Making Stuff Up

Believe it or not, a debate has broken out in the progressive blogosphere about whether it matters or not if Harry Reid did indeed have a reliable source tell him that Mitt Romney hasn’t much been paying income taxes. I like Jonathan Zasloff and his work, which is sometimes featured on this site at Ten Miles Square and College Guide. But on this one, I’m with Kevin Drum:

If we’re at the point where both sides publicy hold that it’s defensible to simply make stuff up because the stakes are so high, we’ve abandoned all pretense of caring about the truth. Nor is the idea that it’s defensible to make up any charge as long as it’s somehow rebuttable much better.

I don’t know whether Harry Reid is making stuff up or not. But I think it’s important to stipulate that if he is, that’s a bad thing, although it in no way absolves Mitt Romney’s completely independent responsibility to release his tax records and resolve all doubts. Having written a few thousand words since yesterday blasting Team Mitt for making stuff up about Obama’s record on welfare reform, I’m not suddenly going to say the end justifies the means for “our team,” and I feel that way in no small part because, as Zasloff actually argues in defending mendacity-in-a-good-cause, this ain’t a game.

I don’t have time to look at Kevin’s comment thread, but it appears his truth-is-truth position has not pleased a goodly number of his readers:

I’m not even sure how to react to my critics anymore. When a bare minimal standard of decency (no flatly invented stories) is widely mocked as pearl clutching and fainting couch-y, there aren’t really any standards left aside from “whatever works.” All I know is that I want no part of that.

Amen to that. Maybe this is an old-guy thing for me, or that I have insufficiently ingested the Spirit of the Blogosphere (though Lord knows nobody has reason these days to doubt my willingness to Fight the Good Fight), but it’s important to me to know that the People Who Just Make Stuff Up are generally on the other side of the barricades.

UPDATE: Since this point keeps popping up in the comment thread, I wanted to reiterate that I am not saying that Harry Reid is lying, or that I think Harry Reid is lying, or that I have any reason to suspect Harry Reid is lying, okay? The whole point of contention involves those who think it’s okay if Harry Reid is in fact lying. And sorry, I just don’t agree you have to be an advocate of “moral purity” to take my position.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.