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David Letterman’s Willful Ignorance

When Rand Paul was a guest on The Late Show with David Letterman last week the Wall Street Journal called the Senator’s appearance “A Painful 12 Minutes,” and it was. It was painful to watch as the calmand measured Paul tried to explain to a somewhat antagonistic Letterman that our current economic woes had more to do with an unaccountable and overly expensive public sector than an under-taxed private sector. It was painful to watch a seasoned talk show host get schooled by a rookie senator on how the beleaguered “rich” actually do pay most of the taxes, how education remains dismal despite abundant funding, and how market place competition is stymied by continuous government subsidization of complacency and incompetence.

Yes, it was painful to watch a legendary television star loved by millions say to his audience concerning Paul: “You know, I think he’s wrong about some of these things. I just can’t tell you why.”

At Campaign for Liberty, author Thomas Woods said of Letterman’s confession of ignorance:

“I am still speechless at David Letterman’s interview with Rand Paul last night… Practically everything he said was wrong. Rand correctly noted that the top 1% of income tax earners pay one-third of all the income taxes, with the top 50% paying 96%… Letterman wonders why we can’t just loot the ‘rich’ some more. Well, if we’d like to make still more firms leave the U.S., that’d be a good start. Want to strangle the growth on which everyone’s welfare depends? Rand explains, again correctly, that spending more money on education has not improved educational outcomes. Letterman’s response? There must be something wrong with those numbers, he said to applause from the audience.”

Woods added: “So the audience is in effect saying, ‘We also refuse to believe those numbers!’ But those numbers are correct. Will they retroactively withdraw that applause, now that they realize they’ve made fools of themselves by clapping for the denial of an easily verified fact?”

Not to further tweak my good friend Tom, but the answer is “no,” they won’t retract their applause. Neither is Letterman likely to change his way of thinking, even if presented with demonstrable facts contrary to his opinions. In fact, the sad truth is that for arguably the bulk of liberals and conservatives, much of their ideology is based on preconceptions formed by historical prejudices encouraged by partisan interests. And it is this type of typical, partisan-based willful ignorance that is precisely what’s wrong with our politics.

As a conventional liberal, Letterman is already predisposed to believing that our economic woes are the fault of the “evil rich,” that education is in the dumps because we don’t spend enough money and that if we could only raise taxes—again—we might finally sort of everything out. The political and economic absurdity of this will always be lost on a Left whose ideological tunnel vision prevents them from seeing outside the narrative of class warfare and the irrefutable necessity—always—of more government intervention. Letterman could no more conceive of the rich not being a culprit in our recession than conservatives could conceive of government being a force for good. In fact, when conservatives condemn government wholesale, liberals are quick to disagree and sing the praises of entitlements and the welfare state—without noticing that both have been dismal failures if measured by their projected cost and intended function. All in all, it’s a silly and nonsensical partisan cycle.


But if liberals are in love with big government domestically, always jealously guarding it from any competition or encroachment from the private sector—i.e. “the rich”—conservatives’ willful ignorance usually manifests itself in their love for big government overseas. That our aggressive foreign policy, which doles out welfare to the world, constantly polices the globe and commits endless blood and treasure to nation building projects that are demonstrably not worth the cost—virtually no amount of facts or data will shake the faith of conservatives still wedded to the old, discredited Bush-era war narrative. In fact, if Letterman’s retort to Paul’s obvious facts was to insist that Paul must be wrong despite any facts, stubborn pro-war conservatives who find themselves challenged on their foreign policy views typically respond with the same sort of emotionalism, asking their critics if “they remember 9/11?” or reminding them that “freedom isn’t free,” as if the Iraq War had anything to do with 9/11 and being in Afghanistan a decade later has anything to do with tangible American interests.

In his criticism of Letterman, Woods finished by writing: “If Letterman and the geniuses in his audience reflect the general population, we have much more work than we thought.” Woods is no doubt correct, but those who put political principle before party and value truth over mere partisan consensus, will always have their work cut out for them. Like Sen. Paul on Letterman’s program, the most an honest person can do is wave the flag of truth, watch the sparks fly, and let the chips fall where they may. Changing hearts and minds is a messy and often thankless business. But it is also the only moral reason for even being involved in politics in the first place.

3 Comments (Open | Close)

3 Comments To "David Letterman’s Willful Ignorance"

#1 Comment By amsron On March 1, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

Of course, the opposite is true. You might be wrong and everyone else right.

After all, the last 30 years is replete with statements by conservatives proven wrong over time. Start with Reagan’s trickle down theories and his deregulation of the banking industry.

Trickle down really caused a “flood” upward that never helped anyone but millionaires. It’s an arguable fact that deregulation caused the Savings and Loan meltdown less than 10 years later. Further deregulation has led inexorably to the more recent meltdowns in the Banking, Hedge fund and Insurance Industries.

Environmental deregulation has led to unsafe mining operations, pollution and the spectacular blow out of the Gulf Oil Rig last year.

No, I think you’re wrong. Their response is mostly due to the “feeling” that we’re about to get screwed again by Republican greed, arrogance and indifference, and I applaud the audience for getting it right.

#2 Comment By Hans P. Bosse On March 6, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

Rand Paul shouldn’t be engaging in a verbal sparring bout with people such as Letterman. Notwithstanding that the latter is totally in over his head, the fact remains that Letterman’s main bill of fair consists of jokes written by someone else, followed by insipid interviews of people like Brittany Spears. The audience response is only to be expected. Better that Mr. Paul stick to C-Span which attracts more thoughtful viewers–all ten of them.

#3 Comment By Pontus Gripp On March 8, 2011 @ 8:30 am

No, amsron, you’re wrong. Facts are facts.