Friday, February 10, 2012

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

Jonathan Chait touches on a pet peeve of mine:
And this is why I am forced to be so mean. There are just a lot of people out there exerting significant influence over the political debate who are totally unqualified. The dilemma is especially acute in the political economic field, where wealthy right-wingers have pumped so much money to subsidize the field of pro-rich people polemics that the demand for competent defenders of letting rich people keep as much of their money as possible vastly outstrips the supply. Hence the intellectual marketplace for arguments that we should tax rich people less is glutted with hackery. The very simple fallacy I pointed out by de Rugy has been knocking around for years, without end. (Here it is in a piece by Stephen Moore in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed page. Here is Senator Jim DeMint making it today in an interview with the approving editors of Reason.) A similar problem exists, perhaps to an even worse extent, with climate change denial.

Most people don’t follow these issues for a living and have a hard time distinguishing legitimate arguments from garbage. I don’t mean this patronizingly: I certainly would have trouble distinguishing valid arguments from nonsense in a technical field I didn’t study professionally. But that's why there’s a value in signaling that some arguments aren’t merely expressing a difference in values or interpretation, but are made by an unqualified hack peddling demonstrable nonsense. Being so mean is a labor of love, I confess, but also one with a purpose.
The only issue I take with his post is that I'm not even sure qualified/unqualified is the distinction we want to be making. I'm sure plenty of these hacks have all the right credentials! The difference is that one side of the policy debate is lying almost all the fucking time. It's important to understand the difference between genuine disagreements on policy, and lying. Mainstream media outlets rarely point out the difference, and this unsurprisingly leads to people thinking most policy debates are genuine disagreements or he said/she said bickering. There is always some of that too, but the right has figured out that there is absolutely no political cost to lying constantly, so they're using it to great effect. Watch an interview with any Republican politician/think tank hack and I guarantee you over half the stuff they say are either highly misleading or outright bullshit. That's not to say that Democrats don't lie (All politicians do), but conservatives have turned it into a science.

I'm genuinely not sure how you counter this when most media outlets don't seem to give the slightest shit about educating their readers/viewers. However, since this is one of the defining dynamics of this era, it's at least worth pointing out from time to time.

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