In John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 play, “Doubt,” Sister Aloysius (played in the film version by Meryl Streep) is convinced that Father Flynn has engaged in improper sexual contact with a young black boy. She holds onto that belief, despite less than concrete evidence, throughout the play, only admitting, when her efforts to have Flynn disciplined fail, that she has doubts.
In politics, and, to a lesser extent, in life, admitting to doubt is often considered a weakness. Being resolute and defiant, even, of contrary evidence seems to be the most-favored approach for many elected officials. And when proven wrong, apologies must be very circumspect. “Mistakes were made in the assessment I conducted, which I regret,” is a classic apologetic non-apology for many politicians when facts prove their decision on a given matter was wrong.
But another approach is even more headstrong and defiant, and that is to deny the facts or to mischaracterize them. And many politicians are well-schooled in this tactic.
America’s prosecution of the Vietnam War is generally considered to have been a horrific mistake by historians and the public generally, but you will still occasionally hear a pro-military politician claim that the only thing wrong with the U.S. in Vietnam was in failing to provide sufficient support for the troops and the commanders. Never mind that the war was doomed to failure, and not only because the South Vietnam government (a puppet of the U.S.) was corrupt and incompetent. You will still hear old-line pols claiming that Vietnam could have been won with proper logistical and munitions support (which, translated, means hundreds of thousands more U.S. troops and, probably, the use of tactical nuclear weapons; but they won’t tell you that detail).
The Iraq invasion in 2003 is another example of ignoring facts in favor of denial of wrong decisions. Dick Cheney still asserts that the decision to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime was valid, and he refuses to acknowledge that the country never had weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological or nuclear) or that Saddam was not a co-conspirator in the 9/11 attacks. Others neo-cons denounce President Obama for the rise of ISIS, rather than even acknowledging the possibility that the chaos that resulted in Iraq after the U.S. overthrew Saddam is the real reason ISIS exists.
And then there are the climate-change opponents. They continue to claim that the science is uncertain, or that the studies have been “cooked” to support the conclusion they reject, or that even if the planet’s climate is changing, it’s just a cyclical thing that human activity has no impact on. Meanwhile, every year produces new record average high temperature readings and more shrinkage of glacial ice caps and higher sea levels. But the climate-change opponents refuse to accept those facts, or they produce contrary “facts” that are untrue but that sound supportive of their position.
It isn’t all that hard to envision the nature of the debates that might take place one hundred years from now when formerly major cities have been flooded and most U.S. agriculture has disappeared due to dwindling amounts of fertile land and insufficient sources of water to irrigate what little there is.
The debate will continue to rage and obfuscation will run rampant. Descendants of today’s climate-change deniers will claim that “mistakes were made” by previous administrations but that in no event was it ever proven that the increased temperatures the planet had experienced were due to human activity.
And you know there will still be a few “scientists” who will claim that their “studies” prove that the change in worldwide climatic conditions was purely cyclical.
A great example of this tactic of obfuscation and outright lying occurred last week at the House Oversight Committee hearings on Planned Parenthood. That organization has been accused of selling fetal tissue (from aborted fetuses) for profit, a charge that was trumped up by abortion opponents and that had been largely discredited by the time of the hearings last week. So, instead, the committee chairman, Jason Chaffetz (Republican from Utah) showed a graph that appeared to reflect that the number of abortions conducted at Planned Parenthood offices had risen sharply and now far exceeded the number of mammograms conducted at the facilities.
In fact, the graph was flagrantly erroneous. The organization has conducted many more cancer screenings (by a factor of thousands) than abortions. To his “credit,” Chairman Chaffetz did not even seem to know that the graph was incorrect. He just accepted that it was accurate because one of the groups that support his position (Americans United for Life) had prepared it.
Chaffetz, who is now running to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House, refuses to acknowledge that the graph was erroneous, let alone that his attacks on Planned Parenthood are completely fallacious. Instead, he remains convinced, or at least he says he is convinced, that Planned Parenthood is undeserving of federal funding, notwithstanding that in many rural and low income communities its facilities are the only ones available to women for breast cancer screening and pre-natal care.
What is behind this kind of mendacity? Some of it, to be sure, is ideological. In the Planned Parenthood debate, groups like Americans United for Life truly believe that abortions kill human beings or, more specifically, that they destroy the capability of a soul to inhabit a body (as certain religious beliefs profess). And much of it is purely political. Chaffetz represents constituents who oppose abortion. He carries their water, so to speak.
Similarly, many of the climate change deniers are in the hip pocket of the industries that are at greatest risk if aggressive climate-change policies are enacted: oil companies, the coal industry, agribusinesses.
And the media does its part as well. Fox News regularly trots out talking points claiming that President Obama (if not Hillary Clinton) is responsible for ISIS, that human-activity caused climate change is a liberal canard, and that Planned Parenthood exists solely to perform abortions of healthy fetuses in healthy women.
One wonders if these false prophets ever have doubts or if they ever even contemplate the possibility.