This past presidential election should be looked upon a a real learning experience for the Republican Party and its supporters. It exposed the right wing echo machine as it is sometimes called for what it is: A closed system of information and communication which insulates its active players as well as their audiences, and insodoing closes off opportunities for all involved to work towards the 'truth' of politics.
Politics by its very nature is contentious, of course, and its 'truths' aren't as clear-cut as are those of science. People of different political persuasions can be expected to lie at times, to omit some key truths, and to exaggerate the importance of some truths at the expense of others. In an open democracy, however, as opposed to closed authoritarian systems, the truth can be expected to prevail, despite the various kinds of machinations that can come out of actors' mouths. The truth prevails because, when democracy is open, various positions can be questioned and challenged in ways that, at the end of the day, begin to illuminate the lie, the liar, as well as other forms of deception and those who resort to their use.
For although politics is fraught with lies and deception, we do not advocate that it should be so. Indeed, we rightly blame Obama when he falls short of his promises; we blame Romney for his many lies and untruths. And by so doing, we hope that Obama will take additional precautions before uttering new promises; that Romney will think twice before opting for yet another intentional untruth.
We do hold political actors to a standard no less high than those standards we apply to ourselves and those close to us. We want them to tell us the truth, as they know it. And if we think they are resorting to untruths or inflated promises, we want to be able to point that out to them. This is where the right wing echo machine has failed its players and its audiences. In a nutshell, for years now its has systematically sealed itself off from question, challenge, and debate.
Fox News is the exemplar of this tendency. When is the last time you saw Hannity or O'Reilly or Beck or Palin or Limbaugh actually go toe to toe with a respected member from the other side? O'Reilly has occasionally 'debated' the comedian John Stewart, but that has been for entertainment sake. In short, the Fox News commentators and analysts say pretty much whatever they want to without fear of being questioned or challenged. Which means their truth claims don't extend beyond the initial claim itself. Not having to clarify, elaborate, defend, or, most important, amend, they conclude their programs quite self-satisfied that their truth claims are legitimate and beyond dispute.
The Romney-Obama contrast is instructive in this regard. Obama has gone on Fox News to be interviewed. He didn't have to; but his openness to dialogue has influenced his decision to enter into the lion's den of ideational opposition. Can you imagine Bush going onto MSNBC? Can you imagine Romney doing so? If I'm not mistaken, Romney didn't give any interviews at all over the last six weeks of his campaign. One can only assume his wariness of the media outweighed his respect for dialogue and the kinds of 'higher truths' that can emerge from it. No Face the Nation; no Meet the Press. Nothing. Why? Again, we can only assume he was being overly cautious (cowardly?) in the face of the prospect of being questioned or challenged by members in the media.
When Obama flopped during his first debate, he was told so by his immediate advisors as well as many of his supporters (recall Bill Maher's comment about his $1 million contribution going to pot). Romney flubbed badly in both second and third debates, but nary a word of acknowledgement was offered by his supporters. Indeed, they all denied that he fell flat - which appears to have been an easy claim to make since the right wing has so effectively insulated itself from question and challenge. And so it wasn't Romney's fault, it was the moderator's; it wasn't Romney's fault, it was the fault of the 'angry black man' he debated. Romney didn't need to change a thing, because his numerous shortcomings weren't his fault but the fault of a fault-finding liberal mainstream/lamestream media.
Well, this hiving of themselves off from the rest of the population cost the Republicans dearly. Their 'truths' weren't able to carry the day because, as the majority of the populace recognized, their 'truths' were at best half-truths, half-baked, underdeveloped, and hence unsatisfying to most/all communicative beings in an open democracy who come to expect more than that. The Republican Party's cognitive dissonance - expecting a victory in the face of brute, undeniable fact - was akin to some cultish group's journey into the desert in expectation that god will appear to them in a flying saucer.
When the truths one is pushing are one-sided as those that have been pushed by the Republican Party - 'Obama is the laziest president in US history', Colin Powell endorsed Obama because they are both black men, women care about jobs, not their rights as women (and both Romneys, Mitt and Ann refused to debate the issue beyond issuing such a blanket, vapid, invalid claim) - the expectation should very well be that such 'truths' will not gain traction with a thinking public.
And that was the Republican Party's greatest failing. It underestimated how in an open, liberal democracy where free speech is valued, the populace can be expected to get smarter as a consequence of ongoing exchanges of ideas. In brute contrast, the Republican Party has gotten increasingly dumber over recent years. How else to explain this year's line-up of Republican presidential contenders? The Republican Party, from Karl Rove to George Will to Sarah Palin to Mitt Romney has become the party of dumb. Its ideas are stale, hackneyed and, most importantly, unexamined, because it has turned its back on open, contested dialogue and the progressively improved knowledge that comes with it.