My dissertation topic - and eventual book - analyzes Andrew Jackson's "war" on the Second Bank of the United States with a particular emphasis on newspapers, institutions, governmental agencies, postal workers, and private and public funding. When I started this project, I held that the Bank war was the single most important issue in determining party development in the 1830s. Debates over tariffs, slavery, Indian Removal, internal improvements, etc., were secondary, I thought. I also contended that most public meetings - at least those that involved ordinary citizens - did not erupt until the Bank war penetrated popular discourse. This was not until 1834 or so. In reading the Clay and Jackson Papers recently, I have discovered that I was probably wrong, or at least didn't have enough evidence to make this rather bold claim. The Margaret Eaton affair (and subsequent cabinet resignations), internal improvements, tariffs, and Indian Removal seemed to consume far more ink, at least according to epistolary evidence, than the Bank war, particularly during Jackson's first term. Moreover, I have found that in re-examining evidence that I first encountered many years ago, I have misinterpreted or mis-transcribed the letters. Thankfully these have not led to major interpretive errors in publications, but they were still mistakes. It is a humbling process. And I'm admitting here that I was wrong.
The lesson here is that admitting your flaws and errors does not make you weak. It is actually a strength. I am continually baffled by those who think otherwise.
Now let's apply this concept to current events. There are those who occupy powerful positions in mainstream media, in the foreign policy establishment, and in prominent think tanks who have been demonstrably and unequivocally wrong in a frighteningly large number of cases. These people have erroneously predicted that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators when we invaded their country in 2003; that the Affordable Care Act would destroy jobs; that the Federal Reserve's aggressive open-market purchases would lead to runaway inflation; that tax cuts would lead to prosperity for all; that Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme; that human-caused climate change was a liberal conspiracy manufactured deliberately to take away our "freedom"; that evolution is "just a theory"; that gay marriage would undermine the family; that deregulating energy and financial markets would yield greater freedom and prosperity; that the United States's moderately high national debt would turn us into Greece, etc. The list goes on and on.
Meet the Press, Face the Nation, This Week, and Morning Joe will treat all of these positions as serious and thoughtful policy prescriptions. It's not hard to see why these shows give equal time to this sort of quackery. Above all, these shows care about the bottom line, entertainment, ratings, and keeping their corporate sponsors happy. But the point is that these are not serious policy proposals; nor are they thoughtful. They are childish, arrogant, and irrational. They are deserving only of the most vituperative scorn and ridicule. This is why I refuse to watch these shows anymore. I could understand how being wrong on one, two, or even three of these issues might be forgivable. But many of the folks who advocate these positions have been wrong on ALL of them. And yet no one truly holds them to account. Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney, Dan Senor, and Ron Christie are on television all the time. Rather than being banished to Elba or St. Helena in perpetuity for being dead wrong on important issues that affect millions of lives (which would be a fitting punishment indeed), these intellectual frauds are still allowed to have a seat at the table in national discussions. They cling to this fantasy that admitting one's shortcomings constitutes "weakness," when, if anything, it is quite the contrary.
When historians, fifty years from now, teach about the era in which we now live, there will no doubt be a large contingent of faculty who wish to teach "both sides." But the more interesting and insightful analysis, I think, is to underscore how 25 to 40% of the voters in this country live in an alternate reality where logic, reason, and facts do not apply. Lately a number of news outlets have reported on the rather disturbing trend that presenting empirical evidence to someone who holds an intellectually weak position only makes them dig in even further. And the fact that mainstream media continues to give a voice to these people is nothing less than a national tragedy.