The other day, my good friend Mark Evanier was musing on his wonderful blog about a problem that bothered him.
"It's one of the frustrations of politics," he wrote, "that so much of it is how facile someone is at 'defining' (i.e., selling a phony portrait of) the opposition. Democrats do it too but Republicans are better at it. They know how to convince a sizable portion of the U.S. that they shouldn't vote for Michael Dukakis because he likes to let black rapists out of prison, they shouldn't vote for Al Gore because he thinks he invented the Internet and they shouldn't vote for John Kerry because he really didn't earn those medals." Mark notes that if any of these men "were hammered for things they actually said or did, it would be a different matter."
It's a well-observed point, yet I think there's also a larger issue. It's one thing to lie about someone, it's another to have your lie believed. Whether or not Republicans do it more, their "defining" has tended to find a more willing audience who believes it. Part of that reason, no doubt, is because the audience has been bamboozled. But part is that some people want to believe the lies, want to believe the worst about someone they don't like. And when someone does that -- no matter how smart they may otherwise be -- they have given their consent to act stupid.
To be very clear, I am not suggesting that "all" Republicans act stupid. Or even most. They don't. Nor am I suggesting either that Democrats never-ever behave stupidly. They do. Often.
And to be even more clear, by "stupid" I don't mean simply disagreeing with an opinion. (The "Oh, that's just stupid" gambit.) I mean actually stupid. Thinking you can fly and stepping off a building to prove it. Buying a set of steak knives for your five-year-old. Like that. Like when one blindly accepts something against all known and rational evidence that has no basis in reality.
Believing that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, that is stupid.
Believing that Barack Obama is a Muslim, that is stupid.
Believing that Barack Obama might be a terrorist, that is stupid.
Believing that Barack Obama is comparable to Adolf Hitler, that is pathetically stupid.
Believing that Barack Obama is a Socialist, that is stupid.
Believing that Barack Obama is like Hitler and a Socialist - two completely opposite concepts - that is incredibly stupid.
Stupid. Like that.
A person who believes any of these things above, or defends them as opinion, "Well, we really don't know for sure that...", it is acting stupid. Because the rest of the world does know. Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike. Just because you believe something, doesn't make it so. If you believe arsenic is good for you, and drink it, you will die.
Okay, honestly, I know that nobody likes having anything they did called "stupid." Usually, people lash out that you're "elitist," when in fact wanting everyone informed is the polar opposite of elitism. Indeed, most people want their children to do better, know more, go farther in school than they ever did. Wanting people to rise above doing something stupid, that is living by a standard we all try to. (Right??)
Democrats, Independents and Republicans are all are quite capable at turning off their brains. But just as you would stop someone from walking blindly into traffic, it's equally necessary to address acts of stupidity rather than ignore them, because consequences exist. Stupid actions do not live in a vacuum.
As noted, the problem runs across the political spectrum. But as noted, it seems to have taken greater traction among Republicans. Perhaps they have better targets. Perhaps they're more adept at crafting their lies. Perhaps they've got a more willing audience. Perhaps it comes from the neocon culture that believes, "We can make up our own reality," as a Bush White House aide explained to Ron Suskind. Whatever the reason, those who pander with their lies know that they'll have a ready army, willing to march and carry the banners of those lies.
And that is the problem. Because stupid actions do not live in a vacuum. When you unlock the door wide and let in the brazenly stupid lies you're sold and believe them, you've now opened yourself to believing the merely-questionable tales that sound like just maybe they could be true, too. And when you believe all these questionable tales, your frame of reference grows ever smaller, and you have little perspective but to believe pretty much whatever you're told by those you've now established your trust in. You've built yourself a castle to protect all the tales you believe, to protect your identity and self-worth, leaving no openings for doubt, questions, debate and all the interesting gray areas of life that make the adventure so vibrant. And suddenly, all that's left is turning life into a battle to defend your insular, limited castle.
As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts."
Wanting to believe something to be true is no excuse.
This country deserves better.