Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mitt Romney’s Reality Check

NEW YORK – There is a kind of war underway in the United States nowadays between fact and fantasy. President Barack Obama’s re-election marked a victory, limited but unmistakable, for the cause of fact.

Events in the days leading up to America’s presidential election provided a stark illustration of the struggle. Among senior aides to Republican challenger Mitt Romney, a belief developed that he was on the cusp of victory. Their conviction had no basis in poll results. Nevertheless, the feeling grew so strong that aides began to address Romney as “Mr. President.”

But wanting that to be true was not enough for them to make it true. It would be as close to becoming President as Romney would get, and he apparently wanted to enjoy it while he could, however prematurely. Then, on election night, when the television networks projected Romney’s defeat in Ohio and therefore Barack Obama’s re-election, the Romney campaign, in a further denial of fact, refused to accept the result. A very awkward hour passed before he accepted reality and made a gracious concession speech.

The same disregard for reality has been the hallmark not only of the Republican campaign but of the entire Republican Party in recent times. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued a report in October showing that the national unemployment rate remained “essentially unchanged at 7.9%,” Republican operatives sought to discredit the highly respected BLS. When polls showed that Romney was falling behind President Barack Obama, they sought to discredit the polls. When the non-partisan Congressional Research Service reported that a Republican tax plan would do nothing to foster economic growth, Republican Senators muscled the CRS into withdrawing its report.

These refusals to accept matters of plain fact reflect a still wider pattern. Increasingly, the Republican Party, once a fairly normal political party, has granted itself a license to live in an alternate reality – a world in which George W. Bush did find the weapons of mass destruction that he had thought were in Iraq; tax cuts eliminate budget deficits; Obama is not only a Muslim but was born in Kenya and thus should be disqualified from the presidency; and global warming is a hoax concocted by a cabal of socialist scientists. (The Democrats, for their part, have had one foot in the camp of unreality as well.)

Of all of the Republicans’ unreal beliefs, their full-throated denial of human-induced climate change was surely the most consequential. After all, if left unchecked, global warming has the potential to degrade and destroy the climactic conditions that underlay and made possible the rise of human civilization over the last ten millennia.

Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, had expressed belief in the reality of global warming. As a presidential candidate, however, he joined the deniers – a switch made clear when he accepted the party’s nomination in Tampa, Florida, in August. “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans,” Romney told the Republican convention, and then paused, with the expectant smile of a comedian waiting for the audience to catch on to the joke.

It did. Laughter broke and built. Romney let it grow, then delivered the punch line:  “And to heal the planet.” The crowd cracked up. It was perhaps the most memorable and lamentable moment in a lamentable campaign – a moment that, in the history now to be written of humanity’s effort to preserve a livable planet, is destined for immortal notoriety.

There was an astonishing sequel. Eight weeks later, Hurricane Sandy struck the New Jersey shore and New York City. Its 14-foot surge of seawater was backed by the sea-level rise already caused by a century of global warming, and the storm’s sweep and intensity was fueled by a warming planet’s warmer ocean waters. That tide of reality – what Alexander Solzhenitsyn once called “the pitiless crowbar of events”— burst the closed bubble of Romney’s campaign, its walls breached as decisively as those of lower Manhattan and Far Rockaway.

In the contest between fact and fantasy, fact suddenly had a powerful ally. The political map was subtly but consequentially redrawn. Obama swung into action, now not just a suspect candidate but a trusted president whose services were sorely needed by the battered population of the East Coast. Eight of ten voters, as polls showed, viewed his performance favorably, and many declared that the impression influenced their vote.

In a surprising, politically potent twist, New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, who had been the keynote speaker at the Republican convention at which Romney had mocked the dangers of global warming, turned out to be one of those impressed with Obama’s performance, and said so publicly.

The American political world – not only Republicans, but also Democrats (albeit to a lesser extent) – had fenced out huge, ominous realities. But those realities, as if listening and responding, entered the fray. They voted early, and they may very well have swayed the outcome. Earth spoke, and Americans, for once, listened.

Read more from our "Four More Years for Obama" Focal Point. 

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    1. Commentedjames durante

      There are many levels of delusional thinking that comprise the cultural heart of "civilization," the very thing Schell seems so desperate to save. There is the idea that you can somehow square the relentless expansionism of civilizations with justice. There is the idea that civilization can compensate for the loss of primitive innocence when all it does is destroy it with increasing rapacity. There is the idea that "this time is different" and civilization will magically save itself when every civilization, by its very operation, brings about its own collapse.

      Does Schell think that the slightly less delusional democrats have a plan for countering the constant growth model of this civilization? That is delusional.

    2. Commentedjack lasersohn

      You might consider that if a population is lied to often enough, it begins to distrust all historic sources of authority, and is easily preyed upon by charlatans.

      Since you have focused on the lies of the right i will mention a few on the left. The government has been a prime source for many of these 'big lies'.The biggest, and the source of much of the rational anger on the right, has been the claim since the days of FDR and Johnson that we could finance the kind of entitlement system they created without massive taxes on the American middle class at some point. We have reached that point and the portion of the American populous who actually pay taxes have recognized the lie and are now in open revolt.
      The 'big lie' of the recent campaign, that we can finance our enormous future public liabilities , with a tax increase on the upper 1%, was as outrageous as any on the republican side.
      The rejection of science on the left is just as crazy as on the right, from 'vaccines cause autism' , to 'herbal upper colonics cure cancer', to 'all the strontium 90 found in the baby teeth of children must come from nuclear power plants', etc.
      If carbon from fossil fuel is causing global warming, then the rational answer is to tax fossil carbon and let market innovators figure out how to deal with it. Instead, Obama grants special subsidies to favored constituents while implying that this is somehow the answer, so that his favored 'middle class' need never pay a penny to save the planet.
      And the rest of the left wing blogosphere offers similar 'pain free' solutions (debt financed stimulus) to a market crash caused by middle class families buying homes they could not afford on credit.
      Any objective observer should be as shocked by the fantasies of the left as by those of the right.
      If not, one is simply another wild eyed partisan arguing with other partisans about whose fantasies are more unbelievable.

    3. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      Unfortunately not only the Republicans are living in fantasy land.
      The whole of the US and together with them the whole global world is still living in a fantasy of constant quantitative growth as the only possible way of living.
      All the other problems, facts mentioned in the article, including humanity's opposition to nature is part of the same package, and the solution has to also address this root cause.
      The bottom line is that while humanity is simply part of the vast, natural ecosystem around, humans live as if they were above the system and could do whatever they want, inventing their own systems, laws and principles.
      Even if we do not attribute the climate and weather changes directly to human effect, the economical and financial system based on the same attitude is already collapsing burying all of us underneath.
      The only solution is to find our way back to the natural system, recognizing and following its laws, adapting to the intricately interconnected and interdependent system.
      And in that respect all the present leaders, experts and the public alike has to change fundamentally.
      Let us hope that President Obama and his team, freed from the worries of re-election understands this.

    4. CommentedJohn Simms

      In 2004 John Kerry refused to accept the result until Weds morning, yet something tells me Mr. Schell wouldn't have considered that a "denial of fact."

    5. Commentedjimmy rousseau

      Mr. Schell is actually being a little kind to republicans. There are some from this party who sit in congress, both as representatives and senators, who believe in a 6000 year old earth, mock evolution and geology and pay no price in the media for these views.
      But the author is correct in his assessment that eventually they must pay the price for this wilful ignorance. But no their is nothing equivalent on the democratic side of the fence.