Sanford F. Schram
Bryn Mawr College
Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, has a phrase to characterize how Foxnews looks at the world: It is the view from Bullshit Mountain. It is most appropriate, especially when trying to distinguish what people on that television station have to say from ordinary lying. Lying is intentionally not telling the truth; bullshit is intentionally muddling the truth for purposes of making it seem like you know what you are talking about, when in fact you are just making a mess of it, so other people will be confused and will succumb to your point of view (especially if you are sufficiently aggressive in your bullshitting). This may explain why Stewart spends so much time on his show confusing clips of people on Fox with animals defecating (just in case you do not get the point)!
Mitt Romney has been accused of many things as a presidential candidate: serial liar, flip-flopper, man who will believe anything to get elected, man without core values, etc. Yet, he really is best described as a bullshitter (which is exactly what President Barack Obama recently called him). He does not quite lie as much as continually parse words so that his positions can migrate to where they need to be to get the votes he seeks, whether in a primary where he is appealing to the severely conservative base of the current Republican Party or in a general election where he must moderate those positions to appeal to people other than the extremists who populate his party today.
In fact, the Republican Party today is knee deep in bullshit and Romney is the just lead bullshitter. Romney is the lead bullshitter because his core is in fact obfuscation. He keeps twisting his positions and muddling what he stands for to the point that after a while he ends up with no core. This makes him a true believer of a particular ironic sort—someone who probably genuinely believes that his deflections and diversions in and of themselves reflect a solid position. His positions are nuanced. Yet, many others in the Party are more traditional true believers, extreme social and economic conservatives who end up bullshitters as they twist their un-varnished positions to make them more palatable to voters beyond the Party’s rabid base. We do not have to look too far from Romney to find examples. Paul Ryan (Romney’s Vice Presidential candidate) is a true believer-bullshitter of the first order whether he is talking about abortion or tax cuts, Medicare or defense spending. Ryan and others like him also do not really lie so much as they just make shit up in ways that confuse issues to the point they can convince people they are actually telling the truth (according to the facts, science. etc.). That way they can make it seem that their strongly-held but questionable positions have a basis in truth and facts that they actually don’t.
These days, at the end of the 2012 general election campaign, the bullshit is being slung far and wide, most especially about issues of sex and race.
Listen to the bullshit on sex. Women who endure a “legitimate rape” secrete hormones that prevent them from getting pregnant so that any woman who gets pregnant and wants an abortion because she claims she was raped must be lying (not bullshitting). Welfare recipients who want additional benefits for having another child should be prevented from accessing those benefits unless they can prove they were raped (which evidently cannot happen due to those hormones). And Mitt Romney actually supports abortion rights (even if it turns out only in cases to save the life of the mother, incest or rape which, it goes without saying, supposedly should never occur because of those powerful hormones again).
Then there is the bullshit on race. Voter ID laws and other related restrictions are necessary because voter fraud is real, if invisible and undocumented, and we are asked to please keep in mind that these laws are not designed to prevent African Americans and Latinos from voting, even though they are much less likely to end up voting because of these additional restrictions. The push to put restrictions on voting is, we are told, not about cutting into nonwhite support for Obama (even if Republican elected officials have publicly indicated that is exactly what these bullshit-based laws are all about).
The idea additional welfare benefits should be denied unless rape is proven is supposedly based on the claim that women on welfare have children just to get more benefits. This is…how should we say it…bullshit. There is no factual basis for this claim. Just like there is no factual basis for the claim that there are people who are trying to vote illegally (especially undocumented and illegal immigrants who would be risking deportation if they got caught). It is all bullshit regardless of whether the bullshitters believe in the sanctity of their positions or not. They desperately bend facts and logic to make their unreasonable stands seem reasonable. And being a true believer may actually serve to operate as some kind of self-legitimation in practicing the bullshitting for a supposedly good cause. Religious conservatives want to curtail access to welfare to prevent the additional pregnancies (that welfare does not cause) and other Republicans concerned about the sanctity of the ballot want to “True the Vote” even if all it does is end up disenfranchising mostly nonwhite Obama supporters.
Whether offered piously or cynically, bullshit ends up playing fast and loose with facts and logic. Sure, some women on welfare are not planning enough to improve their desperate situation, but reducing benefits when they have another child is not going to provide them with a path for a life beyond destitution. Sure, sometimes, some people’s registration forms are improperly completed. Some people might vote twice but that is even rarer. If our elections are at risk of fraud, it is from the people tallying the votes, not the people casting them. But even that is only occurring in isolated instances up until this election (and we can hope it stays that way).
Bullshit also unnecessarily complicates things. Allowing additional benefits in cases of rape would actually be an improvement in some states where aid for all additional children is denied to families on welfare regardless of whether rape was involved or not. Voter IDs are not quite as bad as the old poll tax that was intentionally set so high that basically almost all blacks in the south could not qualify to vote. So these laws are less bad, and more focused, as if they were attending to specific problems that actually exist. Not as bad and not quite lies, these horrible laws are based in bullshit and end up just hurting people whether they are welfare recipients or voters. The result then is bullshit laws made by bullshit politicians, bullshitting about sex and race, making up stories about women on welfare and nonwhites trying to vote, just to legitimate their repugnant beliefs.
Yet it does not stop there. There is the bullshit called climate change denial, various creationism contortions, and the idea that the rich who are not investing in business growth are the real job-creators waiting to be incentivized.
The head bullshitter Romney continues to twist facts to make himself seem to be everything to everyone. My favorite is the bankruptcy that is not a bankruptcy. Romney claims he was not for letting the auto industry in Detroit go bankrupt but was instead for a structured bankruptcy where private equity firms like his Bain Capital could swoop in and buy up GM and Chrysler. But at the time, the economy was in the tank and there was no private equity firm prepared to do that in any way that people would say was fair or would lead to recovery of the auto industry. So his structured bankruptcy would have been just another bad bankruptcy and his insistence on the difference is bullshit. The same could be said about his plans for Medicare or Medicaid, tax cuts, education reform, etc.
Let’s face facts: all politicians are prone to bullshitting—it comes with the pandering for votes. Yet things on Bullshit Mountain are very different and go well beyond the usual bullshit. On Bullshit Mountain, things stink to high heaven.