Entry from April 15, 2011

According to Lisa de Moraes in the Washington Post, “Charlie Sheen — the tiger-blooded, Adonis-DNA’d sitcom star who vowed last month never to return to ‘Two and a Half Men’ ‘for as long as this warlock exists in the terrestrial dimension’ — wants his job back.” Well, well. What a surprise! We can only hope that, if even Charlie Sheen is facing up to reality, maybe it will become the fashion again. Unfortunately, nobody’s too sure anymore just what reality means. Take Joe Klein. Writing at the Time magazine “Swampland” blog, he quotes Charles Krauthammer’s and Pete Wehner’s negative verdicts on President Obama’s budget speech on Wednesday and then comments:

I could print another dozen such rantings, but why bother: these are the sounds hyper-partisans make when they”ve been successfully skewered. Republican World has become a very self-referential place, only vaguely in touch with reality. There is Fox News, there is the Weekly Standard, Powerline and the other clautrophobic [sic] blogs, there is Rush and the other radio screamers. When the same message is repeated over and over again — Obama is a spendthrift! He’s a socialist! He’s creating these huge deficits! — even intelligent conservatives, like Krauthammer, begin to believe it. (And sadly, far too many of my columnar colleagues have gone along with the deficit as be-all-and-end-all myth.) And so it’s painful when reality intrudes. Here is the reality: the Republicans have spent the past 30 years creating deficits and the Democrats have spent the past 30 years closing them.

And this is the guy who’s supposed to be in touch with reality? As Eli Lake tweeted in response, “What I love about Joe Klein is the subtlety. Some writers are just partisan screamers, but Joe is so careful and fair.” At the risk of sounding like a skewered hyper-partisan myself, I think we would have better luck on a reality-hunt by going here, to the “clautrophobic” Weekly Standard blog where Jeffrey H. Anderson sets out an eye-popping bar graph of the average deficits of the last seven presidents, as a percentage of GDP, in comparison with the incumbent’s. President Obama’s so-far total of 9.7 per cent is more than double the next largest average, under Ronald Reagan and George Bush the first at 4.2 per cent. It is more than half-again as much, says Mr Anderson, as the roughly 6 per cent that it reached during the Great Depression.

Is this not reality, Joe? And if it is, what becomes of your supposed 30-year “reality” — which really refers to the momentary surplus reached at the end of the Clinton years with the help of the discipline provided by a Republican congress? It all goes to prove what I have suggested before in articles (for example here and here) in The New Criterion, namely that in today’s rhetorical climate, the meaning of “reality” itself has changed from “what we can agree on” to “what I think.” In other words, the steady diet of fantasy with which the popular culture has been feeding us for the past generation has finally persuaded us that among the rights of man — a concept which itself invites fantastical thinking — is the right to our own reality. In still other words, reasoned discourse is at an end.

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