"Just the Facts, Ma’am"
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
‘We create our own reality.’ As the doers, we get to define what’s real, and all the rest of you can do is watch and then study us.
Not only that, but the ‘players’ get to define history, too.
If you have a platform, all you need is passion and belief–not facts, not history–to remake the world. Or so it is beginning to seem. Minnesota Congressperson Michele Bachmann, speaking in Iowa (she wants to be president, so is stumping for the caucuses) the other day, makes my point (the video is an Anderson Cooper segment on CNN containing her words):
The myths that the Tea Party is promulgating about the Founding Fathers of the United States are nothing less than astonishing. This is particularly apparent to me right now (as if it needs anything additional) because I am reading Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life, and have just finished the part on the Constitutional Convention. The things Bachman says just ain’t so. They are what she might want to believe about the Founders, but they reflect nothing of the historical reality.
The things she says about the position of immigrants, also, just ain’t so. This country was never a level playing field for those arriving from elsewhere. One’s chances depended heavily on one’s ethnic background, one’s religion, and even on one’s social class.
A college graduate and a lawyer, Bachmann should know better–even if one of her law degrees is from Oral Roberts University, a school most interested in its religious program. She should understand that life isn’t what we want it to be, not matter how passionately we desire it to be so, and that history and myth are two completely separate things.
That she does not understand these things isn’t completely her own fault, but the fault of a society that has lost its respect for education, for learning of any kind. We have replaced these with access to information on the Internet, believing that finding someone with the same beliefs as ours validates those beliefs. Bachmann, by being on YouTube, now makes her words true, to a great many people.
But education isn’t the same as being able to establish links or to draw a few facts from Wikipedia. It’s a mindset of inquiry built on study and experiment. We seem to have forgotten that.