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“Dark Matter” Fills the Political Universe, Too

PS#27

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From Space.com:

Overall, dark energy is thought to contribute 73 percent of all the mass and energy in the universe. Another 23 percent is dark matter, which leaves only 4 percent of the universe composed of regular matter, such as stars, planets and people.

The scientific community—you know, those silly humorless folks who keep pushing theories like global warming and evolution—has general agreement with one very interesting theory: they know almost nothing about 96% of the universe. That would be the 96% occupied by dark matter and dark energy.

Scientists are able to infer that these entities exist, but cannot say much about what they actually are. I have my own theory regarding dark matter in the political universe: it’s bullshit. And I don’t mean the theory, I mean the actual thing.

Dark matter doesn’t occupy space as we know it, and yet it is everywhere. That sounds a lot like the lies that fly around in politics. And it follows that the telling of those lies would be dark energy.

The effort spent selling lies during a presidential campaign has become a year-round national industry. At least, most of the money is spent in the USA. The problem is that under the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, the money can come, literally, from unknown sources.

…all of which brings me to a bit of wisdom that I found, of all places, on a marijuana website:

How much of history do you think is made up? “Knowledge of a nation’s folklore is the knowledge of the creative workings of the minds of its folk. It is the key to a nation’s value, a highway that leads into the heart of its people.”

That lyrical prose, taken from “My Kind of Country: Favorite Writings from New York” by Carl Carmer, is as poetic as it is true. But it also speaks sub rosa to one of my favorite adages, that “History is a lie agreed upon.” In other words, it’s mostly bullshit.

Perhaps you read a story or two last week about the historical reality of Thanksgiving; it can get ugly, but we’ve done an excellent job of mythologizing it over the years. Another mythology still very much in progress: Saint Ronnie.

General agreement in the political universe depends largely on exposure. The dark matter of history belongs to anyone in a position to sell their version of events to the masses: poets and minstrels, teachers and philosophers, priests and pastors. And while we’re at it, your own family.

The most effective sale of history’s dark matter has always come from the mass media. That used to be mainly books and writers, but in this age, these lies belong to the airwaves. Broadcasters are more effective than even your own family, as attested to by that depressing web link you never click on, “I lost my dad to Fox News.”

In this age, a multitude of opinionated talking heads revise history on the fly. In some cases, before it has even happened. And if today’s revision happens to displease too many, they will revise the revision.

Some liars go right on broadcasting the incorrect version because it better suits their needs. Of course I’m thinking of Fox News and right-wing radio, but in truth that principle can be applied to either side of any effective political campaign.

It’s less important that you tell the truth, and far more important that you just keep telling. That’s because the more times someone hears a statement, true or not, the more likely he is to believe it. Season that repetition with some truthiness (the cred that we grant to people who tell us all the crap we want to believe) and you’ve got a successful campaign.

I wish I could tell you that Bobby Jindal’s campaign failed because of his lie that Louisiana prospered under his leadership. He repeated it every chance he got, and no one in the media corrected him when it counted (for instance, during Jindal’s last “cat’s table” debate).

But no! Bobby voted himself off the island because he couldn’t find enough voters asking him to stay. No one even noticed he was running. In the context of our mythical season of Survivor, he never reached the island in the first place. And the news-reporter sharks didn’t “get” him, either. He just quietly slipped beneath the waves.

On the other hand, Carly Fiorina’s second-debate lie about video of a live fetus awaiting “brain harvesting” earned her a remarkable upward jump in the polls. She thrashed that lie nearly to death in the fact-checking aftermath, even though the filmmakers themselves have admitted that the scene was “stock footage.”

And it is stock footage of a miscarried fetus, shown under a voiceover. I suppose you could call that God’s abortion. But Fiorina doesn’t. When confronted by Chris Wallace on Fox News, she angrily maintained her claims, and kept adding that the U.S. government paid for the abortion and subsequent “brain harvesting.”

Fact: None of the money that the U.S. Government gives to Planned Parenthood is used for abortions. It’s been that way for years, made so with laws passed by opponents of Choice. So she’s wrong, and no doubt knows it. But that mendacity plays so well to the base…

The problem with that strategy is that the base has a short attention span. You have to keep waving the red flag in front of them, as Trump does.

Fiorina does a good imitation of an angry white man. But lacking any fresh outrage to sputter over on camera, she’s down again in the polls. The angry posture alone can’t sell the same regurgitated misinformation about Planned Parenthood or Hewlett-Packard forever.

In talking about her time at H-P, she follows Jindal’s strategy of reframing failure as success. But the disaster of Jindal’s layoff-like massive cuts to Louisiana’s budget offers ample proof that running a government like a business does not work. And at the stump she’s out-shouted by Donald Trump, who excels at dropping a fresh verbal turd daily.

The New York Times and the Washington Post are finally willing to use the actual word “liar” on him …in this case, regarding Trump’s tale of watching New Jersey muslims cheer the World Trade Center’s 9/11 destruction—while it was happening, no less. The Times came down on him with both boots in this editorial that compares The Donald to Joe McCarthy and George Wallace.

But will that affect his support? Unlikely. Let’s not forget the 25% of Americans who believe that the sun revolves around the earth. If all of them turned out to vote and the rest of the country turned out as pathetically as they have in the past, we could indeed end up with President Trump.

That might make a great scripted dramedy on TV, but as a reality show I’d label it the scariest season yet of American Horror Story.

Trump has been extruding political dark matter from day one of his campaign: about Mexicans, Megyn Kelly, Fiorina, and John McCain for starters, and now even a critic with a disability. Ugh.

But even earlier: he climbed on the birther bandwagon in 2008, at one point claiming that we wouldn’t believe the information his people were turning up in Hawaii! Even he didn’t believe, apparently; he has never revealed anything that “his people turned up.”

My final complaint—hah! for this week—is right-wing cartoonists like Lisa Benson, who once had believers in climate change science snowed inside a “Church of Global Warming” bus. Um, you guys are the ones cruising in a church bus, Lisa. More recently she had three little pigs labeled “The West” letting the Big Bad Wolf (toting a bag labeled “Radical Islam”) inside their brick house, so long as he promises to behave. And that scene happened when, exactly?

The technique is called attacking a straw man because the bad act being ridiculed never actually occurred, and never will. It’s a phony argument with a villain made of straw, but it’s a fairly reliable strategy unless you overuse it.

All this talk of bullshit and dark matter makes me want to play you out this week with Jonny Lang’s over-the-top song about love betrayed: the singer’s plea to his former lover to “lie to me” handily sums up what so many voters demand of their candidates.

Political Survivor #27

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Written by

Steve Schlich writes fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want”—lies like that—for the mortgage money. For his soul, he writes fiction and music. Hobbies include webmaster for www.RodSerling.com. In 2004, he created www.NakedWashington.com, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco, where he’s been a technical writer of in-house software manuals since 1982.

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