03/03/2007 12:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Welcome to the Post-Factual Era

A simple question: Why is politics the only arena where those who turned out to be right still get flayed as outcasts, while those who are known to be utterly wrong get rewarded as visionaries? In business, if you make the wrong calls, you lose money and, most often, lose your job. If you make the right call, you make a lot of money, and you usually get promoted. There are exceptions to this axiom, of course (see, for example, the CEO of Home Depot)- but it generally works this way. In politics, it generally works the opposite way. The people who make the right call on the big issues are punished with elite vitiriol, and those who repeatedly make the wrong calls on such issues are vaulted into the highest echelons of the Establishment.

Nowhere was this more obvious than on the Iraq War. As Jebediah Reed at Radar Magazine has shown in detail, most of the major pundits who led the cheering section for the war have been rewarded with promotions, while those writers who actually accurately predicted the war as a disaster have been cast aside like pieces of garbage.

This has also happened when it comes to "free" trade. Despite the fact that NAFTA and China PNTR have helped destroy American wages and jobs; have increased our trade deficit to crisis proportions; and have been a key weapon in preventing global environmental and human rights standards, the people who predicted such outcomes are still regarded with contempt and berated with false attacks, while the people who championed such awful policies are considered the legitimate voices of reason. Jeff Faux spells this out particularly well today over at TPM Cafe:

"Why is it that in these globalization discussions among college educated professionals, it is always the integrity and motivation of those who challenge the corporate line that is suspect?...Have you asked free-traders if they want to see children in India go blind making rugs, union activists tortured and murdered in Columbia, women workers locked inside filthy factories in China? Or laid off manufacturing workers commit suicide in the US? Of course not. Then why ask me to prove to you that I don't want to keep the Chinese poor?...It's a measure of the pervasiveness of class in our culture that "liberals" begin a discussion about globalization with the assumption that political virtue lives on Wall Street and political vice at the AFL-CIO. If anything, the argument for NAFTA was the less serious. It was based on promises of jobs, reduced immigration and prosperity among the Mexican poor that promoters knew were false when they made them. It was a crappy deal for workers in all three countries. Why such contempt for people who turned out to be right?"

The answer, of course, has to do with where the money and power is. The Establishment is reflexively pro-war, and - for obvious reasons of profit making - innately supportive of "free" trade deals that are chock full of corporate protections (patents, copyrights, intellectual property restrictions) but stripped of basic protections for human beings (wages, labor standards, human rights, environmental regulations, etc.).

But still, there is something troubling when these innate biases consume the entire debate and those who have been so utterly and completely right are utterly and completely berated as illegitimate. It speaks to a political discourse where the "reality-based community" is totally replaced by what I would call the "post-factual" era - a period in time where the dialogue does not even pretend to be based on any actual evidence or concrete information and where the most factually wrong are paraded around as the most right. And just a quick look at the chaos in Iraq or the economic havoc being wreaked here at home shows that this "post-factualism" does not bode well for anyone other than the handful of elites at the top.