Whatever Happened to Facts

Am I a romantic or was there a time when there were such things as facts? Seems to me there was a time when I was much younger when you could say things that were simply not disputable.

The Earth is round.
Water is a liquid.
Rain falls out of the sky.

Then things got a bit more sophisticated but facts were still facts.

George Washington was our first President.
The Civil War was fought between North and South over the central issue of slavery.
The Great Depression started in 1929.

Even if we go a bit deeper, still a fact, our country was founded on separation of church and state to protect religious freedom and prevent the establishment of a state religion.

These were all things we could count on as common knowledge. We could have discussions amongst ourselves and know that folks who denied plain facts were either ignorant or crazy.

Two exchanges that I witnessed in the past 24 hours reinforce for me that facts are now dead.

The first occurred between two of my readers in the comments section.

Well, [the Obama administration] could have saved the lives of 47,000 people annually who die because they don’t have insurance [if they had passed health care reform].

To which the retort was:

I’ve done some looking on the 47k thing. You really like that number don’t you? I personally find the number to be unbelievable and a discredit to anything it is attached to.

This conclusion was backed up by its own numerical spin.

How can we debate what is at stake in health care if we cannot agree on the basic numbers? There was a time when the best way to defend an argument was to quantify it. We now live in an age where any stat I offer up will be challenged as false.

The other example was an exchange between Marc Thiessen and Daniel Freedman on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”. Thiessen’s new book gets right to the point (in its title) that Barack Obama is making America less safe. Daniel Freedman, a former aide to Rudy Giuliani of all people, says Thiessen doesn’t know what he’s talking about. As I watched the back and forth I could see everyday regular people scratching their heads. Both men make credible arguments at least on the surface. When we get right down to it, both men are calling each other liars. Again, we’re left wondering, where are the indisputable facts?

These two examples are not atypical. Returning to Rudy Giuliani for a moment, he famously said recently that there were no terrorist attacks under the Bush administration (a claim also made by former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino and conservative gadfly Mary Matalin).  This observation was made with a straight face and was not challenged by the so-called journalists in the discussion. It occurred to no one to remind these folks that we got attacked on 9/11/2001, during the Bush administration? Here, we have an indisputable fact that gets cast aside in the most absurd way.

I am at a point where I am almost filled with despair that we Americans will ever have sane debates about anything again. No longer can the average person listen to an authority on a subject and feel they’ve gotten the truth. Now  we must devote hours of our day scouring the Internet to research virtually everything because listening to just two people simply gets us an exchange of the Joe Wilson “you lie.” Who has the time to do that kind of research with full-time jobs and family lives? The average person therefore simply believes whomever is easiest for them to believe. Then the average person parrots this belief as fact.

We live in a world where Joe Friday’s “just the facts ma’am” has been replaced by “perception equals reality”. And then we wonder why we make so little progress in solving the major problems of our time.


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