Frank Bruni writes about gullibility in politics and says a few smart things.
… what’s most distinctive about the current presidential election and our political culture isn’t their negativity — though that’s plenty noteworthy and worrisome — but how unconditionally so many partisans back their side’s every edict, plaint and stratagem.
Of course, this same phenomenon has been striking in every election for the past 20 years, but thanks for catching on, Frank. Now, do keep up.
Bruni cites a film based on a true story that is, I admit, hard to believe. I don’t remember hearing about this at the time, but apparently some guy was getting his jollies by calling fast food joints, identifying himself as a police officer, and having one of the employees or a customer detained by the manager. And then the manager, instructed over the phone by “Officer Scott,” would unquestioningly put the detainee through a number of indignities, including a strip search followed by nude jumping jacks. In some cases the detainee was forced to perform sexual acts on someone else as part of the “investigation.” Here’s an article focusing on the particular incident that became the subject of the film, and it’s definitely off-the-wall. But, apparently, true. There are lawsuits and everything.
The point is that people are wired to follow authoritative leaders. Bruni writes,
People routinely buy into outlandish claims that calm particular anxieties, fill given needs or affirm preferred worldviews. Religions and wrinkle-cream purveyors alike depend on that. And someone like Todd Akin, the antihero of last week’s news, illustrates it to a T. The notion that a raped woman can miraculously foil and neutralize sperm is a good 10 times crazier than anything in “Compliance,” but it dovetails beautifully with his obvious wish — and the wishes of like-minded extremists — for an abortion prohibition with no exceptions. So he embraces it.
But then he says,
People also routinely elect trust over skepticism because it’s easier, more convenient. Saddam Hussein is stockpiling weapons of mass destruction; the climate isn’t changing; Barack Obama’s birth certificate is forged; Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years.
Wait a minute — one of these things is not like the others. Even Harry Reid admits he doesn’t know for a fact that Mittens didn’t pay taxes for ten years. I haven’t seen any polling saying that a significant number of people believe Mittens didn’t pay taxes. Most of us understand that the charge is meant to goad Mittens either into releasing his tax returns or digging in his heels to not release them and look guilty.
But you know Frank had to throw in an example of leftie gullibility to prove that “both sides are just as bad.” Because “both sides are just as bad” calms Frank’s particular anxieties, fill his given needs or affirms his preferred worldviews. If he had to fully admit that both sides are not just as bad, that one side has in fact gone way off the outrageous scale to an unprecedented degree, his worldviews would melt like Salvadore Dali’s clocks.
Frank continues —
To varying degrees, all of these were or are articles of faith, unverifiable or eventually knocked down.
Except for speculations about Mitt’s taxes, which still haven’t been released.
People nonetheless accepted them because the alternative meant confronting outright mendacity from otherwise respected authorities, trading the calm of certainty for the disquiet of doubt, or potentially hunkering down to the hard work of muddling through the elusive truth of things. Better simply to be told what’s what.
Yeah, we can’t expect an op-ed writer for a major metropolitan newspaper to do the hard work of muddling through the elusive truth of things, huh? Better just reflect what’s expected from him by his Villager peers.