Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Some difficulty" accepting facts

Here's another great post from Steve Benen at Washington Monthly:
CBS’s “60 Minutes” ran a good profile on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) last night, but there was one portion of the interview that was especially important.

... Cantor told Lesley Stahl, “Nobody gets everything they want.” Asked if that means he’s ready to compromise with Democrats, the oft-confused Majority Leader replied that he’s “ready to cooperate.” Stahl, of course, noticed word choice, and pressed Cantor on the difference between cooperation and compromise.

It led to this exchange:
Stahl: But you know, your idol, as I’ve read anyway, was Ronald Reagan. And he compromised.

Cantor: He never compromised his principles.

Stahl: Well, he raised taxes and it was one of his principles not to raise taxes.

Cantor: Well, he — he also cut taxes.

Stahl: But he did compromise —

Cantor: Well I —

At that point, Cantor’s press secretary, off camera, interrupted the interview, yelling that Stahl was lying when she said Reagan raised taxes. As Stahl told “60 Minutes” viewers, “There seemed to be some difficulty accepting the fact that even though Ronald Reagan cut taxes, he also pushed through several tax increases, including one in 1982 during a recession.”

Let’s call “some difficulty” a dramatic understatement.

Unfortunately for Cantor and his press secretary, reality is stubborn. The facts are indisputable: in Ronald Reagan’s first term, he signed off on a series of tax increases — even when unemployment was nearing 11% — and proceeded to raise taxes seven out of the eight years he was in office. The truth is, “no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people” as Reagan.

Of particular interest is the “Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982,” the largest of Reagan’s tax increases, and generally considered the largest tax increase — as a percentage of the economy — in modern American history. In fact, between 1982 and 1984, Reagan raised taxes four times, and as Bruce Bartlett has explained more than once, Reagan raised taxes 12 times during his eight years in office.

Why do Cantor, his press secretary, and Republicans everywhere deny what is plainly true? Because reality is terribly inconvenient: the GOP demi-god rejected the right-wing line on always opposing tax increases; he willingly compromised with Democrats on revenue; and the economy soared after Reagan raised taxes, disproving the Republican assumption that tax increases always push the nation towards recessions.

In other words, Reagan’s legacy makes the contemporary Republican Party look ridiculous. No wonder Cantor’s press secretary started yelling: Stahl was bringing up facts that are never supposed to be repeated out loud.

Benen puts this very well, and there's little I can add to his point. But I would like to add another point.

This is the problem with making a "demi-god," pretty much, of another human being. What difference does it make what Ronald Reagan did? Reagan was not infallible. Even if you agreed with Reagan about most things, why would you have to agree with him about everything?

Recently, Christopher Hitchens died, and in all the memorials about Hitchens, his fans were generally frank about disagreeing with him, even vehemently disagreeing, about some things. Well, we atheists have no dogma, and we have neither gods nor prophets. We expect to disagree on occasion. We don't follow anyone blindly, and we don't expect anyone else to follow us blindly, either.

In the evidence-based community, we always know that we could be wrong, too. We don't think we are, of course. But we know that we're not infallible, and that no one else is infallible, either. Even our leaders, such as they are, can be wrong. Indeed, you probably can't have opinions at all without being wrong occasionally.

But Republicans are faith-based. Republicans believe what they believe, just knowing that they're right. They don't rely on evidence, they have faith in dogma. And they've set Ronald Reagan on a pedestal, such that they will not admit he could be wrong about anything. Of course, they can't be wrong, either. So they simply have to deny well-documented facts.

It's astonishing to me. I don't expect that anyone, throughout history, was perfect. There are many historical figures I honor (not so much Ronald Reagan, I'm afraid), but I would never even imagine that they were perfect. I'd have no problem saying that I disagreed with them about some things. I'm sure I disagree with everyone about something.

This is another problem with faith-based thinking, with believing what you want to believe. No one is infallible, because there's no magic way of just knowing the truth. Once you accept that anyone could be wrong, that you, yourself, could be wrong, then you can look at the real question: what's the best way of determining what's really true?

No comments: