This was an amazing comment on the blue in MetaFilter. It was favorited by 130 people and I couldn't agree more.
I remember the moment I realized America has split into two countries, with two sets of facts, and how manipulative those facts were. I was at a party thrown by this older woman, an occasional actress in the Omaha theater community, who was conservative, and so was her family. And we got to talking about the Iraq war, which was about a year old at the time. Of course, no weapons of mass destruction had been found, because there were never any, but they were adamant that Saddam had moved the weapons by train into Libya, or something. There was no evidence of this, but they assured me that they knew this to be a fact, because some very high level military general had said so.
At some point I mentioned that Scott Ritter, the former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, had made the case that there were no weapons of mass destruction, even before we went to war. I had seen him speak, and he had mapped out how you keeps tabs on a country, and how you make sure they don't have weapons, and he pointed out that weapons of mass destruction don't magically appear. You have to buy certain things to make them, and there are only a small number of places that make those things, as you can keep tabs on those places, and what they are shipping, and who they are shipping to. According to him, it was impossible for Saddamn Hussein to have a program of weapons of mass destruction, because it was impossible for him to get the elements required to build such weapons. He said that Saddam was a braggart, and we should ignore him if he makes claims to having such weapons, because such claims are politically motivated. He also pointed out that inspections have worked, they effectively disarmed Hussein, and there was no reason to abandon them in favor of war.
As I discussed this, I saw the actress's face turn hard with anger. "Scott Ritter?" she asked. "The pederast?"
It took me several hours worth of digging around to figure out what she was talking about. Ritter had been arrested in 2001 a sting operation for arranging to meet with police officers posing as under-aged girls. He was never charged and the arrest records were sealed. This fact was not widely known, probably because he wasn't charged and it wasn't especially relevant to whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
But this woman had a different pipeline of information that I did, and believed it to be as true -- or, generally, truer -- than the broad array of sources I was using, which I culled from researching things on the Web. It was an extensive whisper campaign that somehow was bypassing mainstream media and saying, oh, there are weapons of mass destruction, don't believe the Washington Post. The weapons are in Syria. Oh, don't believe Scott Ritter. He's a pederast.
And suddenly it seemed like this was America. A huge segment of the population had walked away from facts in favor of politically motivated spin, which they saw as truer than facts, and they had their own system for passing the facts on to each other that bypassed, not only the mainstream press, but also any sort of vetting system, where it could be determined whether something was true or not, or even relevant. That was Bush's real legacy. It's not just that the mainstream press sort of collapsed and didn't do their jobs -- to an extent this is true, but there was a lot of fact checking and exposure of misbehavior and all the other things the press is true. But I found myself in a time when people didn't care about the truth. They actively walked away from it. I mean, there have always been cranks who see the world through a cracked lens and you just can't talk to them, but suddenly half of America was a crank.
It's honestly made me afraid of ideologies, even my own. I don't want an ideologue in office. I want someone for whom the truth is more important than ideology, and for whom effective management is more important than a politically motivated agenda. I'm a liberal, but I am completely aware that lefties are capable of the same sort of blind self-delusion that the conservatives engaged in for the past eight years, of rejecting reality because it doesn't jibe with their notions of how things work. I suspect it is a very human experience, and you need people at the top who are willing to say, look, these may not be the facts that we want to hear, but they are the facts, and we have to address them as such. Bush and Co. have steadfastly refused to be those leaders, and that may me the greatest failure of their administration.