There’s a phrase in the discipline of logic for the belief that a proposition that can’t be disproved must therefore be true. It’s not a phrase that Republicans and conservatives want to hear, but it’s one that, in this case, suits them all too well: argument from ignorance.
Example: “Although we have proven that the moon is not made of spare ribs, we have not proven that its core cannot be filled with them; therefore, the moon’s core is filled with spare ribs.”
This is precisely the “logic” behind the assertion, thundered Monday night by Rudy Giuliani among others (and hey, I want some of what he was on!), that Hillary Clinton lied to the faces of the Benghazi families. This is a line that took on a life of its own shortly after the tragedy happened on Sept. 11, 2012. It has been repeated ever since and it will continue to be repeated until the end of time precisely for the above reason: It can’t be disproven, so, knowing that evil Hillary, it must be true.
The GOP version is this: On Sept. 14, 2012, at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, Clinton and President Obama met with family members of the four men killed in the Benghazi attack. Clinton is said to have lied in this meeting because she blamed the infamous video Innocence of Muslims for the attack. It was later demonstrated that the video had little to do with the attack, although debate over what role, if any, it played continues to this day.
Of course, the fact-checkers have looked into it, and they’ve found no evidence to support the claim that Clinton lied. Politifact recounted the whole “controversy” in great detail, and found that some family members say Clinton mentioned the video, while others (Clinton included) don’t remember it that way. But Politifact emphasizes that even if she did blame the video for the deaths, calling that a deliberate lie is unsupported by any chain of facts. A clearer picture came into focus the following day, Sept. 15.
The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler looked into it too, after Marco Rubio called Clinton a liar in a debate last fall. Kessler gave Rubio only two Pinocchios out of four because of the conflicting accounts of what was said in the meeting and the confusion at the time in intelligence circles about what was behind the attack, but Kessler concluded that Rubio “does not have enough evidence to label Clinton a liar.”
Obviously, the Kool-Aid caucus has a ready answer for this, which is that Politifact and The Washington Post are both in on the pro-Clinton conspiracy. Because that conspiracy’s tentacles reach everywhere, you see. Paul Manafort even said on CNN this morning that Hillary is behind the Melania plagiarism thing. Next thing, Clinton will be revealed to have been behind the Turkish coup. Incredibly, a Google search for “Clinton behind coup in Turkey” didn’t turn up much, though Fetullah Gulen’s expressed admiration for Clinton has been noted with suspicion in some quarters.
I won’t go into detail rebutting the Rubio-Giuliani argument. Follow the links above if you want that. This column is about argument from ignorance. It’s the basis of about 80 or 85 percent of the Clinton “scandals” you’ve read about over the years. Not 100 percent. Hillary brought the email thing on herself. But surely 80 or 85.
Take an ambiguous set of facts. Add in some innuendo. Arrange the facts in the most suspicious-seeming way. Then level an allegation that cannot be disproven. Then try to convert the allegation into “fact” by constant repetition. Then get either a highly partisan special prosecutor (Ken Starr) or a hyper-politicized congressional committee—or in fact several of them!—to spend many millions of taxpayer dollars and wreck any number of salaried staffers’ lives to try to emboss some seal of officialdom on the created “fact.”
It’s all argument from ignorance. It is separate and distinct from the usual political b.s. that both parties do and that all political parties have done since the beginning of political parties. This includes exaggeration, embellishment, obfuscation, and unfair distortion of an opponents’ words and record. Everybody does that all the time. And sometimes people tell outright lies.
But trying to convert an allegation that can’t be disproven into fact isn’t something everyone does. It’s a specialty of the right in this country, from Joe McCarthy to Trey Gowdy. And we’re going to hear more of it tonight, as Chris Christie bumbles his way to the podium. Fortunately, it seems that most Americans aren’t buying the idea that a secretary of state, even that one, would sit there and lie right to the faces of grieving family members. You have to believe she’s utterly inhuman.
Which, come to think of it, can’t be disproven. You ever seen her X-rays?