To Republican Culture Warriors, Truth Remains Irrelevant
In Arizona, Sen. John McCain has drawn a primary challenge from former Congressman J.D. Hayworth. Apparently Hayworth views Sen. McCain as far too liberal to represent the citizens of Arizona. Among the issues that Hayworth has raised is the issue of same-sex marriage and the need for a Constitutional amendment to define marriage (and ban same-sex marriage). To that end, here is what Hayworth said during a radio interview on Sunday (audio only; transcript below):
You see, the Massachusetts Supreme Court, when it started this move toward same-sex marriage, actually defined marriage — now get this — it defined marriage as simply, “the establishment of intimacy”. Now how dangerous is that? I mean, I don't mean to be absurd about it, but I guess I can make the point of absurdity with an absurd point. I guess that would mean if you really had affection for your horse, I guess you could marry your horse. It’s just the wrong way to go and the only way to protect the institution of marriage is with that federal marriage amendment that I support.
Now the purpose of this post isn’t to address the pros or cons of the marriage amendment or same-sex marriage. I’ve certainly made my viewpoint on that clear in the past (hint: I support same-sex marriage). Nor is this post intended to discuss the idiocy of Hayworth’s slippery slope argument that same-sex marriage could lead to bestiality (or incest or polygamy or pedophilia or whatever phrase would describe sex or marriage to an inanimate object, all of which are used as a part of the slippery slope argument against same-sex marriage). Instead, I want to look at the way people frame arguments and respond to challenges.
So go back and look at the principal claim made by Hayworth, that the “Massachusetts Supreme Court … defined marriage as simply, ‘the establishment of intimacy’.” That is a statement that Hayworth presents as fact. He encloses the statement in verbal quotation marks.
Last night, Rachel Maddow had Hayworth on her show to discuss his claims and allegations. Watch this excerpt:
To paraphrase a quote that has been oft-repeated of late, people are entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts. Note how Hayworth just smiles when Maddow notes that the phrase “establishment of intimacy” is not found in the opinion of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. He then tells Maddow that he “appreciates that they have a disagreement” on whether the language is or is not in the opinion. In other words, though he has been proven wrong on something that he presented as a fact, he simply doesn’t care.
For the record, the opinion can easily be found online. Go ahead take a look at the opinion. I did. I searched for the phrase “establishment of intimacy” in the opinion. Guess what? That phrase is not used. So next I searched for the use of the word “intimacy” and found the following uses:
- There, the [United States Supreme Court] affirmed that the core concept of common human dignity protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution precludes government intrusion into the deeply personal realms of consensual adult expressions of intimacy and one's choice of an intimate partner.
- Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.
- Whether and whom to marry, how to express sexual intimacy, and whether and how to establish a family — these are among the most basic of every individual's liberty and due process rights.
- Our laws of civil marriage do not privilege procreative heterosexual intercourse between married people above every other form of adult intimacy and every other means of creating a family.
- Similarly, the Supreme Court has called for increased due process protection when individual privacy and intimacy are threatened by unnecessary government imposition.
- (characterizing "whom to marry, how to express sexual intimacy, and whether and how to establish a family" as "among the most basic of every individual's liberty and due process rights")
I suppose that Hayworth could have been referring to one of these other phrases in which the word “intimacy” occurs; after all, people can make mistakes. But this rationalization fails for several reasons. First, Hayworth enclosed his statement in verbal quotation marks when he used it, thus implying that it was more than just a rough idea conjured up by the opinion or a paraphrasing of the Court’s statement. Moreover, Hayworth used the same precise phrase in both interviews, so he doesn’t appear to have been merely paraphrasing. Furthermore, the premise of his initial remarks followed from the “danger” of the false definition that he quoted. Finally, it would have been easy for him to say to Maddow, “Gee, I was paraphrasing” or “You’re right, and I meant to refer to that other phrase you mentioned” or even “Those words may not be there, but that is the gist of what the Court meant.” But he said none of those things. Instead, he stuck to his bogus phrase and “appreciated” that there was a disagreement as to whether something easily checked did or did not exist. And he smiled all the while, as if to say, “Who cares if I made it up; facts are meaningless!” Hayworth’s “disagreement” is no more genuine than disagreement about whether the sun rises in the east or the west … or whether the health care bill had “death panels”.
And that’s what’s really dangerous. What does it say for our society and our democracy when politicians are so willing to gleefully say “fuck facts” and base their “principles” on lies? We’ve seen it with death panels and the reconciliation “nuclear option” and a whole host of other issues. But when it becomes so brazen that, even when confronted by very simple, easily fact-checked evidence, the response is to simply smile and “appreciate” the disagreement, as if objective reality were no longer objective, then how can we trust much of anything anymore? And what does it say for our society and our democracy when so many people are willing to simply taking smiling politicians or pundits at their word without any effort to think fact-check pronouncements, let alone think independently?
We should make decisions on important issues on the basis of facts. And if a fact offered by one side is proven to be demonstrably untrue, then the point should be surrendered or another rationale to support the argument should be put forth. But simply relying upon lies … well, there be madness.
Finally, is it just me, or does Hayworth remind anyone else of a bobblehead doll?