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The Three Great Premises of Idiot America Take Center Stage

charles-p-pierce-idiot-america.thumbnail.jpgThese are good times for those who practice wingnuttery and those who observe them. With the release of the latest IPCC report on global climate change and the ever-more-likely crash and burn that is the Congress of the United States and its handling of the budget and its apparent willingness to refuse to pay the bills that they have incurred under past appropriations, the wingnuts have a feast spread before them to dine upon, as demonstrated by the speechifying of Ted Cruz on the floor of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.

Sadly, we can’t simply enjoy our popcorn as we watch: wingnuttery exacts a cost, either in the idiotic policies and practices they foist upon society (see almost anything enacted at the urging of the NRA), or in the time and energy that must be wasted to beat back these idiocies (see Krugman, Paul “the Shrill One”). No, popcorn is not an option.

It’s no surprise, then, that my thoughts have been turning to Charles Pierce.

Four years ago, the inestimable Mr. Pierce put forward The Three Great Premises of Idiot America:

1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
2. Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
3. Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.

Every Sunday morning, The Three Great Premises of Idiot America are trotted out on the Sunday morning talk shows, and this weekend should be an excellent proof of Pierce’s wisdom. Again, see “Cruz, Ted.” The chase for ratings and loud=true are the bedrock of these shows, and while I did not enter seminary in an effort to get a job that requires me to work on Sunday morning and thus miss these shows, it is a nice side benefit to my work.

At the FDL Book Salon chat with Charlie when the book first came out, watertiger asked a question that has only become more urgent over the last four years: “How do we extract ourselves from this ‘perception is reality’ paradigm? Is there a way out?” Charlie’s answer, likewise, has become ever more urgent as well:

WT, I’ve given that a lot of thought and the best answer I can give is that we, as citizens, simply have to do better at self-government. We have to distinguish between entertainment and information. Our powers of discernment have to be sharpened. And, it should be said that, at many of its highest levels, my business has fallen green-room-over-teakettle on this very question. Any journalist who accepts “perception is reality” as axiomatic is committing professional malpractice. Our job is to hammer the reality home until the perception conforms to it.

See “Todd, my man Chuck, the taking down thereof.” See also here and here for an older example of Todd’s problems in news judgment.

I am slowly coming to the conclusion that the best journalists are sports journalists. They are expected not only to know the game their are covering, but to dissect it, to pick it apart, to point out the errors of those involved, and to praise those who got it right. That is, they are expected to take sides. “The coach should have pulled his goalie for an extra attacker.” “The GM should have drafted a linebacker.” “The Cubs should never have made That Trade.” They are expected to justify their conclusions with analysis, and preferably with numbers and data to support the analysis. They are expected to Know What They Are Talking About, and to be able to explain it to the rest of us.

But no, all we get is Tiger Beat on the Potomac, Disco Dave’s Disco Dance Party, and the rest of the Idiocy from the DC media. (multiple h/t to Mr. Pierce) They are in heaven this weekend, leading the rest of us on a path to hell.


Time to take Charlie’s advice, and keep hammering on reality until the perception of it sinks in. (I’m still waiting for Idiot America, Volume Two, but it may have been placed on hold by a certain presidential campaign . . .) This is going to be a helluva month, and it’s just a warmup for the 2014 congressional elections.


If you want to survive the next 13 months, memorize The Three Great Premises. They’ll keep you sane, and explain most if not all of the idiocy around you.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.