A quick thought on political debate

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”–Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

I like this line, but unfortunately it’s the sort of thing that one says sadly, to no one in particular, rather than the sort of thing that can help you win a debate.

It falls into the category of things that are true, but useless. Because each side is capable of presenting some “facts”–numbers, figures, anecdotes–that sound good enough to the layman.

And, of course, they can deride all attempts at fact-checking these claims. For example, anyone who tries to show that the Laffer curve idea is not really supported by data can be dismissed as “liberally biased”.

I was reading a column by Leonard Pitts Jr. from about a year ago that examined this phenomenon in detail. (And introduced me to the Moynihan quote above.) Pitts wrote that he could remember:

 “…a time when facts settled arguments. This is before everything became a partisan shouting match, before it was permissible to ignore or deride as “biased” anything that didn’t support your worldview.

If you and I had an argument and I produced facts from an authoritative source to back me up, you couldn’t just blow that off. You might try to undermine my facts, might counter with facts of your own, but you couldn’t just pretend my facts had no weight or meaning.

But that’s the intellectual state of the union these days.”

I’ve heard other people, older than myself, assert that things used to be as Mr. Pitts describes as well. I’m not sure I believe it. I’m not accusing Mr. Pitts or like-minded people of lying, but I wonder if it’s simple nostalgia on their part.

And if they are right, I wonder what it was that caused the change.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?