10/16/2012 01:34 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Smirking and Magical Thinking

One of the wonders of our age is the persistence of "birthers" and other true believers who insist that Barack Obama is an Islamist terrorist mole bent on destroying America. They perceived an angry black man behind the "elitist smirk" they spotted during the first presidential debate on Oct. 3. They must have overlooked the smirks on Mitt Romney's face as he listened to the president. And Republican smirks could be seen amid the post-debate consensus that an aggressive Romney had beaten a passive Obama. The theatrical aspects of the face-off trumped Romney's flip-flops and falsehoods.

More conspiracy mongering was on view Oct. 5. After the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the unemployment rate had fallen to 7.8 percent, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch tweeted, "Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers." Later, he stood by the charge of data tampering even after admitting he had nothing to back it up.

Forget the legendary thoroughness with which BLS protects its data integrity. Sen. John McCain and other conservatives sang "amen!" to Welch's baseless charge. Why should evidence get in the way of a good story? As long as you're making stuff up, you might as well go whole hog. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a pleasing falsehood to be dislodged from the mind of a fanatic. The partisans who devise these smears may be false prophets, but it's a lucrative business.

Magical thinking propels the know-nothings who currently dominate the Republican Party. This was not changed by Romney's moderate makeover at the first debate. I am tempted to say that the only way his cynical positioning can work is if our nation is populated by nitwits, but then a 2011 CNN poll found that 22 percent of Americans think the Corporation for Public Broadcasting gets more than 10 percent of the entire federal budget.

And this flight from reality isn't only a problem on the right. I recently encountered one of the authors of the Dallas Principles, the 2009 document by LGBT activists disillusioned by Obama's slowness in delivering Utopia. He smirked as I said that an imperfect ally is still an ally. I avoided saying that some of us are weary of show horses who claim the fruits of a collective struggle while they denigrate the incremental efforts that prepared the harvest.

If the self-righteous progressives who scorn Obama endangered only themselves, I would be less concerned. But we all have a lot to lose. Romney has cited Antonin Scalia as a model for Supreme Court appointments. Scalia recently spoke without restraint about matters likely to come before the court: "The death penalty? Give me a break. It's easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state." (Sigh. He should have read the briefs in Lawrence.)

Three Supreme Court justices will turn 80 in the next presidential term: Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If Ginsburg (the oldest) retires, a President Romney could cement a conservative majority. Much would be imperiled, including women's reproductive rights and marriage equality.

I love old movies and enjoy imitating Charlton Heston's Moses intoning, "Behold His mighty hand!" to part the Red Sea. Alas, without Cecil B. DeMille's special effects, and with only a breadstick for a staff, I failed to part the waters of the Washington Channel one evening after dinner.

People with greater faith may fare better. But those who seek progress rather than collecting grievances will spare us the heroic poses in favor of doggedly working and pressing toward each advance until it ripens. That's where the evidence points.

This piece originally appeared on Bay Windows and Metro Weekly.