Dems Love Facts and Science--Except When They Don't

Byron York

11/16/2010 12:01:00 AM - Byron York

President Obama recently fretted that our politics has become so rough-and-tumble that "facts and science and argument do not seem to be winning the day all the time." Speaking at a Democratic fundraiser just before the election, the president worried that Americans were so rattled by economic anxieties that they might lose their heads and choose Republicans over Democrats -- a fear that became a reality on Nov. 2.

But his larger point was that Democrats are guided by facts and science and argument while Republicans act on ideological or even irrational motives. As liberals and Democrats are fond of saying, they are part of the "reality-based community."

Except when they're not.

In the course of the Obama administration, we have seen examples of Democrats in the White House, Congress and across the government pursuing ideological goals that are not only not based on facts and science and argument but actually fly in the face of facts and science and argument. Some examples: -- Offshore oil drilling. Recently, the inspector general of the Interior Department discovered that White House officials altered a report to claim that the administration's six-month moratorium on offshore oil drilling had the approval of the nation's foremost engineering experts. "The recommendations contained in this report have been peer-reviewed by seven experts identified by the National Academy of Engineering," the administration declared. In fact, the experts had not reviewed, nor did they approve, the proposed drilling moratorium. The administration insists it was all a mistake.

-- The "clean-energy economy." President Obama speaks frequently about "accelerating the transition to a clean-energy economy." Neither Obama's promises of breakthroughs in solar, wind and other alternative-energy sources

-- which can supply only a tiny fraction of the nation's energy needs

-- nor his claims that his policies will create hundreds of thousands of "green jobs" in a new clean-energy world, are supported by solid economic analysis. Numerous studies found that the president's favored cap-and-trade program would not have led to economic growth, and the concept of "green jobs" is so fuzzy as to be almost useless.

"They are ignoring the fact that subsidized green jobs destroy jobs elsewhere and direct capital and resources away from their most efficient use," says Nick Loris, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "If these technologies were economically competitive and profitable, they wouldn't need the subsidies and mandates the administration is supporting."

-- High-speed rail. The administration wants to build high-speed rail links in 13 densely populated areas around the country, at a price tag that could reach into the hundreds of billions of dollars. The president touted high-speed rail at no fewer than five campaign appearances in October. But there is virtually no hope that such projects, even if built exactly as the administration hopes, would bring the progress Obama claims. Recently, Newsweek economic columnist Robert Samuelson concluded that the rail lines would not result in "any meaningful reduction in traffic congestion, greenhouse-gas emissions, air travel, or oil consumption and imports. Nada, zip."

The disregard of facts and science and argument when they contradict ideological goals is nothing new for some key figures in the Obama circle. For example, back in 1996, while an aide in the Clinton White House, Obama Supreme Court pick Elena Kagan rewrote the opinion of an expert board of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on the subject of partial-birth abortion. The board found that it could "identify no circumstances under which this procedure ... would be the only option to save the life or preserve the health of the woman." But Kagan, eager to aid the White House fight against a partial-birth abortion ban, refashioned the experts' opinion, saying the procedure "may be the best or the most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstances to save the life or preserve the health of a woman." She just made it up.

During the Bush years, liberals and Democrats often accused the administration of ignoring science and expert opinion if it conflicted with conservative ideological goals. That would change, we were told, if rational, pragmatic Democratic leaders were given a chance to run the government. Now we have had two years in which Democrats, with cherished ideological objectives of their own, have been fully in charge of Washington. Given what has taken place, can the president really claim that his is the party that values facts and science and argument above all?