The curse of the American media is that the major ones refrain from calling out stupid statements by major politicians for the nonsense they are but instead treat them as one side of a debate to be counter-balanced by an opposing view, leaving the impression that the truth lies somewhere in between. But we have entered a stage in politics where Republicans are making flat-out wrong statements that are simply not even debatable.
The editorial board of the newspaper seems to have finally cottoned on to this fact and issued a scathing editorial about Wednesday’s debate that featured the major Republican politicians, and shuddered at what their words revealed.
And that, America, is frightening. Peel back the boasting and insults, the lies and exaggerations common to any presidential campaign. What remains is a collection of assertions so untrue, so bizarre, that they form a vision as surreal as the Ronald Reagan jet looming behind the candidates’ lecterns.
It felt at times as if the speakers were no longer living in a fact-based world where actions have consequences, programs take money and money has to come from somewhere. Where basic laws — like physics and the Constitution — constrain wishes. Where Congress and the public, allies and enemies, markets and militaries don’t just do what you want them to, just because you say they will.
Let loose by the CNN moderators, the candidates spun their visions freely. Despite an abundance of serious issues to talk about, nobody offered solutions to problems like child poverty, police and gun violence, racial segregation, educational gaps, competition in a global economy and crumbling infrastructure. On looming disasters (the changing climate) and more immediate ones (a possible government shutdown over, of all things, Planned Parenthood), the debate offered no reassurance that grown-ups were at the table, or even in the neighborhood.
The newspaper realized this just now? Many of us have been pointing out for some time that the Republican party has become detached from reality and entered a fact-free world and Wednesday’s debate provided some good examples.
The total lack of seriousness was on full display when Trump came out as an anti-vaxxer based on a Michelle-Bachmann-inspired anecdote and, rather than the two medical people Ben Carson and Rand Paul flatly contradicting him, they agreed to some ‘compromise’ of spacing the shots out over a longer period, a strategy that has not been shown to have any benefit whatsoever and actually increases risks for the child. This ‘alternative schedule is being promoted by a single California physician and has no empirical evidence in support of it and is purely an ad hoc response to unfounded fears.
The American Academy of Pediatrics came out immediately with a statement to try and minimize the damage, saying:
“The American Academy of Pediatrics would like to correct false statements made during the Republican presidential debate last night regarding vaccines. Claims that vaccines are linked to autism, or are unsafe when administered according to the recommended schedule, have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature. It is dangerous to public health to suggest otherwise.
“There is no ‘alternative’ immunization schedule. Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease for a longer period of time; it does not make vaccinating safer.
“Vaccines work, plain and simple. Vaccines are one of the safest, most effective and most important medical innovations of our time. Pediatricians partner with parents to provide what is best for their child, and what is best is for children to be fully vaccinated.”
Of course, who is going to listen to some egg-head scientists when bloviating politicians are given a free pass on national TV? While Trump is the one who brought up the topic, Ben Carson is even more culpable because he has been portrayed as the medical expert in the group and his endorsement of the alternative schedule will be seen as a vindication by the anti-vaxxers that their fears were right all along and strengthen their hands.
We also had Marco Rubio, supported by Scott Walker and Chris Christie, going on a rant against doing anything about climate change, no doubt to try and cement his support from the Koch brothers and other industrialists who are trying to not only prevent any new regulations to control greenhouse gas emissions but are seeking to remove what regulations already exist.
What many don’t realize is how dangerous this unhinged rhetoric is. Forget ISIS or Iran or North Korea. The biggest threat to the US does not come from outside. It comes from political leadership that is taking the country down a dark and self-destructive road, with its leading politicians fostering an ignorant, anti-science public.
I am glad that the editorial board of the New York Times seems to have finally realized this. I hope the other major media take note and have their reporters know the facts and immediately grill people who say these idiotic things and stop these phony debates on issues where there is no credible other side.