MR. ROMNEY: I — I — I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.That Mitt Romney got caught telling a falsehood, in real time, in front of tens of millions of live viewers, was not the big surprise. Romney tells lies, all the time, in front of everyone. What was so shocking about Romney getting caught lying about President Obama's reaction to the horrors of the terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was that it was a member of the traditional media who called him out. Usually, members of the traditional media don't bother with real time fact-checking, and debate moderator Candy Crowley never has been known as overly friendly to Democrats, but this Romney falsehood was just too big and too ugly, with facts too obvious to ignore. And Republicans have reacted to this unexpected interlude into the realm of reality with accustomed derangement.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Get the transcript.
MS. CROWLEY: It — he did in fact, sir.
So let me — let me call it an act of terrorism — (inaudible) —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy? (Laughter, applause.)
MS. CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror.
When Romney got all excited, and wanted everyone to note that Obama at the debate had called the Benghazi terror attack a terror attack, so he could make the false point that the president had waited two weeks before first calling the terror attack a terror attack, you could almost see Crowley scowling and thinking, "Oh, bullshit!" But the most interesting aspect of that defining political moment was the expression on Romney's face. The lifelong petty little bully seemed to think he had a gotcha moment, just as he seemed to think he had a gotcha moment the day of the attack, when he smirkingly tried to score cheap and sleazy political points off a still developing story that was really about horror and sadness and irreparable loss. To anyone with a basic sense of humanity. But if you watch the video of Romney during that seminal moment of the second presidential debate, what is most striking isn't his juvenile demeanor, it's the confidence that was fueling that demeanor. And that's where we get to the real story.
Romney tells lies as naturally as he breathes, and Steve Benen has compiled a weekly tally— 38 pages of lists of Romney's lies, adding up to hundreds, if not more than a thousand, individual Romney lies. It's a truly impressive achievement by Romney, and perhaps in his honor we will in the future refer to all political lies as Romneys, but in this instance he seemed actually to believe what he was saying. And that's where we start to get to the real story. Romney's mendacity is so complete, so total, so absolute, that even he no longer knows when he is lying. He lives in an alternate reality. But Romney is just one among a crowd of mendacious Republicans, while the larger and more disturbing reality is that the entire Republican Party now lives in an alternate reality, a collective delusion that increasingly bears little relation at all to even demonstrable facts and verified scientific truths. Romney and Republicans do consciously tell lies, and they do it often and without conscience, but they accord no negative value to lying because they accord no positive value to even the existence of truths. As noted by Jonathan Bernstein, in the Washington Post:
This was the night in which the conservative closed information feedback loop and its close cousin, lazy mendacity, caught up with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney — in a big way.Romney got caught in a sleazy blatant falsehood, in real time, in front of a massive live audience, and the reason for it was that he is so used to speaking to reality-challenged right-wing audiences that he no longer knows what is real and what is not. Because the Republican Party could not exist in its modern form if it and its propagandists had any relationship with the truth. Its entire agenda depends on the creation, the promotion, and the inculcation of fictive narratives.
Romney has been doing this for, literally, years now. His main platform on foreign policy, after all, is to reject an “apology tour” that never happened and that people have been correcting him on for years. He’s come up with the new one, “unraveling,” recently, but hasn’t bothered to fill in anything — at all — about what is unraveling, or how. Nor is it just foreign policy. His tax plan doesn’t come close to adding up, and his jobs plan doesn’t, either. He repeats flat-out lies again and again, no matter how many times they’ve been shot down. As I said, lazy mendacity — even where the facts would do well for him, as in trillion-dollar deficits, he chooses instead to constantly claim that Obama doubled the deficit, which isn’t true. Sure, every candidate exaggerates and stretches and spins, but Romney’s complete apparent indifference to bother to get things right is unusual.Romney and the Republicans live in an alternate reality, where demonstrable facts are ignored, where lies can be repeated so many times that even those telling them forget they are lies, and where no one is allowed to interject the truth, even when the truth is as easy to prove as quoting a transcript or viewing a video. The Republican Party has so many problems right now, but none is bigger than its willful disregard and even disdain for factual truths.
The question is: Why shouldn’t he do it? Republican-aligned media surely aren’t going to call him on it. Indeed, within the GOP political loop, there’s no one who is even going to realize that they have a basic factual thing wrong; that’s what happens when you convince yourself that the neutral press is out to get you, and you’ve trained your supporters to only pay attention to what they hear on Fox News and the Rush Limbaugh program, so you had better stay tuned to them yourself or else you won’t be able to talk the way you need to. Of course, that’s how a candidate winds up insulting half of America, because that’s what high-level party donors expect to hear.
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Not that Republicans themselves will care about scientific research, but in March the Los Angeles Times reported some scientific research:
A study released Thursday in the American Sociological Review concludes that trust in science among conservatives and frequent churchgoers has declined precipitously since 1974, when a national survey first asked people how much confidence they had in the scientific community. At that time, conservatives had the highest level of trust in scientists.And the most obvious highlight was this:
Confidence in scientists has declined the most among the most educated conservatives, the peer-reviewed research paper found, concluding: "These results are quite profound because they imply that conservative discontent with science was not attributable to the uneducated but to rising distrust among educated conservatives."
To highlight the dramatic impact conservative views of science have had on public opinion, Gauchat pointed to results from Gallup, which found in 2012 that just 30% of conservatives believed the Earth was warming as a result of greenhouse gases versus 50% two years earlier. In contrast, the poll showed almost no change in the opinion of liberals, with 74% believing in global warming in 2010 versus 72% in 2008.Republicans living in a fantasy land of their own imagining is not uncommon. Missouri Republican congressman and Senate nominee Todd Akin believes abortions can be performed on women who are not pregnant, and that in the case of "legitimate rape" women can't become pregnant, anyway. Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann repeatedly gets confused about basic historical facts, such as where the Revolutionary War began or which of the Presidents Adams was old enough to have been a signer of the nation's founding documents. Republican Rep. Joe Walsh believes women no longer ever die or suffer physical harm from complications of pregnancy. Republican media clown Sarah Palin went to Boston, to describe the purpose of Paul Revere's ride exactly backward. But beyond examples of individual idiocy, this is about an entire alternate narrative of reality which has been deliberately concocted to promote political agendas that could not survive if people actually knew and understood basic facts.
Chris Mooney wrote a book on The Republican War on Science, and the traditional media, typically, chose mostly to ignore it. But as Mooney pointed out last February, the alternate reality adhered to by Republicans and conservatives isn't primarily due to poor education or lack of intelligence. Indeed, studies have shown that more educated Republicans actually are more likely than less educated Republicans to believe such thoroughly debunked lies as that the president is a Muslim or that his health care law includes death panels (pdf).
Yale researcher Dan Kahan and his colleagues set out to study the relationship between political views, scientific knowledge or reasoning abilities, and opinions on contested scientific issues like global warming. In their study, more than 1,500 randomly selected Americans were asked about their political worldviews and their opinions about how dangerous global warming and nuclear power are. But that’s not all: They were also asked standard questions to determine their degree of scientific literacy (e.g, “Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria—true or false?”) as well as their numeracy or capacity for mathematical reasoning (e.g., “If Person A’s chance of getting a disease is 1 in 100 in 10 years, and person B’s risk is double that of A, what is B’s risk?”).Republicans are divorced from reality not because they are collectively stupid, but because their political ideology necessitates it. And to what does Mooney attribute this?
The result was stunning and alarming. The standard view that knowing more science, or being better at mathematical reasoning, ought to make you more accepting of mainstream climate science simply crashed and burned.
Instead, here was the result. If you were already part of a cultural group predisposed to distrust climate science—e.g., a political conservative or “hierarchical-individualist”—then more science knowledge and more skill in mathematical reasoning tended to make you even more dismissive. Precisely the opposite happened with the other group—“egalitarian-communitarians” or liberals—who tended to worry more as they knew more science and math. The result was that, overall, more scientific literacy and mathematical ability led to greater political polarization over climate change—which, of course, is precisely what we see in the polls.
For one thing, well-informed or well-educated conservatives probably consume more conservative news and opinion, such as by watching Fox News. Thus, they are more likely to know what they’re supposed to think about the issues—what people like them think—and to be familiar with the arguments or reasons for holding these views. If challenged, they can then recall and reiterate these arguments. They’ve made them a part of their identities, a part of their brains, and in doing so, they’ve drawn a strong emotional connection between certain “facts” or claims, and their deeply held political values. And they’re ready to argue.And the same dynamic holds on a raft of issues, where the narratives of not only Republicans but of the wider traditional media consistently misrepresent political realities. Are the Republicans or are the Democrats better for the economy? Are the Republicans or are the Democrats better for employment? Are the Republicans or are the Democrats better for deficit reduction? Are the Republicans or are the Democrats better for the stock market? Are the Republicans or are the Democrats better for national security? In each case, there is a presumed advantage for the Republicans, and in each case that presumed advantage is demonstrably and historically false.
Of course, the ultimate example of the Republicans ignoring science and reality is on climate change. It is the most important issue humanity has ever faced. The scientific consensus is overwhelming. The Republicans deny that scientific consensus. Mitt Romney denies that scientific consensus. Paul Ryan denies that scientific consensus. Right-wing "think" tanks are deliberately trying to fool people about that scientific consensus. The traditional media ignore and obfuscate that scientific consensus.
Denial of science and denial of reality have become basic features of modern Republican politics. Sometimes it is about deliberate lies. Sometimes it is about misinformation and disinformation reverberating and concatenating within a hermetically sealed echo chamber. But whether individual examples are deliberate or accidental, the Republican Party's entire narrative and its entire agenda could not exist without the promulgation of and belief in demonstrable falsehoods. The Republican Party's collective consciousness is a morass of lies and delusions. And given the gravity of the stakes, on both politics and policy, this could not be more dangerous.