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Politicians live on the edge of reality

One day in 1997 at the Nevada Legislature, John Ensign — then a U.S. House member — was visiting and I took the opportunity to ask him a question.

Some programs like domestic abuse prevention and Foster Grandparents were having their funding cut because of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, the patronizing name given to the Clinton/Congress welfare “reform” law.

What, I asked Ensign, did Foster Grandparents and other such programs have to do with changing welfare?

Ensign flatly denied that the new law had cut funding to unrelated programs. As it happened, I had in my pocket a letter that had been leaked to me. It was written by a Washoe County finance official informing a local agency that its funding was being reduced as a result of the PRWO Act.

There’s a new book, “Unreal City,” about the exploitation of Arizona tribes to build the city of Las Vegas. One chapter describes a meeting between U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater and Arizona Navajos in July 1978. The members of the tribe were angry because, as a result of Goldwater legislation, they were being forced off their land.

“There has been no decision that says you have to move,” Goldwater told them — though barbed wire was already in place closing off hundreds of square miles of their former territory and a “partition order” had been posted. Nevertheless, Goldwater told them, “No money has been appropriated for relocation.” Author Judith Nies writes, “[T]he Indian Relocation Commission was in operation on a side street in Flagstaff and had been receiving money for more than three years.”

There is also a new movie out, a documentary by Michael Moore. It contains an interesting scene from a television interview with Rick Perry, then governor of Texas. An interviewer asks Perry about abstinence education in Texas at a time when the state had the nation’s third highest teen pregnancy rate.

“Abstinence works,” Perry replies.

Then why wasn’t it doing anything about the pregnancy rate? The interviewer asked again.

Perry stolidly replied, “I’m going to tell you from my own personal life, abstinence works.”

The ability of politicians to let ideology or political need triumph over reality is often fascinating.

Long before science denial came along in the climate change field, politicians were skilled at denying reality. And it continues in this year’s presidential campaign.

Marco Rubio, for instance, was asked how old the earth is. That the question needed to be asked of a presidential candidate speaks volumes about how politicians have succumbed to doubt merchants whose commerce is more important to them than the fate of the environment. Can anyone imagine a reporter asking Kennedy or Nixon such a question in the 1960 debates?

Rubio’s response was to pit science against religion and commerce: “I can tell you what recorded history says. I can tell you what the Bible says. But I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.”

Jeb Bush said that “academics are going to take the back seat” in his administration, which as it turns out will not come to be.

The claims made as a result of the doctored Planned Parenthood tapes have been discredited by grand juries and prosecutors time and again, yet there are still presidential candidates like Ted Cruz taking policy stands based on those bogus tapes. Before their campaigns went into decline Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson similarly insisted on campaigning on the Planned Parenthood claims.

There are now fact checking websites that do a real service. One of them has received a Pulitzer Prize, but their articles cannot keep up with the incessant misinformation contained in television spots that are aired time after time, day after day.

There is a direct link between a presidential candidate who cannot accept reality and a president who cannot accept reality, who — for example — leads the nation into an unnecessary, preventable war because of imaginary vacuum tubes and weapons of mass destruction.

Must more than 4,000 troops die and another million be injured because of politicians who pay games with the truth?

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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