Grist must-read: “Policy in an age of post-truth politics” where “the referees have left the building”

Dave Roberts of Grist has a worthy follow-up to his brilliant breakthrough-bunch-busting post from Tuesday.  It riffs off of my post Ezra Klein: “Obama, if you look closely at his positions, is a moderate Republican of the early 1990s.”

It speaks to what happens when the referees — the media — don’t call balls and strikes anymore but mainly report the play-by-play.

Rather than just linking to the piece, this time I’ll excerpt it at length:

Policy in an age of post-truth politics

David Roberts

… For decades Republicans have single-mindedly pursued a few core goals: reducing taxes on the wealthy, dismantling the post-war social welfare state, and freeing corporations from regulatory restraints. Sometimes that has meant short-term compromises and half-measures, sometimes it’s meant exploiting culture war resentments, sometimes it’s meant a pose of moderation (compassionate conservatism). Very often — almost always — it’s meant couching the agenda in other terms, since it is, if you poll it directly, wildly unpopular with the public. Americans want to tax the rich more, protect entitlement programs, and put tighter rules on corporations.

Republicans thus talk about “taxes” and “spending” and “regulation” in the abstract, since Americans oppose them in the abstract even as they support their specific manifestations. They talk about cutting the deficit even as they slash taxes on the rich and launch unfunded wars. They talk about free markets even as they subsidize fossil fuels. They talk about American exceptionalism even as they protect fossil-fuel incumbents and fight research and infrastructure investments.

In short, Republicans have mastered post-truth politics. They’ve realized that their rhetoric doesn’t have to bear any connection to their policy agenda. They can go through different slogans, different rationales, different fights, depending on the political landscape of the moment. They need not feel bound by previous slogans, rationales, or fights. They’ve realized that policy is policy and politics is politics and they can push for the former while waging the latter battle on its own terms. The two have become entirely unmoored.

So it’s not that they “moved right” on some policy spectrum when Obama took office. They just adopted a new political strategy, namely total, unremitting, hysterical oppositionalism. Mitch McConnell accurately foresaw that it was the only thing that could revive the battered party after 2008, and it has paid off richly. Conservatives are becoming less reticent about voicing their real agenda, but the agenda itself never changed.

The political logic behind Obama’s center-right health-care plan (and center-right cap-and-trade plan, and too-small stimulus with too many tax cuts, and too-mild financial reform) is that there is a “center” in the policy spectrum, and that if he chooses policies located there, moderate Republicans, by virtue of their previous policy commitments, will be forced to work with him, and he will get credit for being reasonable and centrist, which will translate into votes, victories, and political momentum. That has been the basic approach of his presidency. Unfortunately, it reflects a naive policy literalism that is absolutely ubiquitous on the left.

What happened instead? On policy after policy, Obama began with grand, magnanimous concessions (see: offshore drilling) and waited in vain for reciprocation. He adopted center-right policies … and was attacked as a radical secular socialist Muslim babykiller. Every Dem proposal, no matter how mild, has been a government takeover complete with confiscatory taxes, death panels, and incipient tyranny. The fusillade of lies began early and has continued unabated.

Now, on the naive, positivist view, the media and other elite referees of public debate should have called a foul. Republicans should have been penalized for opposing and maligning policies that they’d supported not long ago, for brazenly lying, and for rejecting all attempts at compromise. They chose the strategy; the strategy should have been explained plainly to the public.

But the crucial fact of post-truth politics is that there are no more referees. There are only players. The right has its own media, its own facts, its own world. In that world, the climate isn’t warming, domestic drilling can solve the energy crisis, and Obama is a socialist Kenyan. (Did you see Obama’s birth certificate yet? If he had that much trouble convincing people he was born in the country, how did he expect to convince them he’s a reasonable moderate?) Obama can back centrist policies all day, but there is no mechanism to convey that centrism to the broad voting public. There is no judge settling disputes or awarding points. His strategy — achieve political advantage through policy concessions — has failed. His approval ratings are down and the government is headed for a train wreck.

Yet still there seems to be this craving, in Obama and sooo many other self-styled pragmatic, post-partisan moderates, to take the politics out of politics. To have an Adult Conversation. To be Reasonable People, to draw forth other Reasonable People with the power of ideas and together transcend petty partisan squabbling and move forward with a Commonsense Agenda based on Shared Values. (Are you tingling yet?)

It’s a nice idea but it’s not how American politics works. There is no huge class of uncommitted independents waiting to be persuaded. There are no Reasonable People behind the curtain, pulling the strings. The selling points of the conservative agenda — small government, free markets, patriotism — have no motive force of their own. They are not binding and command no intellectual consistency (which is why the endless, tiresome charges of hypocrisy from the left are so fruitless). They are the politics, not the policy, and the two are not connected. The policy, the motive force among conservative elites, is a defense of America’s oligarchic status quo and a redistribution of wealth upward. It is those voices that speak in the ears of our political class and that agenda that commands the assent of one and a half of America’s two parties. It’s not hard to see why: our political system is choked with veto points, vulnerable to motivated minorities, insulated from public opinion, and flooded with money.

It is genuinely difficult to say what, if anything, can rally the left’s diverse constituencies into a political force capable of counterbalancing the influence of the country’s oligarchy. The much-maligned greens had a pretty damn strong run at it. As I said before

… environmentalists pulled together a huge coalition of businesses, religious groups, military groups, unions, and social justice groups. They got a majority of U.S. citizens on their side, as polls repeatedly showed. And — here’s the kicker — on the back of all that work, they got a majority of legislators in both houses of Congress on their side.

In a sane world — and in other developed democracies — that’s what success looks like.

But in the U.S. political system, it wasn’t enough.

I’ll tell you what I don’t think will work: Dems using policy concessions to try to win political fights. Somehow Andy Revkin picks through the wreckage of the climate fight and concludes that one of the culprits was “a failure on the part of the major environmental groups and their allies to compromise earlier in the legislative effort to address climate change.” Of course cap-and-trade itself was born as a compromise, and at every step of the process the climate bill was compromised further and further until there was almost nothing left of it, but at no point did all that compromising change the politics a whit. It didn’t move the needle at all. What does Revkin take from this? We needed even bigger compromises, even earlier! Some how, some way, those unreasonable hippies must be to blame for this.

Revkin and the Breakthrough folks would have us believe that policy differences are at the root of the failure to dethrone fossil fuels. It’s just the wrong ideas, the wrong five-point plan. The climate bill that passed the House had R&D spending, consumer rebates, clean energy incentives, efficiency standards, development programs for clean cars and low-energy buildings, and a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions. But it just had the wrong mix of those policies, you see. A different mix, with more emphasis on R&D, would have brought Reasonable People out of the woodwork!

Matt Nisbet says, “We really need to get beyond power politics on climate change, where almost anything goes to win politically in the short-term.” Yeah, that’s the problem: the left was just too darn merciless on the climate bill, too united, too willing to spend money and primary opponents and stay on message. Too much focus on power, that’s what went wrong! Again that forlorn, undying hope: that the politics can be taken out of politics.

If we do compromise more, quit talking about pollution, get rid of any penalties or limits or mandates, and just ask for some research money, Republicans will join us on that, right?

No. And not a theoretical no. Not a prediction. They have rejected those overtures before and they are rejecting them as we speak, mocking and attacking green R&D and any form of support for clean energy or low-carbon infrastructure. It’s not that they disagreed with green groups about the best way to get beyond fossil fuels; they disagreed about the need to do so. That is the policy, even if the politics was “all of the above.”

Yet even now, still, everyone wants to think that they could have won the climate fight if greens had only listened to their clever policy approach. If they could just get the hippies to shut up, they could show the referees how reasonable they are, and the referees would call it in their favor.

But the referees have left the building. Policy is policy. Politics is politics. First you figure out what you want — in my case, I want clean energy, dense land use, and economic justice — and then you take every chance to make progress toward those goals. Meanwhile, you wage political war with the tools of politics: money, message, organization, solidarity, and a healthy dose of ruthless opportunism. Policy concessions aren’t just a poor weapon in that war; they are no weapon at all.

David Roberts

39 Responses to Grist must-read: “Policy in an age of post-truth politics” where “the referees have left the building”

  1. Yep, “post-truth politics” is an über-cool term. Or, in keeping with Joe’s recent theme, we can call it “counterfactual politics” — political maneuvering that acts against known facts, against the very idea of fact-finding itself, and is merely in the service of obtaining power, more power, and even more power.


  2. David says:

    He’s wrong. There are referees. They’re called voters.

  3. Sasparilla says:

    I think Mr. Roberts lays things out pretty clearly, excellent article Joe.

    His point that policy concessions have been no weapon at all is totally on target.

  4. David:

    I hope you’re right, but you’re wrong. The Tea Partiers are voters, but do they look like impartial ‘referees’ to you?

    When Supreme Court judges routinely vote in favour of corporations no matter what the law actually says, when reporters go he-said-she-said, when even the Attorney General seems to be investigating and prosecuting cases based on political considerations rather than the facts of the cases — well, it seems then that pretty much the only entity left which resembles an impartial referee in any way is the Supreme Deity in the Sky.


  5. mikkel says:

    Right on. I urge everyone to read MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

    You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored…Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood…

    First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…

    You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence.

  6. RobertH says:

    Policy concessions worked about as well for Neville Chamberlain as it is working for Obama. If Obama doesn’t want to go into the history books as the next Chamberlain he has scant time to act.

  7. Mimikatz says:

    So we have to wait for disaster. Charming. Lots of suffering ahead. I hope it’s worth it for them.

  8. Leif says:

    Voters are no longer informed. Voters are disenfranchised. Voters are Gerrymandered. Voters are out spent by Corporations and Capitalism itself. Voters are disheartened in that, as pointed out, even with clear mandates meaningful actions are ignored. ~50% of the “Voters” no longer even bother to vote. No David @ 3, Voters clearly need the help of Statesmen, Free open Press, and a President that in fact STANDS for survival of the species and Earth’ Life Support Systems.

    It would sure be nice if Capitalism was structured to help.

  9. mikkel says:

    Also MLK’s autobiography:

    Liberalism provided me with an intellectual satisfaction that I had never found in fundamentalism. I became so enamored of the insights of liberalism that I almost fell into the trap of accepting uncritically every-thing that came under its name. I was absolutely convinced of the natural goodness of man and the natural power of human reason.

    The basic change in my thinking came when I began to question the liberal doctrine of man…The more I observed the tragedies of history and man’s shameful inclination to choose the low road, the more I came to see the depths and strength of sin. Liberalism’s superficial optimism concerning human nature caused it to overlook the fact that reason is darkened by sin. The more I thought about human nature, the more I saw how our tragic inclination for sin causes us to use our minds to rationalize our actions. Liberalism failed to see that reason by itself is little more than an instrument to justify man’s defensive ways of thinking. Moreover, I came to recognize the complexity of man’s social involvement and the glaring reality of collective evil. I came to feel that liberalism had been all too sentimental concerning human nature and that it leaned toward a false idealism. Reason, devoid of the purifying power of faith, can never free itself from distortions and rationalizations.

    On the other hand, part of my liberal leaning had its source in another branch of the same root. In noticing the gradual improvements of this same race problem, I came to see some noble possibilities in human nature. Also my liberal leaning may have rooted back to the great imprint that many liberal theologians have left upon me and to my ever-present desire to be optimistic about human nature. Of course there is one phase of liberalism that I hope to cherish always: its devotion to the search for truth, its insistence on an open and analytical mind, its refusal to abandon the best light of reason…

    Niebuhr’s great contribution to theology is that he has refuted the false optimism characteristic of a great segment of Protestant liberalism. Moreover, Niebuhr has extraordinary insight into human nature, especially the behavior of nations and social groups. He is keenly aware of the complexity of human motives and of the relation between morality and power. His theology is a persistent reminder of the reality of sin on every level of man’s existence. These elements in Niebuhr’s thinking helped me to recognize the illusions of a superficial optimism concerning human nature and the dangers of a false idealism. While I still believed in man’s potential for good, Niebuhr made me realize his potential for evil as well. Moreover, Niebuhr helped me to recognize the complexity of man’s social involvement and the glaring reality of collective evil.

    Many pacifists, I felt, failed to see this. All too many had an unwarranted optimism concerning man and leaned unconsciously toward self- righteousness. After reading Niebuhr, I tried to arrive at a realistic pacifism. In other words, I came to see the pacifist position not as sinless but as the lesser evil in the circumstances.

  10. Tim says:

    The remarkable thing about Obama is that, even after watching the scorched earth Republican politics of the past three dacades, he still thought that he could “work with them”.

    I tell you what else doesn’t work: relying on the ‘vote for us because the GOP is much worse’ strategy. Whatever Democrats have gained in wooing “independents” with the fear strategy, they’ve lost by fostering cynicism and bitterness in their natural constituencies. Furthermore, since Democrats have relied to heavily on the ‘fear-the-GOP’ strategy, they’ve neglected the long term necessity to do party-building.

  11. Mike # 22 says:

    Best laugh I’ve had in a while. Thanks.

    On the absence of referees, Mike Roddy has a solution. A new Newspaper of Record, and the quicker this gets organized the better. There are enough good journalists working on line to fill the bench. I nominate JR for Chair of the Ethics Committee, and I recommend that the Ethics Committee can fire anyone.

    “They’ve realized that their rhetoric doesn’t have to bear any connection to their policy agenda” I wonder if they have discovered this by accident, because they are scared to death of the internet, they are shouting anything that comes to mind, to stave off the day and hour when the media finally catches on. For some reason, its working for them, but this can’t go on forever (smile). Anyone with a computer and some common sense can out these people easily. And after people realize what has been done in the name of a few trillion dollars in profits, they will be mad.

  12. Rob Honeycutt says:

    David @ 3… I don’t think I would call the voters referees. They’re more like rowdy fans in the stadium. Elections are won and lost based on the fraction fans you can get to come to the game.

  13. Jeff Huggins says:

    Read It and Weep — and (then) Let’s Get Our Act Together

    I agree with most of what Dave Roberts is saying here (I haven’t read the full original, yet, so I can’t comment on that). I disagree on some points, not with his central point but with a few of the important ancillary things he tosses in that, I think, are incorrect and that risk causing us to come to some incorrect conclusions about what sorts of things might work going forward.

    But first things first …

    President Obama should read Dave’s piece, five times or more, whatever it takes for him to get it.

    Secondly, some (of many) of the implications of what Dave writes are things like these: When Bill McKibben mentions the phrase ‘civil disobedience’ in a big speech, he’ll have to begin meaning it to the point of planning and implementing actions on that basis. In the recent speech, he used the phrase but then went on to describe the next central event: the bicycling-themed event that will take place on some day some months from now. My guess at this point (does anyone else agree?) is that once-a-year global themed events will not do the trick in the face of the sort of situation we’re in, the sorts of changes that need making, and the type of political-policy (or whatever) environment Dave describes.

    Similarly, Bonnie Frye Hemphill will, I hope, when she gives her next big speech to ten thousand folks in DC, go way beyond telling them that they’re “awesome” and “in” and actually march all ten thousand down to the White House to sit, stand, talk, sleep, eat, sing songs, and simply stay there until President Obama comes out, listens to them, and promises to get his act together, use the bully pulpit, educate the public, and adopt a whole new (and real) strategy regarding climate change. Our leaders — including the most enthusiastic and inspiring ones, like Bonnie — will have to move from simply talking to actually Leading Actions, and those Actions will need to be Actions with a Capital ‘A’, Actions that ‘Kick A’, and Actions that deserve the word Awesome. (My compliments to Bonnie. My point here is not really about her, of course: It’s about what the movement will need to DO if we’re going to make progress in the face of the situation and in the face of the sort of political mess that Dave describes.)

    Just to mention one thing regarding which I’d like to disagree with Dave or, at least, offer a correction:

    Something that Dave wrote said, or implied, that there is no independent middle (or at least that it’s not very big). Something else implied (or seemed to assume) that nearly all people who are in the Repub party either lead (that party’s) thinking and politicking or will forever fall prey to their leaders’ thinking and politicking. Although I entirely agree with Dave that the naive compromise-oriented approach that Obama is following is entirely ineffective (for the reason’s Dave mentions) and must go, I don’t think it’s correct for us to assume that all Repub voters are SO committed (in their identities as Repubs) that they will forever fall for the political smoke clouds, bad thinking, and inconsistencies that their leaders are selling them and trying to sell them IF they come to understand that those stances are against their own interests. In other words, it’s one thing for a person (e.g., a lower-middle-class person who is a Repub at this point) to follow and vote for his present leaders out of his own deep identification of himself as a Repub/conservative, IF he doesn’t know any better, BUT IF he ultimately sees that their Policies and policies are NOT in his best interest, he will (or at least may) being voting against them, sooner or later. Put another way, humans are powerfully influenced by their own self-identifications, and we are often very, very reluctant to shift how we see and identify ourselves. But, humans also don’t like to think of themselves as idiots, and we don’t like to think that we are voting against our own interests — voting for things that will ultimately hurt us. So, Republicans who can be brought around to ultimately see that the Policies and policies of their Repub leaders are actually NOT in their own best interests, and Repubs who can be brought around to see that they are (in too many cases) being led by idiots, may (some percentage of them) shift parties, change their votes, or at least get so fed up that they stay home on voting day. Put another way, when a person’s “identity”, regard for his own self-interest, and regard for his own ability to consider himself a good thinker, come into conflict, then things are up for grabs. “Identity” (for example, to a political party) doesn’t always win. Indeed, for much of my life (in earlier parts of it), I identified myself mostly as a Repub, and I mostly voted Republican. The nonsense just got too high. I couldn’t retain that “identity” AND my self-respect as a good thinker at the same time. One of them had to go.

    But, what we (in the movements, etc.) have utterly failed to do is to state, explain, and show clearly (to everyone, including Repubs) that the Repub stances are not in the best interests of most Repubs, that most Repubs are actually voting against their own interests, and that most stances of the Repub leadership are nonsense. (This is not to mention other problems, such as the fact that even many Demo policies are not very good, and some of them are nonsense, especially as we water them down in order to appeal to Repub leadership who will never agree, no matter what.)

    Anyhow, I think President Obama should change his strategy, dramatically, but I don’t think we should “write off” (give up on) large chunks of voters, ultimately, just because they presently identify ‘Republican’. If those voters (over the long haul) can be made or helped to see that the Repub Policy and policies (being offered and politically pitched by their leaders) are NOT in their own best interests and indeed defy the laws of logic itself, then at least some of those voters will shift. (It may take some time.) In the meantime, Obama should adopt a full-court-press in favor of policies that excellent thinking, excellent values, and scientific understanding demand (at this point) regarding climate change — no compromises.



  14. Mike # 22:

    Great, every time when someone laments the sore lack of fact-checking, or the nonsensical attacks on the very idea of facts, some wacko comes along and screams, “ARGH!!!! SO YOU WANT A POLICE FORCE TO REGULATE THOUGHT?!?!?!?”

    Here’s a suggestion for Mike (if indeed he’s a real person): If your house ever gets burgled, do not call the police — after all, the police, the judges, and the jury are nothing more than self-appointed truth arbiters who dictate thought and oppress the free will, no? Instead of calling the police when his house is burgled, he should report his case to the Internet. For surely the Internet will be able to solve the burglary in a truly democratic fashion, and Mike will be free of all those attempts to control his mind.


  15. Merrelyn Emery says:

    It sounds to me as if at least some part of this problem would be solved if you introduced compulsory voting. Then when the people who were lied to by Paul Ryan in the theme below turned up to vote, they would remember that lie and vote accordingly. As it is, they simply become more apathetic and stay home.

    Without compulsory voting, only those who get excited enough about something go out to vote and its easy enough to stir up a few people if you have enough money – isn’t that the origin of the Tea Party?

    Compulsory voting evens up the field, ME

  16. Merrelyn Emery says:

    In contrast to US politics consider the article entitled “The Sacred and the Dead” by Robert Koehler at the Huff Post under Climate Change, ME

  17. Mike # 22 says:

    frank bi, I assure that I do exist, although can’t prove it. Could you decode your comment somewhat? I think it is clear already, but the experience of reading Roberts’ superb skewering of the Rejectionist Party’s flaws was so pleasurable I was laughing. I am still grinning.

  18. Merrelyn

    I am an Australian. We have compulsory voting here. We also have preferential voting so although we have two major parties some minor parties can get elected, expecially to our Senate.

    But, our opposition leader has fully adopted the playbook of the US Republicans and is having great success. We have the same problem as you do, the media report the political battle and ignore the policy. This means that it is virtually impossible to pass legislation based on evidence or logic.

    Our “left” party is attempting to win over the conservatives with major concessions, but that just seems to heighten the blood lust of the crazies on the political right.

    A word of warning for any Americans wishing to investigate Australian politics – the Liberal Party is our version of your Republican Party.

    Here is a discussion by three of our politicians and a journalist on the question: “Is Australian Democracy Broken?”:

    The point was made fairly early (4 mintues 45 seconds)that the media obsession with personalities rather than politics was a real problem.

  19. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Stephen #19. I am an Aussie and have also watched our political system go down hill in recent times. There are many problems with representative democracy which is inherently flawed and vulnerable to somebody like the Mad Monk and his Tea party-like antics.

    Yes, a well functioning rep dem also depends on a responsible media as well as a well educated citizenry but all this misses the point. We would be a hundred times worse off if voting could be even more easily manipulated by the wealthy and the powerful as has happened with the Tea party in the USA, ME

  20. “Mike # 22”, I’m sure the average lurker can perfectly understand what I said, even if you can’t — or won’t. That’s OK enough for me.


  21. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Stephen Spencer #19, the reality in Australian politics is that, in my opinion, as you observe, Abbott has adopted the absolute oppositionalism approach, and has been aided and abetted, to the point of outright partnership, by the Rightwing MSM. The Murdoch media is guilty of not just ‘trivialising’ politics, but of such blatant partisanship and bias as to be scarcely credible. Every topic is twisted and distorted by it to suit the most extreme Rightwing ideological agenda, which suits Abbott down to the ground.
    In the face of the Murdochian assault on rationality, truth, science, human solidarity, compassion and decency, the politicians of the Labor Party have acted, in my opinion, with utter cowardice, and over and over again displayed the fact that they believe in nothing but gaining power to service the interests of the rich, then collect their ‘rewards’ upon retirement. The crazy truth is that Abbott attacks policies, in regard to carbon pricing for instance, that are the same as those proposed a few years ago by his Dark Master and mentor, John Howard.
    This, of course, is where ‘democracy’ in capitalist economies withers and decays. There is no way to keep the most psychologically and spiritually damaged persons out of the political process. Where gaining power is the only good, and the money power’s dominance of the media so great that any political agenda to the Left of Margaret Thatcher is declared anathema, and those proposing it are relentlessly attacked, vilified, denied their say, lied about and, often enough, driven from public life, society must devolve into an anomic, compassionless, greedy, paranoid and, above all else, hate-filled, bedlam. Preaching fear and utter hatred of all that Murdoch, Abbott and their ilk find ‘other’ to their exquisite selves and their type, has rapidly made this society ugly and brutish. Every single day the Murdoch media revile unionists, teachers, Moslems, environmentalists, the Chinese, refugees, welfare recipients etc, all in the interests of garnering the electoral support of those who vote according to their fear, hatred and paranoia. And this incessant hate and fearmongering drives society further and further to the Right, particularly when the moral imbeciles of the Labor Party not only refuse to fight it, but more and more adopt those policies and that hate-filled rhetoric as their own.
    Needless to say, a hate-filled populace, fearful, with its living standards deliberately being destroyed by the parasite elites who control everything, is not only incapable of addressing ecological catastrophe, but any other crisis that requires collective action. Indeed the most sinister success of the Right may be its triumph in painting collective action as evil and brainwashing society into believing that individual greed, self-interest and egotism is the highest expression of humanity.

  22. SqueakyRat says:

    Democracy at the end of its rope: not pretty, is it? The systemic breakdown of our politics is of one piece with the corruption of our economy and the ecological abyss into which we’re staring. None of these catastrophes has the slightest prospect of solution or even amelioration.

  23. Richard D says:
    interesting program on glaciology in the antarctic (the program name is incorrect)

  24. dp says:

    despite the wealthiest getting the best of government service, i don’t think you could call this an oligarchy. oligarchy implies a will & a duty to govern, a sense of responsibility, a sense that wearing the mantle of power means seeking justice and taking pride in well-executed administration. what we have here is a few people using public systems for personal enrichment: kleptocracy.

  25. Tom says:

    As the Earth squeezes us through this bottleneck of too many people and too few resources (including the lopsided distribution of wealth) at the very time climate change is ramping up to catastrophic levels (hey, if the recent southern tornado outbreak isn’t a clear indication of climate change to the denialists, what will be?) there will come a time where most of the population “gets it” but it will of course be far too late to “do anything” about it. Unfortunately we’re all on the same sinking ship of state and even those who survive the next 10 years may wish they hadn’t.

  26. Adam R. says:

    Wonderful piece by David Roberts.

    Revkin, Pielke, Curry, Kloor and the rest of the concern trolls still do not get it. There is no point in attempting accommodation with the Republicans: climate change “moderates” are merely their tools.

  27. Mike # 22 says:

    Things stay the same until they change.

    The pundits are good at dissecting the here and now, but have no skill at anticipating the step changes like the recent housing crash. Circumstances which seem to be immutable can evaporate in a few months or years, and suddenly everyone has TV, toilets and pictures from the moon.

    The internet is on the one hand the simple extension of humankind’s need to communicate, a need which has driven so many technologies over the past tens of thousands of years, a fascinating story behind so much social evolution, and on the other, the internet has the sheer power to multiply both good or evil and bring about a genuine step change.

    Famous not only for his funding support for the establishment of the internet, Vice President Gore used his authority to get government agencies to go online, and establish websites. From this work of less than twenty years ago, the number of people with good access to the data on our government has multiplied by five or six orders of magnitude, and through the steady pressure of public participation, the presentation of the information itself is becoming steadily more transparent. Thirty years ago, the average person would have little opportunity to learn the enormous contradiction between Republican claims that President Reagan was a fiscal conservative, and the fact that government got fat under his leadership, and that the national debt was doubled. There are hundreds of examples just like this where the actual policies of the Republicans are 180 degrees opposite to their rhetoric. Never before have democracies had the tools to compare their leaderships’ performance to their claims. I know it is asking a lot of the average citizen to fact check their leadership, and most won’t take the time away from their other pursuits, unless, unless, something really big comes down the road and knocks on their door. Like the ocean if they happen to live near it.

    Purely coincidentally, an inconvenient truth has arisen in that a small area of our techno-industrial base has the potential to wreck the world. The facts on the Global Warming are very clear, the consequences beyond horrific. This crisis is unquestionably several orders of magnitude more important than any crisis human kind has ever faced, yet people remain largely in ignorance. How can this be? The tendency to attribute this massive disconnect to one or another human failing is in my opinion wrong. The sense that we are somehow trapped by human complacency and political corruption to slide into this disaster is ill founded in my estimation. It is suicide, and most people reject suicide. What I see is analogous to the short lived state of the atoms in a pumped laser, just before it lases. Step change territory. The information is there, it just hasn’t burned through the smoke screen, yet.

    So where is Journalism in this, why aren’t they alerting us to this clear and present danger, and why aren’t they fact checking what the Republicans are saying, and for that matter, Fox News and the rest? Paper and broadcast media may have always been this weak, and we are only now realizing how poor their access to all the data has been. In any case, they have failed at giving us an objective report on Global Warming and whether our elected officials are behaving responsibly. I have been saying this to anyone who will listen for many years (not that they understand, and most people are too busy to do the fact checking) and not just on fossil fuels. To read Roberts’ superb writing on this was a pleasure. Would that this is followed up by a report from Scotland Yard tracing the SWiftHack back to the usual suspects, now that would be really good access to facts, but I digress.

    The internet has the ability to do both fact checking, and to validate the fact checkers (journalists) themselves and verify the quality and accuracy of the journalism being done. Remember, we are just two short decades into this internet thing, and the phenomena of online journalism is even more recent. The same peer review process which underpins science is possibly at work here, although on a much faster cycle. I am aware of at least a hundred individuals doing internet journalism on the topic of Global Warming whose work is of very high quality. They have mastery over the material, and they are doing their best to present it in a straightforward and unbiased fashion. From their computers, they can see across the whole world, and have more access to data then was ever dreamt of. Flat earth. Step change territory. Many are combining different aspects of the topic in valuable ways, making new connections at a startling rate. And they are fact checking each other, increasingly so, and in the process we can see who is most correct and most ethical. I would hope these journalists could form a cooperative sometime soon, the time is right, the need never greater, because old journalism has failed us.

    Who has the most to fear from the internet? I thought for many years it was the Chinese Government, but now I think it is the massively dishonest people in our government. Their behavior is inexplicable otherwise. They are bombing the media with tall tale after tall tale, trying to maintain control of the news cycle, but in their need (in their fear); they have taken their constituents far away from reality, and onto various versions of Beck’s chalk board. Again, the consensus seems to be that we are stuck with a country where half the people are running on misinformation, climate zombies, but these days I think we are looking a massive departure from a sustainable political landscape, with rebound inevitable. Folks are not normally as paranoid as they have been manipulated into being. Doing nothing about CO2 is defacto suicide, albeit a generation or two removed. Folks aren’t like that. They like to plan for a better future for the children and grandkids, setting up college funds and what. I am guessing the Republican leadership is scrambling for ways to get past holding the bag for Global Warming and fiscal irresponsibility, and change the subject fast, they must realize the trap they are in.

    At the local level, society tries to follow a very old pattern. Most of us want to live in a clean and friendly community, we wish to be comfortable, we cherish our children and parents. At the local level, political parties don’t mean very much, and I am fortunate to live in a place where the politicians and the police are also friends and neighbors, and they are working in a transparent way to make this place more beautiful and more sustainable. That is what matters most, is place, and then along comes this horrific threat and also maybe the tools to manage it. Thanks CP, and all the other people out there working to resolve this. This is my community also. Sorry if that wasn’t more clear, Frank.

  28. Tom Lenz says:

    David #3, my role as voter “referee” ended in 2000 when the right wing packed Supreme Court of the US gave me and all other Americans who voted for Al Gore a huge middle finger. So much for true democracy. I still vote but do so with knowledge learned from bitter experience that an individual’s vote is practically meaningless in this country. Can anyone imagine how different our country and the world would be now if The ‘W’ had never been crowned?

  29. MarkF says:

    1. Obama is not a “moderate republican”

    he is to the right of that. for instance his “health care reform” is now shown to be originally from the Heritage Institute.

    “The Heritage Foundation’s 1989 report is considered to be the conceptual origin of the health insurance mandate.The concept of the individual health insurance mandate originated in 1989 at the conservative Heritage Foundation. In 1993, Republicans twice introduced health care bills that contained an individual health insurance mandate. Advocates for those bills included prominent Republicans who today oppose the mandate including Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Robert Bennett (R-UT), and Christopher Bond (R-MO). In 2007, Democrats and Republicans introduced a bi-partisan bill containing the mandate.

    In 2008, then presidential candidate Barack Obama was opposed to the individual mandate. ”

    2. Obama is glad to have the republicans, who are useful to him as a tiny fig leaf to enable him to enact what he wants, and then pretend he had no choice.

    see the “deficit commission” which wants to cut social security. all appointees of Obama.

    This strategy is fooling very few.

    3. The media does a poor job, but is it really that much worse than it ever was? the media covered up reports from Hiroshima, and published reports that the military approved, after the nuclear attacks. that was sixty years ago.

  30. “Mike #22”, I apologize… I thought you were trolling.

    Anyway, unfortunately the Republican Party is still alive and strong even though its death had been predicted numerous times. Remember that they are still strong enough to bring the US to the edge of a furlough.

    And the Internet? They still have a supply of trolls, shills, and automated sockpuppets at their disposal. So to praise the Internet as the saviour of the world is rather premature at this point. It’ll take an awful lot of gruntwork — on the activist front, on the political front, and on the investigative front — before the redeeming qualities of the Internet can overpower its exploitative potential. Where ‘gruntwork’ means ‘lots of sleepless nights’.


  31. madcitysmitty says:

    To paraphrase Bill, “It’s the FILIBUSTER stupid.” The single most important reason for Obama’s (and our) failures from Jan 2009 to Jan. 2011 was the unprecedented use of the 60-vote filibuster rule in the Senate. With a 50-vote majority in the Senate and the amazing job Pelosi did in the House (passing 400-some bills that just sat in the Senate), the world would be a different place today.

  32. Sasparilla says:

    David #3, just my thought here, I don’t think we can call voters, referees, rather I believe a more appropriate term for them is “participants”.

    The word referee, to me of course, implies impartiality and an understanding of the truth despite whatever shenanigans may be going on to distract the audience (and the referees).

    As David Roberts was implying, we had something close to a referee system with regards to politics in the U.S. previously and it was the press – particularly the 3 main networks when they were the main suppliers of people’s daily news (as well as the profitable newspaper business).

    This has been eroded and destroyed over the last three decades (along with so much else) with several outlets, Murdoch’s in particular, known for not communicating the truth when it didn’t suit their political desires – climate change being a prime example.

    Once a large section of the voting population (Fox news viewership for example, although Murdoch has the Wall Street Journal now and others…) gets an extremely manipulated view of “reality” (i.e. propaganda) as their main news input then the premise of a self correcting and reactive Democracy starts to fall apart. Since those folks are getting news that tells them global warming isn’t real or the current administration has been blocking oil drilling or whatever – that is what is real to them.

    Now we have to wait till things that don’t cross the political spectrum for resolution reach a true crisis level, are undeniable and urgent to whichever section of the media hasn’t been acknowledging it and not allowing it to be dealt with – unfortunately with regards to climate change, we have a problem that can’t be put off until its a local constant crisis, by then it will be too late to prevent runaway warming.

    I have no doubt that if we were dealing with the climate change issue and the conditions of where we are now and what we understand (now) was occurring in the 80’s or earlier we would have dealt with it – not easily or smoothly or fast enough but we would have moved forward because the referees were still on duty then and would have made sure the truth was told and understood. We’ve allowed our media system to be subverted to the extent that we can’t handle a civilization ending problem that we could have handled 30 years ago. Just my $0.02 on that.

  33. Artful Dodger says:

    “the referees — the media — don’t call balls and strikes anymore”

    Didn’t the Framers intend that the Judiciary be the Referees? Now that the Courts has been usurped by monied interests, including stealing the Wisconsin Supreme Court Election, why would the Corporate-owned Media act any differently?

    These are deeply seated, intrenched, and intractable Systemic problems. The very Republic hangs in the balance.

  34. Anna Haynes says:

    > “To have an Adult Conversation. To be Reasonable People, to draw forth other Reasonable People with the power of ideas and together transcend petty partisan squabbling and move forward with a Commonsense Agenda based on Shared Values. ”

    FYI, this is pretty much what Mark Meckler (Tea Party Patriot co-founder) said earlier this week.

    If there’s no one calling foul when the rhetoric’s at odds with the actions, we do have a problem.

    (& the bad-faith next move is to dress like a referee, say you’re a referee, but loudly call fouls when rhetoric’s 1 degree off course, & stay silent when it’s off 180 degrees)

  35. Catchblue22 says:

    “Post Truth Society” indeed. We are the same species that burned witches. We are the same species that has shown a tendency to wallow in irrational religious paranoia and superstition. We are not inherently rational. Any honest analysis of history will show this.

    I think we take for granted the systems of reason and logic that we have developed. I think we take for granted how hard it was for our ancestors to create systems of rational government, of education, of laws, of democracy. I think we underestimate the consequences of what will happen if we abandon the search for Truth through reason and logic. In a world where there is no such thing as “Fact”, but only opinion, political discourse will deteriorate to raucous brawling.

    I think the best analogy in history of what could happen in the next century is what happened after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Simply put, reason was largely abandoned, and superstition was the ruling force. For a thousand years, the inhabitants of the former Roman Empire lost the ability to build impressively engineered structures, to create beautiful art and sculpture, and to manage their civilization rationally. It was a period of decay and stagnation, socially, politically, and economically.

    The phrase “Post Truth Society” seems to me to be a white flag of surrender, a diagnosis by a scientist observing an ant colony from above. We must remember that we are all members of our society. The decay of reason will affect all of us. We are in effect fighting a war. Our opponents are often evil people, who have little motivation except their own selfish interests. I am convinced that many powerful billionaires are evil psychopaths. I suspect that many of our powerful elites would have been forced to drink hemlock if they had lived in the ancient Athens.

    Our grand parents and great grand parents fought in WWII to preserve freedom and democracy against the power worshipping fascists of Europe. Now we face a less clear, but perhaps equally dangerous threat to our freedom and well being. We the citizens of this democracy must mobilize, and rise up to protect it. We are at war.

  36. Mike # 22 says:

    frank, no harm ,I should be more precise with JR’s ink, since he is so gracious in allowing others the use of it.

  37. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Well said Catchblue22 #36, ME

  38. MightyDrunken says:

    Great post by Dave Roberts, I think he nails the problem with the Republicans. Now what to do about it?