Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fact check

I wasn't going to write a post about Michele Bachmann.  I told myself, "stay out of politics.  Blog on something safe and non-controversial, like evolution."  And I thought, "You're not going to convince anyone who isn't already convinced, so what's the point?"

Then, this morning, while perusing the news, I happened upon a story about Michele Bachmann's recent gaffe in which she identified Lexington and Concord and "The Shot Heard Around the World" as being in New Hampshire, and one of the comments posted after the story was the following:

"Sure, Bachmann has had here [sic] gaffes, like anyone that appears regularly on TV, radio, etc. But she's on the right side of the issues which, last I checked, is a great deal of what matters."

No, I'm sorry.  You're wrong.  Facts matter.

Bachmann, the oft-proclaimed "darling of the Tea Party," is becoming notorious for misspeaking.  She called the Smoot-Hawley Act the "Hoot-Smawley Act," and said it was signed into law by a Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is therefore directly responsible for the Great Depression.  (It was signed by Herbert Hoover, a Republican, in 1930, three years before FDR was inaugurated, and may have contributed to the Depression, but was hardly its cause as most historians date the Depression as beginning in 1929.)  She even seems to think that epidemics are the Democrats' fault, as she blamed the 1976 swine flu outbreak on Jimmy Carter, even though Gerald Ford was president at the time.

This woman makes so many mistakes that you have to wonder if the Republicans have hired her to make Sarah Palin look intelligent by comparison.

Facts matter.  Yes, anyone who is a public speaker can misspeak; as a teacher, I've done it, more than once.  But you have to be careful -- one slip, or even two, can be laughed off as simply being a fallible human being, making a faux pas when under pressure.  At some point, however, you cross the line, and people start thinking, "what a moron."  And they stop giving what you say any credence.

Well, sometimes.  It appears that with Palin and Bachmann, all it's done is made their defenders more defensive, and propelled them even further into the spotlight.  Every day, I expect to hear that the Republicans have finally said, as a party, "these two have the IQ of road salt," and to see Palin and Bachmann dwindling back into well-deserved obscurity.  But somehow, their ineptness, their seeming inability to hire a fact-checker before they speak, makes them seem all the more "folksy" and like "regular people," and does nothing but increase their appeal.

Why is it that people want a leader who is "just one of us folks?"  Me, I want a president who is smarter than I am.  Way smarter.  I know I'm not intelligent enough for that job, not by a longshot.  But somehow, candidates who can tap into the image of being "average" have a strong appeal.  Is it because we are trying desperately to hang on to the myth that "anyone can become president?"  Are we falling for that perversion of the democratic ideal that because we all should have equal rights, somehow we all should be treated as if we have equal abilities?  Is it that we distrust the intelligentsia because of the negative portrayal of smart people in the media?

Or are the majority of Americans simply nitwits themselves?

And since I've probably already pasted a target on my own chest by publicly posting the foregoing, I may as well cock the pistol by adding that the whole belief that "facts matter less than opinions" is why 40% of Americans are still young-earth creationists.

The whole thing is exasperating.  At a time when we're in deep economic distress, and the world is facing uprisings, rebellions, and terrorism, we need a leader who has both breadth and depth of knowledge, and an ability to think critically about the problems we face.  What we don't need is someone who talks, and apparently thinks, in folksy sound-bites, and can't even get things straight in those. 

Simply put, whatever his/her stance is on the issues, I don't trust any candidate for president who apparently has a poorer knowledge of American history than my 11th grade students.  But I fear that I am in the minority.  And I think the specter of a Palin/Bachmann GOP ticket is all too possible.


  1. Facts Matter. The perfect two word rallying cry against the anti-intellectualism and superstition so prevalent in GOP politics since the Regan years.

    Also, "No, I'm sorry, you're wrong." is often the only possible reaction to the intellectually bankrupt bickering and blaming that passes for political discourse these days.

  2. A Palin-Bachmann ticket ought to be easy to defeat . . . or else I'm crawling hat in hand to see if I can get Canadian citizenship based on my childhood residency there.

  3. I agree, Gordon. It seems to me that your premise is a double-edged sword, though. With a little research, you could come up with enough gaffes to discredit almost all of our most prominent political figures. As for electing someone more intelligent, I'm beginning to have my doubts that there are such people. The longer that people are involved in politics, community organizing, lobbying, corporate boardrooms or hedge fund management, the less connection they have to the real world. In addition, I think that most of us (myself included) tend to be so blindly partisan that we believe the sensational comments about the other side, but dismiss those about our own. Here's hoping that we can find unity in diversity and bring back the free exchange of ideas without the demonization and sensational discrediting of our contemporaries.