It’s an odd week in politics when one of the two main stories from the Republican National Convention was that Clint Eastwood lost a 12-minute long argument to an empty chair. The other story, of course, was the impressive degree to which Paul Ryan lied in his speech on Wednesday. In times past, this would probably have been considered an unmitigated disaster for the Republican Party. However, in today’s political reality, it isn’t. That’s because political reality no longer needs to reflect… well, reality.
If last week proved anything, it’s that you don’t actually need to prove anything. So what if Paul Ryan claimed that he would “protect and strengthen Medicare,” despite the fact that he plans to change it into a voucher system? So what if he claimed that Obama was responsible for lowering America’s credit rating, despite the fact that Congressional Republicans obstructed any revenue raising measures and were blamed for the downgrade by Standard & Poor, the firm which downgraded the credit rating? So what if he didn’t actually run a sub-3 hour marathon? (Or a sub-4 hour marathon, for that matter?)
See, truth isn’t a matter of fact anymore. It’s a matter of opinion. We no longer elect a leader to respond to reality; we elect a leader to shape reality. And by this standard, the Romney/Ryan regime will succeed like no other. Although keep in mind the definition of “succeed” will be one of the first realities they reshape.
Consider one aspect of Romney’s platform; his opposition to cap-and-trade policies and other environmental regulations placed on businesses. On one hand, you can argue that not only is there an ethical obligation to protect the lands that we live on, but it is also in the collective interest of the American people to ensure that corporations are not allowed to pollute the air we breathe or the water we drink, or contribute to the negative effects of global warming. Now, that’s very inconvenient for Romney’s position, especially considering there is a scientific consensus that global warming is man-made.
Or at least it would be, if Romney’s presidency were to be dictated by facts or science. But like I said, this isn’t about facts anymore – it’s about opinion. And if it’s Romney’s opinion (ok, Ryan’s opinion; it’s not like Romney has any) that businesses ought to remain unfettered by regulations that protect the environment, then that will be the new reality he will set in motion if elected. What about global warming? Well, if his opinion is that it’s not man-made, then that’s not an issue anymore. Reality is malleable now. If you don’t want a ship to sink, just say it’s unsinkable and it will never sink. That’s the Republican philosophy.
If this sounds absurd, it’s not. Politicians and voters do this all the time. If something doesn’t fit their preconceived narrative of how things ought to be, they ignore it. Paul Ryan – by factual standards – lied through his teeth at the RNC, but that won’t dissuade any GOP voters because their concern isn’t facts. It’s their opinion of how things should be – not necessarily if those things could be, mind you. There’s a reason 46% of Americans would rather pretend that they were created by a large man in the sky with a beard than accept that they are the product of millions of years of evolutionary processes. It’s not a matter of evidence; it’s a matter of convenience.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that voters will take the reality presented to them that conforms with how they want reality to be, rather than how reality is. And politicians – particularly Republicans – are more than eager to provide them that reality. I don’t mean to seem partisan here; both parties are responsible for this. Just like both Germany and Poland were both responsible for World War II. (No, I am not comparing Republicans to Nazis – Ryan might be a liar, but he’s no Goebbels.) But the real issue here isn’t that Paul Ryan lied; it’s that no one who was planning to vote for him and Romney cares. I’m not saying they should suddenly not vote for him – but at least criticize him. The only conservative outlet that came down on Ryan was FoxNews.com, and that was written by an unpaid, progressive freelance writer. The rest stayed silent because what he said conveniently fit their beliefs concerning how this country should be run, even if the arguments that support those beliefs are untrue.
There is a significant portion of the American electorate that wants the world to conform to how they believe it should be or how they believe it is. They refuse to acknowledge anything that may contradict their reality – like reality – and are willing to tolerate lies in order to preserve – or better yet, enforce – their idea of truth. Because if they don’t do that, they’ll eventually have to come to terms with the fact that their reality just might be a lie.