Smile Politely

Not intended to be a factual statement

As long as the national discourse continues to be about spending or the budget, I’m on vacation. Whenever I hear the name Paul Ryan, I change the channel. If I were reading instead of writing this column, I would not have reached this sentence.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called the shots correctly for the past ten years, predicting the economic collapse and discrediting Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan when virtually everyone else thought Greenspan was butter. But no one listened. People preferred to believe fantasies and lies until it was too late. And now they are just sinking deeper into the gumbo of gimme.

A recent example of our collective love affair with lies came with Republican Senator Jon Kyl’s declaration that “If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that’s well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”

Only three percent of PP actually relates to abortion, none of which is paid for with federal money.

When the discrepancy was pointed out, Kyl explained that his statistic “was not intended to be a factual statement,” thus revealing the most common and convenient rhetorical tool used for any occasion. Say anything and then later, preferable buried in small print, confess that what you said “was not intended to be a factual statement.”

You can tell people to go out and “reload” when they confront the President or politicians or anyone they don’t particularly like and then, should anything unfortunate occur, defend yourself by noting that your speech “was not intended to be a factual statement.”

Dick Cheney said he knew where the weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq and George Bush claimed that America does not torture, but neither of these were intended to be factual statements.

Glenn Beck told his television viewers they should “shoot (Democratic leaders) in the head,” but — even though he looked frighteningly sincere when he said it, as you can see on the video — he didn’t really mean it, I guess.

For 150 years, many Southerners insisted that the American Civil War was fought over “states’ rights.” The Governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, finally conceded just last week that slavery was ”the primary, central cause of secession,” adding that the states’ rights claim was “not intended to be a factual statement.” (He didn’t really say that last part. I just made it up, obviously, assuming that you would understand what I meant, OK?)

I keep hoping that Liesapalooza will become as boring and outdated as old tax returns. Certain languages and cultures don’t have much capacity for irony — some say the Japanese don’t get it — but the American ability to say something and mean something else seems unlimited.

I really wanted to write this week about the new Panda Bear album or my wife’s new rain barrel or David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel, The Pale King, but got snared into this “factual statement” business. Since I’ve gone this far, I wanted to say a little bit more about Glenn Beck, if you’ll indulge me.

Has Beck fallen from favor because he — like Fox News — has no relationship with the truth and people are finally fed up? I don’t think so. My guess is that Beck fell from his stool when he came out so adamantly against the people’s uprisings in the Middle East. He claimed it was a left-wing conspiracy to bring about world-wide communism and the apocalypse.

Others on the far right had hedged their bets at first and then decided that they would use these democratic revolutions to try to salvage George W. Bush’s inevitably doomed legacy as the master of lie-based wars or war-based lies, whatever. It was Bush’s invasion and war against Iraq that had been the inspiration for any outbursts of democracy all along.

But by the time this party line had been decided, Beck was too far gone into his mesmerizing voodoo. He could no longer be an asset to the Fox spin-doctoring and had to go.

Make no mistake. It may take 150 years for it to be admitted, but someday, some future conservative politician will state that the war in Iraq was fought for power and oil and that any ancient claim made otherwise — relating to American security or the freedom of Iraqi citizens — simply was not intended to be a factual statement.

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