battleground.

    Ultimately we still are the people and we have democracy. Thanks ancestors. We can be swept away by good preaching but we also can choose evidence. We can choose between being objective and subjective.

    And I am sure that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. And democracy and mixed economies are just and the greater good is the greatest good.

    So we’ll do what must be done.

  8. Peggy’s Lenin quote says it all. I have stated this through the years and received arguments from seemingly intelligent, aware people who spouted that the general public was too intelligent to believe lies. These seemingly intelligent, aware people are primarily those who believe anything they see in print – repeatedly – and assume it must be true if they keep hearing and reading it. They repeat the lies, complain about the failing economy, their personal standstill condition, the high cost of everything…come election day they go to the polls and vote a straight Republican ticket and wonder why situations never seem to improve.

    My young neighbor, who has a “Bernie” yard sign, and I spoke recently. He, too, is from a staunch Republican family and we laughed about being the black sheep in our families. He stated he is still an Independent voter but doesn’t currently vote for Republicans; he reminded me that party shouldn’t matter. I didn’t remind him of his obvious party choices; what I wanted and should have said was – party differences are no longer a matter of difference of opinion. Today they are humanitarian, civil and human rights differences…”When truth doesn’t matter”! He knows this deep down and will make the right choices on election days. He is one to whom truth does matter.

  9. IMHO they will never see the inside of the White House again unless they signal their mental recovery by giving up these fantastic delusions that a Kenyan imposter made himself president without receiving a single vote, and only the continued opposition of the NRA and Rush LImbaugh has prevented him from rounding us all up into FEMA camps and taking our guns and daughters. Even their dumbest voters have to know by now this is just nastiness, and that their main objection to him is skin color. Obamacare? Ted Cruz is using it. Next. Guns? He allowed open carry in national parks. People have wanted this for years, and now it’s done, you’re welcome. FEMA camps? Get psychiatric help, seriously.
    They just sound so stupid with this stuff. My local paper Soundoff had some elderly person nattering about Barry Soetoro the Muslim President; how dumb do you have to be to still believe THAT one? Start describing the real world, where ISIS is still a threat but losing their momentum every day, where no one is bothering to take your gun unless you are a nut case, where gas is cheap and the dollar is strong and the USA can fight on multiple fronts without hardship to most citizens. Stop living in a dream and get back to work; we NEED a conservative viewpoint and we’ll have to get conservative Democrats to be it if you clowns won’t fold your tent and put the monkeys in the cage.

  10. Businesses lie to us everyday. It turns out that owning a Lincoln in no way makes one like Matthew McConaughey. Too bad but real.

    Lying for influence is a major industry now from almost all sources and despite what we wish was true it’s devastatingly effective.

    We need to establish immunity from it as it is impossible to control otherwise.

    Education is our immune system.

  11. The Constitution did not establish an economy to be that of the new country, instead leaving such a choice to citizens in a democracy. It did not take long for capitalism to become the way to go as politicians and the greedy took over the political process. Currently we have a mixture of capitalism and socialism (social security etc.) which can work well if we did not have such a lopsided reward of our economy’s income and wealth awarded to the rich. I have written perhaps 25 blogs which set forth that our nations’s tepid economy is the result of overpayment to the rich which, among other things, reduces demand in our economy. Wage and wealth inequality, until solved, will continue to cause tepid demand in our economy and an underperformance in our economy. As to isms, I am captive to one – pragmatism – whatever works.

  12. Mr Brain makes it sound so simple. All problems would be solved if they/we could wake up tomorrow with his insight. I like the ideas and truly wish it was so.

  13. Linda, I suppose in some ways it is simple. Those in favor of intelligent informed experientially based government have to vote it in. No sitting on the sidelines. We can do this. In fact we’re out of other options.

  14. The democrats need to get busy and focused on voter turn out; but they would have to crawl into the daylight to do it.

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