It was one of the most important phrases of the entire Bush/Cheney era. In October 2004, just a few weeks before the presidential election, Ron Suskind ran a lengthy, much-discussed piece: “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush.” It included an exchange between Suskind an aide widely believed to be Karl Rove.
The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism.
He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
It was, to be sure, a rather twisted perspective, but the flippant use of the phrase “reality-based community” helped define an era of governing and policymaking in which facts were seen as an enemy worthy of disdain, if not defeat.
Nearly a decade later the phrase has a worthy successor.
Hillary Clinton blasted critics who have attacked her handling of the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi…. Republican lawmakers who have accused the administration of seeking to deceive voters ahead of the November elections don’t live in an “evidence-based world” and refuse to “accept the facts,” she told the AP in her final one-on-one interview as secretary of State.
“Evidence-based world” is a keeper. When it comes to political controversies, policy debates, and the public discourse, it appears most of the players fall into two camps: those who operate in a world based on evidence, reason, and fact, and those don’t.
This division proved to be critical in 2012 – remember “unskewed polls,” BLS conspiracy theories, and demonstrably ridiculous claims about welfare reform and the auto-industry rescue? – and as Clinton suggested, surprisingly little has changed.