It seems that I have upset some folks on the Left again, this time by mentioning -- deep inside a story about Sarah Palin's proclaimed victimhood over the Tucson massacre fallout -- that groups like the 9/11 "truthers" also have contributed to America's crazed political environment.
(Last October, I angered some on the Left by noting that the four previous examples of progressives trying to punish Democrats by sitting out elections or supporting third parties -- 1968, 1980, 1994 and 2000 -- didn't work out very well, either in the short- or long-term. I meant the piece to be a historical review of these tactics but it apparently touched some raw nerves.)
Similarly, my brief criticism of the "truthers" prompted a wave of angry e-mails and blog postings. In part, I was accused of showing inadequate respect for the "truther" research and was scolded for not delving deeply enough into the intricate arguments behind their claim that 9/11 was an "inside job."
But the truth is that I have devoted way more time to these preposterous notions than they deserve. And, since time is a zero-sum game, every hour wasted on this strange parlor game means that real crimes and government wrongdoing get neglected. Still, there may be lessons to be learned here, though not the ones the "truthers" would want.
In following the curious twists and turns of the "truther" movement over the past nine years, I have become concerned that the anti-empiricism which has long infected the American Right has now spread to some quarters of the Left (although I realize that many on the Left reject the "truther" allegations as nonsensical and that some on the Right have embraced them.)
Indeed, if you were to teach a course on sophistry, you might wish to make a case study of the "truther" movement, which has deployed nearly every imaginable example of false logic, from the use of endorsements as a substitute for evidence to insistence that any miniscule doubt on one side of an argument requires its rejection while even the thinnest possibility on the other must be accepted as serious, if not true.
This kind of evidentiary game-playing is what I had grown accustomed to in dealing with the neoconservatives, such as their exaggerations of foreign threats, from the 1980s (when Nicaragua's Sandinistas were a danger to the Panama Canal and Texas) through George W. Bush's presidency (over Iraq's WMD) and even to today (with worries about Iran's nuclear program).
For instance, when Vice President Dick Cheney and the neocons were arguing for war with Iraq, they insisted that even a one-percent possibility that they were right about Iraq sharing WMD with terrorists meant that their fear must be accepted as certainty, while the counterpoint that Iraq had no WMD had to be proven to some impossible 100 percent level. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's "One Percent Madness."]
Using such imbalanced -- and irrational -- constructs, in effect, predetermine the outcomes, since you can never prove something to 100-percent certainty and there is always a chance for some one-percent feasibility on the other side. These loaded-dice arguments can lead nations into ill-conceived wars or persuade people of arguments that otherwise would be dismissed as crazy.
Though many "truthers" shy away from an explicit recounting of their presumed narrative -- favoring instead "poking holes" in the official story -- here is some of what they seem to believe:
Operatives working for President Bush wired 100-plus floors of the World Trade Center towers with explosives as well as the support structure of nearby Building Seven. They did all this -- a complicated process that would have taken a large team of experts weeks and would have required extraordinary access to the buildings -- without anyone seeing anyone doing any of this.
Then, when the two planes crashed into the towers on 9/11, Bush allowed them to burn for a while before deciding that the maximum psychological effect required that the buildings be brought down. So, the explosive charges were detonated remotely in sequential order from the top down.
After the fire and devastation spread next door to Building Seven, Bush's team also detonated explosives there to bring down that smaller tower, presumably with the motive of destroying government documents that were located in offices there.
Meanwhile, in Washington, a third plane was approaching the Pentagon. Passengers onboard made frantic phone calls describing the hijacking. Plus, since the Pentagon is not in some secret location -- it sits next to Interstate-395 and can be viewed from high-rises across the highway in Crystal City -- some hundred or so people reported seeing the plane head into the Pentagon.
Some of the plane's wreckage was strewn across the Pentagon grounds, and authorities later reported recovering the plane's black box inside the Pentagon. But "truthers" insist that no plane hit the Pentagon; that Bush's team attacked it with a missile.
However, nobody saw a missile. Nor would there be any way to explain the plane wreckage on the grounds, since nobody saw more Bush operatives driving around the Pentagon grounds planting fake pieces of the plane -- even as emergency personnel and others rushed to the crash site.