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Stick to the Facts

In politics, the line between fact and fiction is disappearing.

“Facts are stupid things,” Ronald Reagan once said, in a classic political gaff. It seems that at least one Republican presidential candidate is taking Reagan seriously. “I don’t have facts to back this up,” Herman Cain said in a recent interview, right before he claimed the Occupy Wall Street protests were organized to distract people from the “failed policies of the Obama administration.”

Regardless of what people think about Occupy Wall Street, everyone should be alarmed that a presidential candidate is answering questions with ideas that, he freely admits, have no factual basis. If this is the new standard of political discourse, why not say that the economic crisis was caused by aliens, and draft unemployed factory workers to look for flying saucers?

Of course, it is possible that Herman Cain slipped up. Omnipresent media coverage can wear a person out, and we all say things we don’t really mean sometimes. However, any person who wants to become President of the United States should know better; Cain should know to watch himself and, if he did not know what to say, to not say anything.

The Republican presidential is getting pretty intense, but there have to be some limits. People may want a president who is forthcoming and honest, but I’m pretty sure they don’t want someone who always says the first thing that pops into his head. Asking a candidate to stick to the facts in their analysis of current events is a reasonable request.

Political discourse has become more savage and less productive in recent years, at least partially because we allow politicians to say whatever they want. The people should hold Cain accountable for making the claim he did without having the facts to back it up. That is not a free speech issue, it’s a rationality issue. Politicians are entitled to express their views, but when they make specific claims, those claims should at least be true.

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James Adnaraf December 28, 2012 at 07:52 PM
If Mr. Edelstein had done the slightest inquiry into the Reagan statement about facts, it would have been obvious that Reagan's context was not what Edelstein was saying in his article. We have this irony that Edelstein writes an article about sticking to the facts, when he has so mangled the context of the Reagan quote, that EDELSTEIN is lacking in the facts. CuriousOrange, you really are not so intellectually curious, because you took a misleading article by Edelstein, and ran with it, showing not the slightest curiosity into the statement's context. As to Edelstein, he has no knowledge of facts, and no business being considered credible, when he totally takes something out of context. Excluding context is just as much a lie as any dictionary definition of a lie.
James Adnaraf December 28, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Edelstein is simply a talking points recycler, a parrot. None of that exonerates Cain, it simply shows Edelstein to be intellectually lazy.
Stephen Edelstein December 28, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Just for the record: Reagan was supposed to say "facts are stubborn things," a quote from John Adams. Reagan misquoted Adams and made no effort to correct himself, which definitely qualifies as a gaffe. If you disagree with this post, that is more than okay. Just don't use typos as an excuse, or accuse someone of lying when they are not.
James Adnaraf December 28, 2012 at 11:48 PM
I saw the speech, and that is the context. You conveniently left it out, until now. Makes a big difference. If you had put in your "just for the record" comment in your original article, I would not have had the slightest argument. I have not been able to find the tape on youtube, but I believe Reagan then did say, without correcting the first error, the word stubborn, a few times. In truth, your blogs are fairly reasonable (Chris Matthews book analysis for example). Nevertheless,I will not allow you, or anyone whose blog I read, to exclude a material element, and have it go without severe criticism. That is true for "you didn't build that" as well. This sound byte stuff is not useful to an intelligent dialog on issues. In summation:You specialize in dissecting words, and you wrote a column on Facts. That means you have to be held to a tough standard. You cannot write a column "Stick to the Facts" and use an example without sufficient context. In my view, when you write a column on facts, you need to avoid errors of omission that distort the things you are citing. With regard to typos, an author has to be 100% correct, before being published.
James Adnaraf December 29, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Here is the text I have of the Reagan speech, in which he said 'facts are stupid things". It comes from the Reagansheritage.org website. We will consider this to be correct unless we get a different reading. According to this text, Reagan corrected himself in the same phrase,which is the last phrase (CAPITALIZED BY ME). The relevant text: "Before we came to Washington, Americans had just suffered the two worst back-to-back years of inflation in 60 years. Those are the facts. And as John Adams said, "Facts are stubborn things." Interest rates had jumped to over 21 percent - the highest in 120 years - more than doubling the average monthly mortgage payments for working families, our families. When they sat around the kitchen table, it was not to plan summer vacations, it was to plan economic survival. Facts are stubborn things. Industrial production was down, and productivity was down for two consecutive years. The average weekly wage plunged 9 percent. The median family income fell 5 1/2 percent. Facts are stubborn things. Our friends on the other side had actually passed the single highest tax bill in the 200-year history of the United States. Auto loans, because of their policies, went up to 17 percent - so our great factories began shutting down. Fuel costs jumped through the atmosphere, more than doubling. Then people waited in gas lines as well as unemployment lines. FACTS ARE STUPID THINGS - STUBBORN THINGS, I SHOULD SAY." Mr. Edelstein, your response?

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