“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion,” Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan reportedly observed, “but not his own facts.”
Today, that sharp rebuke sounds like the description of a golden age. In our mucky era of coal ash politics, facts seem increasingly irrelevant. Opinion and emotion, moral outrage and vacuous sloganeering are seen as the tickets to power.
The goal of modern politics – where common ground is a pipe dream and I win, you lose is the only acceptable outcome – is not to win a war of ideas but a war of words. He who maligns/defines his opponent shall rule.
North Carolina is ground zero for such efforts where Democrats believe that if you repeat the same attacks often enough, the ignorant booboisee will believe them. No description of GOP efforts is complete without the modifiers “mean-spirited,” “shameful” or “selfish.” To make these stick, Democrats ignore facts.
It was Democrats who first slashed teacher pay in North Carolina to balance the budget – fortunately Republicans are offering many of them raises. It was Democrats who let Duke Energy create dangerous coal ash ponds – thankfully Republicans are considering new safeguards.
Democrats rightly complain about Republican gerrymandering. While decrying this anti-democratic effort, conservative thinker John Hood has observed that “(N.C.) Democrats have never received a majority of votes for a legislative chamber and then, because of gerrymandering, won only a minority of seats. But that actually happened to Republicans in 2000, 2002 and 2004.”
Democrats insistently complain that North Carolina’s new voter ID laws augur a return to the days of Jim Crow. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of that era of lynchings and wholesale disenfranchisement understands the charge is closer to libel than poetic license. It also ignores the fact that 30 states have such laws that have had little, if any, effect on turnout.
Nationally, Democrats offer other narratives untethered to reality. Two of these fact-free canards were repeated in an Other Opinion piece in this space last week.
In 2000, the food stamp program provided about $18 billion to 17 million recipients. Today 48 million Americans – that’s 1 in 6 – are part of the program. Some of this increase stems from the recession, but much of it is due to relaxed standards. Almost 17 percent of households receiving benefits have incomes above the poverty line. One could argue that the program should be expanded, but don’t pretend that it has been gutted.
Finally, as we move toward the 2014 elections, Democrats incessantly charge that Republicans are using special interest money to buy elections and rig the system. This is especially rich given that it was the 2008 Obama campaign – two years before the Citizens United case restored free speech to elections – that blew up campaign finance reform when it opted out of public financing. It is true that the billionaire Koch brothers have spent millions of dollars attacking Democratic candidates, including N.C. Sen. Kay Hagan. But their spending is a tiny fraction of the billions spent by labor unions on political activities. While rich donors might seek to influence legislators, labor groups, especially public sector unions, are spending money to elect the officials who will negotiate their contracts. That’s how you spell quid pro quo.
I could go on, including false claims about “austerity” budgets even as federal spending has ballooned more than 25 percent since 2008 and about Obama’s taming the deficit, even though the White House admits that “current policy is not sustainable.”
In these fractious times, people of good will disagree about priorities and policies. But if we are to move forward, advocates must make the case using demonstrable facts, not libelous opinions.
That’s the kind of democracy to which we are all entitled.
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.