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Bill Straub: Who’s on first, second and third? Don’t ask Moe, Curly or Larry, facts befuddle them

I experienced an educational moment at the ripe, old age of 65 the other day, actually it was significantly more than a moment but that’s neither here nor there because it was enlightening to say the least.

It involved Facebook and an interaction with a gang of Trumpsters. I learned a lot, actually, but I ended up feeling like Bud Abbott trying to explain to Lou Costello who’s on first – sometimes it’s impossible to get through, and that bodes ill for the nation, as I will explain.

Since those involved in the discourse didn’t know I’d be writing about them – I know none of them personally – I contemplated referring to them here as Moron One, Two and Three. But that would be impolite during this time when we’re supposed to be more civil, so let’s just call them Moe, Larry, and Curley.

It began when I came across a post by Moe, in which he made reference to President Trump’s (gag me with a spoon) then upcoming Supreme Court nomination, which subsequently went to U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Here, in its entirety, is Moe’s post:

“HEY! Remember a few years back when Dems called Republicans “obstructionists” and Harry Reid passed the simple majority to appoint a Supreme Court justice to prevent Republicans from blocking Obama’s appointee??? Did I ever thank you libs for that???? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA How’s that blowing up in your faces????? 😂😂😂😂
Is Ginsbag next??? OUCH! She may not make it to Trumps next term.’’

Larry, Curley and Moe — the real ones.

Permit me to translate. Moe here is referring to the decision by then-Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, in 2013 to change Senate rules, rendering it impossible for the minority, the Republicans at that point in time, to engage in a filibuster of then-President Barack Obama’s lower federal court nominees. Reid acted because the GOP, led by our boy, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, was regularly blocking the nominations of Obama court appointees, including two to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Moe, in his infantile and inane way, was asserting that Reid’s maneuver backfired because it allowed McConnell, who is now the majority leader, to push through U.S. Supreme Court nominees without facing the possibility of a filibuster, which would require 60 votes for passage instead of the 51 now in effect.

Now forget about the gratuitous swipe at Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, and his apparent desire that she perish while holding down one of the high court’s nine seats and concentrate on the fact that what he says here is complete horse manure. Reid didn’t change the rule vis-à-vis the Supreme Court – he intentionally decided to keep any high court appointment liable for a filibuster. It was McConnell in 2017 who changed the rule in order to assure the confirmation of now-Justice Neil Gorsuch.

In other words, the post was factually incorrect. Frankly, it happens. I responded, explaining all this without any vituperation, figuring he would correct himself or maintain that Reid opened the door to McConnell’s move four years later. Fine.

I was, of course, wrong.

“Are you really that uninformed??? LMAO,’’ was Moe’s initial response, along with an article from what he referred to as “the Washington COMPost!’’ with the headline, “Trump gets to fill Kennedy’s seat — and it’s all thanks to Harry Reid.’’

The cited column, written by right-winger Hugh Hewitt, notes in the second sentence that Reid’s rule change exempted the Supreme Court.

Moe then proceeded to characterize me as a “simpleton.’’

Now here I should take a moment to note I am not Michelle Obama. For one thing, I don’t look fabulous in a sleeveless dress (don’t ask me how I know). For another thing, when she exalts “when they go low, we go high,’’ I take a powder. As folks who know me, and readers of this column, can testify, for better or worse, I’m not reluctant about getting involved in a West Side Story-like knife fight every now and then.

So I unloaded, referred to him as stupid and the offspring of a female dog. I pointed out, in no uncertain terms that this was not a matter of opinion — it’s a simple fact that Reid didn’t change the Supreme Court rule, McConnell did to usher in Gorsuch.

“His response? Edited for language, “You’re a MORON… The simple majority was passed by Harry Reid! How did McConnell change it when he was the MINORITY LEADER???’’

The answer, of course, was McConnell changed it after he became majority leader.

After repeating the factual basis for all this, I responded, “If you can’t read or think, and it’s obvious you can do neither, get your mama to read it to you. Good lord what idiots. No wonder the country is in trouble.’’

About now is when Larry chimed in:

“He (I assume he means me) is calling everyone a Nazi. He should read about real Nazi’s and find out what it was really like to deal with them. A–hole Moron.’’
Never happened.

By this time I’ve dug in my heels and it goes on for awhile before it takes a funky turn. In answering Moe’s claim that McConnell couldn’t have made the change since he was minority leader, I wrote this:

“And, by the way, McConnell changed the rule, obviously, after he became majority leader during the Gorsuch debate.’’

This was, I acknowledge, poorly worded. It made it sound like I was claiming that ol’ Root-‘n-Branch became majority leader during the Gorsuch debate. A comma after leader would have sufficed. Regardless it was not clearly written.
It was then that Curley chimed in, insisting I was wrong and that I should cop to it. And I did, acknowledging it was poorly written. A lot can be said about me, but it can’t be argued I know nothing about McConnell, who I have been covering on-and-off since he first ran for the Senate in 1984.

I said it was poorly worded, which of course, led Moe to declare victory, asserting that, somehow, everything I said collapsed as a result and that I was “clumsily backpedaling.’’

According to Moe: “Wasn’t as clear in one point? You mean you were very WRONG in that point and just now recently understand why you were very wrong!’’

And Curley entered with a lecture on manners.

“I’m debating your civility, or lack thereof, and your (easily provable) mistake. A brief, concise correction would have sufficed, at the beginning. Sprinkling it among your ranting, raving, and insults, solved nothing.’’

I did correct it, which for some reason he refused to acknowledge. As for my civility, I’m reminded of Humphrey Bogart, as Philip Marlowe, in The Big Sleep: “I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners, I don’t like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings.’’

And, of course, Curley said nothing about Moe’s manners – drooling over “Ginsbags’’ possible demise and his hurling of insults, including the opening gambit calling me a simpleton, which may or may not be true but is beside the point.

Finally, asked why he wouldn’t address the initial claim, that his post was wrong, Moe said, “Because you already acknowledged you were wrong. Ergo, I have nothing to gain.’’

So, what did we learn from this little experiment? A large number of individuals are not interested in facts. Like the president, they are motivated purely by perception. The Washington Post noted recently that 76 percent of the claims Trump, during a campaign rally-type appearance in Montana were either false, misleading or lacking evidence.

As David Roberts noted in an article for Vox, this results in what he called tribal epistemology. “Information is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world,’’ he wrote, “but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders. ‘Good for our side’ and ‘true’ begin to blur into one.’’

To these folks, political discussions are a zero-sum game and admitting a mistake is akin to acknowledging defeat, which is never acceptable. Years ago, folks like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh were constantly urging their sycophants to always remain on offense – never go on defense because if you’re on defense you’re losing. That was true here. Admitting error is out of the question. Instead, attack, attack, attack.

And woe be to anyone who makes a mistake, no matter how inconsequential – like failing to properly place a comma – and owns up to it. Suddenly it’s like de Gaulle entering liberated Paris. The fireworks go off, the champagne glasses clink. To these folks, it’s a great victory, no matter how small the error.

And make stuff up of a personal nature – deride someone for calling others Nazis when it never occurred and condemn their manners. Trump gets away with calling people names – one list has him insulting almost 500 individuals or institutions since taking office – but others can be taken down a few pegs for being rude.

So this shows Trumpists refuse to admit mistakes, engage in zero-sum tactics, willfully ignore facts, embrace tribal epistemology, wantonly insult and make things up about them.

Sounds like the president.

Bottom line, it’s hard to discuss an issue with someone who won’t accept facts. Don’t even try.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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