This is an exceptionally good article in the New York Magazine by the always good Frank Rich. It’s a summing-up not just of the election, but of what has become of truth and what has become of journalism in this modern post-fact era of “truthiness.”
After allowing as how all politicians lie, he focuses primarily on those who have excelled at it in this current election season (guess who), and what it bodes for us all that ambitious politicians unhinged from reality can garner such exceptional levels of support (be afraid, be very afraid).
Personally (and Rich doesn’t say this, I do) I mark the beginning of the greatly accelerating decline of truth in our modern political age at the 1976 election campaign of Ronald Reagan, whose aw-gee-shucks folksy tales of welfare queens and jelly beans seized the hearts and minds of his earnest followers. In his zeal to preach the gospel that government is the only problem, Reagan taught the modern GOP that truth is irrelevant.
Denial has poisoned the GOP and threatens the rest of the country too.
Mitt Romney is already slithering into the mists of history, or at least La Jolla, gone and soon to be forgotten. A weightless figure unloved and distrusted by even his own supporters, he was always destined, win or lose, to be a transitory front man for a radical-right GOP intent on barreling full-speed down the Randian path laid out by its true 2012 standard-bearer, Paul Ryan. But as was said of another unsuccessful salesman who worked the New England territory, attention must be paid to Mitt as the door slams behind him in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s brilliant victory. Though Romney leaves no political heirs in his own party or elsewhere, he does leave a cultural legacy of sorts. He raised Truthiness to a level of chutzpah beyond Stephen Colbert’s fertile imagination, and on the grandest scale. That a presidential hopeful so cavalierly mendacious could get so close to the White House, winning some 48 percent of the popular vote, is no small accomplishment. The American weakness that Romney both apotheosized and exploited in achieving this feat—our post-fact syndrome where anyone on the public stage can make up anything and usually get away with it—won’t disappear with him. A slicker liar could have won, and still might.
But that’s the Republicans’ plight. The country has a larger problem—“intellectual nihilism,” as the writer Noam Scheiber recently labeled it. Since 9/11, often but not always under the right’s aegis, truth has been destabilized in America. The Bush administration’s contempt for what it dismissed as the “reality-based community” was vindicated when it successfully ginned up a war by convincing Americans that the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis and that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Our susceptibility to elaborate, beautifully wrought myths remains intact—whether we’re being spun by politicians, captains of finance pumping up a bubble, or sports heroes like Lance Armstrong and Joe Paterno. The news business, which we once counted on to vet hoaxes and fictions, is now so insecure about its existential future that it was cowed to some extent by the Scarboroughs, Noonans, and Roves, with most of the networks, not just Fox, ignoring the statistical data of Silver and others and instead predicting a long, nail-biting election night. (In reality, the election was called for Obama at 11:12 p.m. EST on NBC, just twelve minutes after it had been in 2008.) Our remaining journalistic institutions have even outsourced what used to be the very definition of their craft, fact-checking, to surrogates relegated to gimmicky sidebars (awarding Pinocchios and “pants on fire”). The fact-checkers have predictably become partisan targets, only further destabilizing the whole notion of what is meant by “news.”
Read the full article here.