When life resembles a Monty Python sketch

WHEN LIFE RESEMBLES A MONTY PYTHON SKETCH…. There’s a classic Monty Python sketch from 1972 called the “Argument Clinic.” It goes like this: a man who enjoys a good, substantive debate goes to a business that ostensibly provides one, but after paying his fee, he quickly discovers that the man on the other side of the desk simply contradicts literally everything he says.

The customer, exasperated, eventually tries to explain, “An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.” His adversary replies ,”No, it isn’t.” He tries again, “Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.” After a short pause, the antagonist responds, “No, it isn’t.”

A little too often, the “Argument Clinic” sketch reminds me of efforts to engage conservative Republicans in any kind of discourse. The NYT, for example, had an item this week about right-wing Senate candidate Pat Toomey (R) in Pennsylvania, which included this gem:

Mr. Toomey says he favors making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent for all Americans — which would add $700 billion more to the deficit over 10 years than the plan advocated by President Obama to let the lower rates expire for the rich. But he also expresses a desire to reduce the deficit.

At the ironworks shop, Mr. Toomey brushed aside a question from a local reporter who pointed out that real income for American workers dropped after the Bush tax cuts, saying he did not believe the data.

Well, no, of course not. The data is legitimate, but it would tell Toomey what he doesn’t want to hear — so he brushes it aside. Any of us could go to Toomey, data and charts in hand, and point at the evidence showing that income levels dropped after Bush cut taxes. He’d reply, “No, they didn’t.”

The problem, of course, is that the phenomenon goes much further than Toomey. The other day, Rick Santorum insisted on national television that under the Bush administration, poverty rates among poverty among African Americans and among single unmarried women were “at the lowest rate ever in the history of this country.” That’s not even close to true, but if you went to Santorum and explained that reality shows he’s wrong, he’d reply, “No, it doesn’t.”

This comes up just about every day. Here’s overwhelming evidence showing that global warming is real. “No, it doesn’t.” Here’s extensive data showing that tax cuts for the wealthy increase the deficit. “No, it doesn’t.” Here’s plain-text proof showing that the Affordable Care Act isn’t socialized medicine or a government-takeover. “No, it doesn’t.”

This isn’t about lying, per se, though that’s certainly a problem, too. This is about an entire political party rejecting reality and replacing it with a fantasy.

“Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.” It’s also the hallmark of American political discourse in the 21st century.