Truth Defeats Truthiness: Election 2012

Comic illustration of Stephen Colbert's explanation of "Truthiness." © Greg Williams | Wikimedia Commons

I believe that the victory of truth over truthiness is the most important result of the elections last week. The victory is beautifully documented in Frank Rich’s latest piece in New York Magazine. In my judgment, the defeat of truthiness is even more important than the victory of Barack Obama over Mitt Romney and the victory of the Democratic Party over the Republicans, important though these are. A sound relationship between truth and politics will provide for the possibility of American governability and progress, informed by both progressive and conservative insights.

To be sure, on the issues, foreign and domestic, and on various public policies, the differences between the two presidential candidates and their two parties were stark, clearly apparent now as the parties position themselves for the fiscal cliff. Yet, these differences pail in comparison to the importance of basing our political life on factual truths, (as I analyzed here) instead of convenient fictions (fictoids), and on careful principled (of the left and the right) judgments and not the magical ideological thinking offered by market and religious fundamentalists (as I also previously examined) and by various xenophobes and racists (who promise to take their country back).

Stephen Colbert, the great political philosopher and public intellectual, the leading expert on truthiness, disguised as a late night comic, has most clearly illuminated the truth challenge in his regular reports. His tour de force, in this regard, was his address to the White House press corps in George W. Bush’s presence. But now it no longer takes a brave comic genius to highlight the problem. Republican and conservative responses to election polling and results provide the evidence, both negative and positive.

Though the polls clearly predicted an Obama victory, it is noteworthy that the Republican leaders and their advisers really didn’t see the defeat coming. They operated in an ideological bubble, which facts did not penetrate. Now they must (more on their alternative courses in our next post by Aron Hsiao on . . .

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