February 11, 2023
Since Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) led Republicans in shouts of “Liar!” when President Biden said in his State of the Union address that “some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years,” Republicans have been swamping social and news media with accusations that Biden was lying.
In the speech, Biden continued: “That means if Congress doesn’t vote to keep them, those programs will go away. Other Republicans say if we don’t cut Social Security and Medicare, they’ll let America default on its debt for the first time in our history.”
In fact, Biden’s statement was true. It was based on Florida senator Rick Scott’s 11-point plan, released in February 2022, which promised, “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” (It also promised to “sell off all non-essential government assets, buildings, and land, and use the proceeds to pay down our national debt,” without defining “non-essential.”)
Since Republicans won control of the House, the extremists have also said they would not approve a clean debt ceiling increase without spending cuts. The history of Republican calls for cuts to Social Security runs long and deep, but just reaching back to 2020: Trump vowed to make cuts in his second term; former vice president Mike Pence last week called for “modest reforms in entitlements,” including privatization; Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson has called for moving the programs to annual funding so they would have to be renewed every year; and the Republican Study Committee, which includes more than 150 Republican House members, has called this year for raising the age of eligibility from 66 or 67 to 70 for Social Security and from 65 to 67 for Medicare.
Biden’s statement came from what was famously dubbed the “reality-based community” in 2002.
That year, a senior advisor to George W. Bush told journalist Ron Suskind that “guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’” Suskind responded by talking about the principles of the Enlightenment—the principles on which the Founders based the Declaration of Independence—that put careful observation of reality at the center of human progress. But Bush’s aide wanted no part of that, Suskind recalled: “He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality…. We’re history's actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
The statement that Biden won the 2020 presidential election also comes from the reality-based community.
Today, Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post reported that Trump’s campaign hired a consulting firm to try to prove that the election had been stolen. The Berkeley Research Group examined the election results in six swing states but could not find anything that would have changed the outcome. “They looked at everything,” a source told Dawsey: “change of addresses, illegal immigrants, ballot harvesting, people voting twice, machines being tampered with, ballots that were sent to vacant addresses that were returned and voted…. Literally anything you could think of. Voter turnout anomalies, date of birth anomalies, whether dead people voted. If there was anything under the sun that could be thought of, they looked at it.”
The consultants briefed Trump, chief of staff Mark Meadows, and others on their evidence that Biden’s election was legitimate in December 2020—before the events of January 6—but the Trump camp continued to insist the election had been stolen.
The rejection of reality has gone so far that we have in Congress Representative George Santos (R-NY), who appears to have fabricated his entire biography. Yesterday, Jacqueline Alemany and Alice Crites of the Washington Post revealed that the biography of another newly-elected right-wing representative, Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), is also suspect. Family members dispute her stories of an isolated and impoverished youth, there is no record of a nighttime home invasion she claims was formative, and her embrace of her Hispanic heritage—her mother’s family is Mexican-American—is recent enough that in 2015 she identified herself on a voting registration form as “White, not of Hispanic origin.”
After the story appeared, Luna’s lawyer issued a statement from her saying that “anyone who is a conservative minority is a threat to Leftist control. They can try to discredit me, but unfortunately for them the facts completely blow their story out of the water.”
There is a difference between political spin—which virtually all political operatives use and which generally means making a statement without full context so it is misleading—and rejecting the reality-based community in favor of lies and attacks. Political decisions that are not based on reality rob us of our right to make informed decisions about our government and what it will do.
Social Security and Medicare are currently financially unstable. They can be stabilized by cutting benefits, raising taxes, rearranging government funding, or by some combination of the three. Biden wants to raise taxes; Republicans want to cut benefits, but they won’t say which ones and now deny they meant Social Security and Medicare.
On Friday, Scott introduced a bill to rearrange government funding, saying it would “increase funding” for the programs, but in fact, it finds the money by achieving another Republican goal: cutting the $80 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act that restored funding to the Internal Revenue Service. That funding has enabled the IRS to answer 88.6% of taxpayers’ phone calls this year, up from 13% in the 2022 tax season and 11% the year before. Adding in automated phone support and chat features, 93.3% of taxpayers have been able to get support. Democrats will almost certainly not agree to stop this program, and Scott is likely hoping to get them on record as “voting against” more money for Social Security and Medicare.
Voters need fact-based information to elect people who will enact the policies a majority of us want.
We need politicians to participate in the reality-based community.
Ron Suskind, “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” New York Times Magazine, October 17, 2004, at https://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/magazine/faith-certainty-and-the-presidency-of-george-w-bush.html