Donut Age: America's Donut Magazine

Two-party epistemology

A frightening 57% of Americans continue to believe that Iraq was "directly involved" in 9/11 or gave "substatial support" to al Qaeda, according to a University of Maryland poll (pdf, news report). Frightening because this indicates the extent to which ignorance, deception and willful denial are at work in this country. Juan Cole (no relation I know of) attributes this to a the emergence of a "two-party epistemology," Democrats and Republicans literally looking at the world through the filter of their party loyalties:

For his [Bush's] partisans, it is absolutely crucial that the president retain his credibility. Therefore, rather than face reality, they re-jigger it to create a fantasy world in which Saddam and Usamah are buddies (as in the Jimmy Fallon/ Horatio Sanz skits on the American comedy show, Saturday Night Live), and in which David Kay (of whom respondents say they've never heard) never recanted his earlier belief that the WMD was there somewhere.

As Cole also points out, it is a sign of failure on the part of Democrats that they have not successfully challenged such myths. It also happens to be a sign of spectacular failure on the part of the media that these myths persist at all.

It has occurred to me over the last few years that American politics has really become a spectator sport. I don't just mean the pervasive apathy and non-engagement of America's citizens. Even when we do engage with politics, we engage in exactly the manner of die-hard sports fans. We dress up in team colors and cheer loudly and never let it enter our minds that the other side might actually have the better team. The Vince Lombardism, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing"—pernicious enough in the realm of sports—becomes downright tragic in the realm of politics. Both parties are guilty of this, and I think it partly explains the widespread apathy of citizens. Both parties have abused the truth and employed dirty tricks in the pursuit of short-term wins so often that they no real persuasive credibility left. There can be no debate, only posturing, and elections boil down to who can more successfully sway the emotions of uncommitted middle.

Is there any way to repair this damage?

(Both the report and Cole's analysis via Talking Points Memo. Josh Marshall has some useful thoughts on this subject as well. )