Unlimited Access. Try it Today! Your First 10 Days Always $0.99

Opinion

News Opinion

Leonard Pitts Jr.: On facts, lies and Sarah Palin

"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care." --Sarah Palin, Aug. 7, 2009

The death panels are back.

Sarah Palin's vision of a dystopian society in which the elderly and infirm would be required to justify their continued existence before a jury of federal functionaries has been widely ridiculed since she first posted it on Facebook three years ago. It was designated "Lie of the Year" by Politifact, the nonpartisan fact-checking website, something that would have mortified and humiliated anyone who was capable of those feelings.

Last week, Ms. Palin doubled down. "Though I was called a liar for calling it like it is," she posted, "many of these accusers finally saw that Obamacare did in fact create a panel of faceless bureaucrats who have the power to make life-and-death decisions about health-care funding." Note that that's not actually the claim she made in 2009. Of course, "Obamacare," aka the Affordable Care Act, was upheld by the Supreme Court on Thursday, which must gratify Team Obama.

But we are not here to discuss that. Neither are we here to litigate Ms. Palin's claim about "death panels." That you could fertilize the Great Lawn of Central Park with that lie has been well established. No, we are only here to ask whether that matters, given the increasingly obvious impotence of fact.

Not long ago, if you told a whopper like Ms. Palin's and it was as thoroughly debunked as hers was, that would have ended the discussion. These days, it is barely even part of the discussion. These days, facts seem overmatched by falsehood, too slow to catch them, too weak to stop them.

Indeed, falsehoods are harder to kill than a Hollywood zombie. Run them through with fact, and still they shamble forward, fueled by echo chamber media, ideological tribalism, cognitive dissonance, a certain imperviousness to shame, and an understanding that a lie repeated long enough, loudly enough, becomes, in the minds of those who need to believe it, truth.

That is the lesson of the birthers and truthers, of Sen. Jon Kyl's "not intended to be a factual statement" about Planned Parenthood, of Glenn Beck's claim that conservatives founded the civil rights movement, and of pretty much every word Michele Bachmann says. It seems that not only are facts no longer important, but they are not even the point.

Rather, the point is the construction and maintenance of an alternate narrative designed to enhance and exploit the receiver's fears, his or her sense of prerogatives, entitlement, propriety and morality under siege from outside forces.

This is the state of American political discourse, particularly on the political right, where a sense of dislocation, disaffection and general been-done-wrongness has become sine qua non, coin of the realm, lingua franca of the true believers -- and of their true belief in the desperate need to turn back the unrighteous Other and his unwelcome change.

To score Ms. Palin for being unfactual, then, is to bring boxing gloves to a knife fight. The death panels are not about fact. They are about fear and the shameless manipulation thereof for political gain.

The result of which is that Americans increasingly occupy two realities, one based on the conviction that facts matter, the other on the notion that facts are only what you need them to be in a given moment. That ought to give all of us pause, because it leads somewhere we should not want to go. When two realities divide one people, the outcome seems obvious.

They cannot remain one people.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His email lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Chavis Carter case raises troubling doubts
    Chavis Carter case raises troubling doubts

    It would be easier to buy the theory that he committed suicide if not for the terrible history of police violence against blacks

  • Prayers for Baltimore
    Prayers for Baltimore

    The untimely death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man who died seven days after he reportedly suffered a severe spinal injury while being arrested by Baltimore City police officers, has caused a great deal of pain, sadness and anger among many in our city and surrounding communities....

  • Baltimore will unite post Freddie Gray
    Baltimore will unite post Freddie Gray

    Baltimore, a city that prides itself on charm and grace, is now in the national spotlight because of its prolonged failure to live up to those aspirations in the treatment of its citizens.

  • The deep roots of racial injustice
    The deep roots of racial injustice

    It was hard not to see history on the TV screen Monday. Burning and looting on the streets of east and west Baltimore recalled the last time the national guard was called out to the city, on an April night 47 years ago following the assassination of Martin Luther King. Conversations about individual...

  • Put down the rocks and pick up the phone to prevent another Freddie Gray
    Put down the rocks and pick up the phone to prevent another Freddie Gray

    Those watching Baltimore on national television Monday might be forgiven for not being able to truly understand what might drive the protestors. But, the scenes on television come only after years of militaristic policing, excessive force and police misconduct of soaring proportions.

  • A step toward justice for Freddie Gray
    A step toward justice for Freddie Gray

    State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby delivered a stinging indictment of the six officers involved in the events leading to Freddie Gray's death, revealing new allegations about his arrest and ride in the back of a police van that depict utterly inhumane treatment of the young man. Based on her account,...

  • The drug war killed Freddie Gray
    The drug war killed Freddie Gray

    The tragic deaths of Freddie Gray in Maryland, Michael Brown of Missouri, and Walter Scott in South Carolina are representative of America's institutionalized violence, grounded in our modern era drug war.

  • Freddie Gray: death by legal intervention
    Freddie Gray: death by legal intervention

    Eric Garner in New York's Staten Island, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Walter Scott in Summerville, S.C. And now Freddie Gray, right here in our beloved Charm City, becomes the latest citizen to join a macabre roster: the growing list of unarmed black men killed by police, their deaths thrust...

Comments
Loading

61°