All we have to fear is, anti-empiricism itself

ALL WE HAVE TO FEAR IS, ANTI-EMPIRICISM ITSELF…. President Obama spoke at event in Boston over the weekend, and made an observation that struck me as rather obvious.

“[I]n some ways what is remarkable is how, despite this body blow that the country took, the country once again has proven more resilient and more adaptable and more dynamic than I think a lot of folks give us credit for. But it’s also to remind you that we’ve got so much more work to do. People out there are still hurting very badly, and they are still scared.

“And so part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country is scared, and [Americans] have good reason to be.

“Our job, then, is to make sure that even as we make progress, that we are also giving people a sense of hope and a vision for the future; a sense that we will get through these tough times, and the country will come out stronger for it, having gone through this trauma.”

This hardly struck me as especially noteworthy. Indeed, it didn’t even sound especially new, since I think the president has made similar remarks before.

What’s more, everything Obama said seems plainly true — we’re a resilient country, but conditions are still awful for so many. Facts, science, evidence, and reason seem to be under siege right now, but when people are overcome with anxiety, their judgment is sometimes clouded.

As it happens, the right heard it a little differently. Bush speechwriter-turned-columnist Michael Gerson was disgusted, calling the president’s remarks “some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president.” National Review and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal are at least pretending to be outraged, too.

It’s fascinating how Bushies in the media, National Review, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, and their collective cohorts always seem to take an interest in the same obscure story at the same time. It’s almost as if there were some kind of coordination going on.

Regardless, reading their complaints, it’s not altogether clear what has Republicans so annoyed, but it seems to be the president’s contention that “facts and science and argument” aren’t doing especially well right now. But why is that so outrageous?

As Jon Chait noted, “I can see why conservatives would be insulted at the suggestion that they don’t have facts and science and argument on their side. But, well, they don’t.”

It’s not the president’s fault the right has abandoned reason and rejected the premise of empiricism, so there’s no point in them complaining about Obama pointing this out.