I suppose Frank Bruni may be on to something in his latest column -- he's writing about Compliance, a new indie film based on a series of horrifying incidents in which a telephone caller posing as a police officer would persuade workers at fast-food restaurants to strip-search, degrade, and sometimes sexually assault female employees. Bruni sees the film, and the incidents that inspired it, as evidence that we're all too willing to accept the word of authorities -- a problem he links to our politics.
Bruni finds this tendency on the right, of course -- but watch him struggle to try to make this a character flaw shared by liberals (emphasis added below):
People routinely buy into outlandish claims that calm particular anxieties, fill given needs or affirm preferred worldviews.... someone like Todd Akin, the antihero of last week's news, illustrates it to a T. The notion that a raped woman can miraculously foil and neutralize sperm is a good 10 times crazier than anything in "Compliance," but it dovetails beautifully with his obvious wish -- and the wishes of like-minded extremists -- for an abortion prohibition with no exceptions. So he embraces it.Excuse me -- who among liberals believes without a shadow of a doubt that Harry Reid is telling the truth regarding Mitt Romney's taxes? Who sees him as an authority one dare not question?
People also routinely elect trust over skepticism because it's easier, more convenient. Saddam Hussein is stockpiling weapons of mass destruction; the climate isn't changing; Barack Obama's birth certificate is forged; Mitt Romney didn't pay taxes for 10 years. To varying degrees, all of these were or are articles of faith, unverifiable or eventually knocked down. People nonetheless accepted them because the alternative meant confronting outright mendacity from otherwise respected authorities, trading the calm of certainty for the disquiet of doubt, or potentially hunkering down to the hard work of muddling through the elusive truth of things. Better simply to be told what's what.
I've seen a lot of liberal condemnation of what Reid said; I've seen it argued that the story may be true but "no taxes" really means an embarrassingly small tax burden for a rich guy. Most of us on the left, I think, believe that it might be true or it might not be; that Reid really might have a source or might not; and that the source (if this person exists) might be in a position to know or might not be. What we believe is that this is politics played as if it ain't beanbag; it's successfully rattling Romney's cage, and we like that. It keeps the story in the news. It makes Romney look defensive and evasive. It reminds people of how easy it would be for him to clear all this up, and makes the point that his failure to do so means he appears to be hiding something that's really bad -- something that quite possibly has nothing to do with an income tax rate and everything to do with tax-avoidance strategies that, regrettably, are perfectly legal.
By contrast, do religious conservatives really unquestioningly believe that rape can't lead to pregnancy? A lot of them do -- and have believed this since the 1970s. Did the right (and most of the center and some of the left) believe that Saddam had WMDs in 2003? Absolutely -- and the right still believes this. Republicans absolutely believe climate change is a hoax. And they absolutely believe Obama was born abroad (or are "not sure").
There's no balance here. Both sides don't do it. Right-wingers believe crazier things than we do, and believe them unquestioningly.