Two-party Epistemology

In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, a new survey by the University of Maryland shows that 57 percent of the American people continue to believe Saddam Hussein gave "substantial support" to al-Qaeda before the war with Iraq. "Why would so many Americans cling to patently false beliefs?" asks history professor Juan Cole. "One can only speculate of course. But I would suggest that the two-party system in the US has produced a two-party epistemology. Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. If it were accepted that Saddam had virtually nothing to do with al-Qaeda, that he had no weapons of mass destruction (nor any significant programs for producing them), and that no evidence for such things has been uncovered after the US and its allies have had a year to comb through Baath documents - if all that is accepted, then President Bush's credibility would suffer. For his partisans, it is absolutely crucial that the president retain his credibility. Therefore, rather than face reality, they re-jigger it to create a fantasy world in which Saddam and Usamah are buddies (as in the Jimmy Fallon/ Horatio Sanz skits on the American comedy show, Saturday Night Live), and in which David Kay (of whom respondents say they've never heard) never recanted his earlier belief that the WMD was there somewhere. ... It is bad for the country for policy to be made based on falsehoods, and it is even worse for failed policies not be be recognized as such because the public clings to myths. ... If nearly half the country cannot even see that things are going badly wrong in Iraq, one despairs that anyone will work up the political will to try to fix the problems before it is too late."