Monday, January 14, 2008

The season of sound bite politics

Ronald Reagan is credited with saying, "It is not that our liberal friends are ignorant, but they know so much that isn't so." Of course, misbegotten certainty is not the sole province of the left, but they certainly have a talent for it.

Every election cycle sees the general American populace put atrophied political muscles to use. Like a middle-aged former athlete overdoing it at the company softball game, voters strain to assimilate issues -- tax policy, immigration, social security reform, what-have-you -- that most of them do not spend their daily lives contemplating.

It is likely a very good thing that, absent an election, most folks go about their business without obsessing over policy issues. A society in which everyone constantly discussed politics would descend into an oxymoronic wasteland of tedium and rage. But, while regular people keep political worries to their season, the committed left remains in high dudgeon even in odd-numbered years, committing to memory all the nonsense that they "know:"

"Bush lied!" "The deficit is huge!" "The economy is a disaster!" "Iraq is a quagmire!" "Illegal wiretaps!" "CIA spies exposed!" And so on.

One of the many troubles with this carnival barker discussion of policy is that the repetition of these imagined grievances creates a place for them in common parlance. Consequently, when the nation turns its lowly eyes to political campaigns, this caterwauled nonsense is mistaken for legitimate opinion.

And who can be expected to respond to the liturgy of liberal "truth," recited at full speed and volume, as above? An attempt, in reverse order, may go something like: "Valerie Plame was not undercover, the Senate has declared in a bipartisan statement that her husband fibbed, and it was Richard Armitage, no friend of the Bush administration, who told Robert Novak that she worked at the CIA; Democrats and Republicans in the Senate voted 99-0 to authorize changing the way in which wiretapping is done, now that even terrorists have been approved for cellphone plans with unlimited evenings and weekends; Sunni and Shiite populations in Iraq have turned on al-Qaeda and allied themselves with the U.S. military, which has seen an extraordinary decline in casualties and tremendous success since the "surge" began; the American economy has experienced six straight years of economic growth, surpassing the average rate of the 1990s, '80s, and '70s, with 3% GDP growth in 2007, creating 8.3 million jobs in 52 straight months since 2003; the budget deficit is down to 1.2% of GDP, well below the average of the last 40 years; and if Bush lied (presumably about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction), so did Bill Clinton, Al Gore, 16 different intelligence services, Tony Blair and countless other politicians and policy makers, going back to years before George W. Bush was first elected governor of Texas -- but surely the "fact" that Saddam had no WMDs comes as a great relief to the more than 20,000 people killed, blinded or maimed by his chemical attack on the city of Halabja." Catchy rejoinder, no?

It is far easier to be brief and blithe than plodding and accurate. So the shorthand silliness often sells at election time. But it is not merely the front page, high stakes issues on which the left is consistently and conspicuously incorrect. The notion that the Democrats are the party of the little guy is exploded every year with perennial reportage that the wealthiest donors are overwhelmingly Democrats, yet the myth persists. Financial heavyweights champion liberal causes with regularity. As Warren Buffett joins forces with Hillary Clinton to defend the death tax, Michael Bloomberg bans cigarettes and trans-fats, and George Soros massively funds left-wing lobby groups. If you are being told not to smoke, what to eat and how much of your life's work you can leave to your children, chances are it's a billionaire doing the bossing.

One small mercy is that, as we approach Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, the left's purveyors of truth become so shrill as to consign some of their talking points to pitches that only dogs can hear. Whether these pleas translate to success at the ballot box is a matter for the American Kennel Society. But citizenship comes with responsibilities, and voters must be vigilant and wise in order to separate "fact" from fiction.