I refer to The Liar Tony Perkins by his full title because, well, Tony Perkins lies — all the time, about everything. David Roberts, however, argues that right-wing bosses like Perkins aren’t quite exactly lying. They are, he says, instead just coming to accept the radical epistemological implications of their own long campaign to delegitimize every source of information that disagrees with them.
“David Roberts explains postmodern conservatism in 36 tweets.” Here’s the core idea:
1. Right has systematically and progressively destroyed the very notion of a nonpartisan arbiter of information.
2. The implications are epistemologically radical, but it has taken the right a while to truly embrace them. Held back by unspoken norms. …
4. It’s like pointing to an apple and saying, “this is an orange.” It takes practice to train your mind to be able to do it.
5. You have to convince yourself, not so much that an apple is an orange, but that there is no such thing as what the object “really” is.
6. Or rather, that on the question of what the object is, there are *only* competing answers — no objective fact of the matter.
7. As you get used to thinking this way, you get more bold, moving from highly contestable interpretations to flat matters of fact. …
10. The right has realized that if you just brazen it out, there’s no authority that can “settle the argument.” No ref to make the call.
11. In this way every dispute, even over matters of fact, becomes a contest of power — loudest, best funded, most persistent voices win.
Here’s an illustration of how this works, from our old friend The Liar Tony Perkins. Perkins and his Family Research Council often raise funds for prayer campaigns on behalf of certain high-profile Christians imprisoned by oppressive regimes overseas. Perkins’ pattern in these cases is always the same — following the “postmodern” right-wing template earlier established with Chen Guangcheng and Meriam Ibrahim and Bowe Bergdahl.
Step 1: As the Obama administration and the State Department call and work for the release of these prisoners, the right attacks President Obama for being silent and doing nothing. These attacks ignore the documented facts of the matter, but because “there’s no authority that can ‘settle the argument'” those facts can be denied if you’re loud enough, well-funded, and brazen enough not to care.
Step 2: After the Obama administration and the State Department secure the release of the prisoners, the right denies their release had anything to do with the president or the state department. This sometimes involves two contradictory criticisms: A) That the administration did nothing and the release occurred “despite” Obama’s intransigence; and B) Obama’s actions were too little, too late, and he can’t be credited for doing this now because he should have done this years ago.
Step 3: The right attacks the released prisoners themselves. Once they’re safely back home, or once they’ve received asylum here in America, they’re no longer useful as a tool with which to attack the administration. Such released prisoners, rather, now become the embodiment of dangerous facts whose existence undermines the anti-factual attacks the right wishes to continue making. Like all such facts, they must be delegitimized.
Step 4: Change the subject to another prisoner. Lather, rinse, repeat.
So then, here’s what that looks like in action. American missionaries Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller are safely back in the U.S., having been released from the North Korean labor camp where he was imprisoned for two years. Bae thanked President Obama and the State Department for “working tirelessly” for his release. That’s accurate — those efforts culminated in a visit to North Korea by the administration’s top intelligence official, James Clapper, who accompanied Bae and Miller on their journey home.
The Liar Tony Perkins did not join in the celebration over these missionaries’ freedom. Perkins took the opportunity, instead, to attack President Obama for doing nothing more than sending a “brief message” on behalf of Bae and Miller. That’s patently false — a brazen misrepresentation of two years of coordinated diplomatic efforts by the U.S. and Sweden, but Perkins isn’t worried about that because, as Roberts says, he embraces “postmodern conservatism” in which there are no “objective facts of the matter.”
Perkins quickly pivoted from discussing Bae and Miller to discussing another prisoner overseas — American pastor Saeed Abedini. On the day of Bae’s release, TL Perkins attacked Obama for “his absolute silence” on Abedini. The pastor’s “family’s pleas to the White House continue to fall on deaf ears,” Perkins said.
Here, according to Fox News (!), is what Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, actually had to say about President Obama: “I am very grateful to President Obama for standing up for Saeed and for the other Americans who are held captive in Iran.”
That was in response to Obama upping the stakes in this long diplomatic negotiation by discussing Abedini’s case directly with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The administration’s many efforts on behalf of Abedini, including Obama’s specific comments to Rouhani, are an indisputable matter of public record. That indisputable public record is flatly denied by right-wingers like Perkins who perversely then turn around and attack the president for not doing what the president is, in fact, doing.
And The Liar Tony Perkins can get away with this because, for him and for his credulous postmodern followers, there’s no longer any such thing as an indisputable matter of public record.
Here’s where I find myself disagreeing with Roberts. I don’t think the right-wing bosses are as addled by their postmodern pretense as he argues. Tony Perkins and Mitch McConnell and the other bosses know the difference between an apple and an orange or between a hawk and a handsaw. They’ve learned that they can get away with pretending that no arbiter of fact exists, and that therefore they can make counter-factual and anti-factual arguments with impunity.
But they still know they’re doing it. They’re not really “postmodern.” They’re just lying. All the time. For money and power. Because they can.