Reality-based community

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Reality-based community is a political label used to refer to those on the American Left who make political judgments based on present reality, in contrast with opposing factions which do not. The phrase can be pejorative or positive. It was first used by the George W. Bush Administration to criticize their opponents for limiting their vision to the way things were rather than including what the Administration's actions made possible. The phrase was quickly reappropriated to criticize the Administration for "faith-based" wishful thinking.[1] This meaning of reality-based community eclipsed the phrase's original intention and is used this way by both the political left, which uses it in a positive sense, and right, which uses it ironically.


The phrase was attributed by journalist Ron Suskind to an unnamed official in the George W. Bush Administration who used it to denigrate a critic of the administration's policies as someone who based their judgements on facts.[2] In a 2004 article appearing in the New York Times Magazine, Suskind wrote:

The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' [...] 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do'.[3]

The source of the quotation was later identified as Bush's senior advisor Karl Rove,[4] although Rove has denied saying it.[5]


Though some on the left side of the United States political spectrum considered it as a badge of honor,[2][6] the term and the piece of writing where it was revealed to the public were not perceived as significant by conservatives.[7][8] It was given a second life by growth of the so-called post-truth political culture.[9][10][11]

Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book, Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower considered the manner in which "the senior Bush aide derisively dismissed criticism from what he called "the reality based community" as demonstration of the "arrogance that swept the Bush White House".[12] International Relations scholar Fred Halliday wrote that the phrase reality-based community (in contrast to faith-based community) was "a term of disparagement in the Bush Administration for those who did not share their international goals and aspirations".[2] According to liberal media critic and journalism professor Jay Rosen, "Many on the left adopted the term. 'Proud Member of the Reality-Based Community,' their blogs said. The right then jeered at the left's self-description."[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Poole, Steven (2007). Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 9780802143051
  2. ^ a b c Halliday, Fred (2010). Shocked and Awed: How the War on Terror and Jihad Have Changed the English Language. I.B.Tauris. p. 306. ISBN 978-0-85-771875-4.
  3. ^ Suskind, Ron (17 October 2004). "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush". The New York Times Magazine. ISSN 0028-7822.
  4. ^ Engelhardt, Tom (19 June 2014). "Karl Rove Unintentionally Predicted the Current Chaos in Iraq". Mother Jones.
  5. ^ Schonfeld, Zach (8 September 2017). "The Curious Case of a Supposed Karl Rove Quote Used on The National's New Album 'Sleep Well Beast'". Newsweek.
  6. ^ Zelizer, Julian E. (2010). The Presidency of George W. Bush: A First Historical Assessment. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691149011
  7. ^ Limbaugh, David (2007). Bankrupt: The Intellectual and Moral Bankruptcy of Today's Democratic Party. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, p. 337. ISBN 9781596980174
  8. ^ Bruce Bartlett (November 26, 2012). Revenge of the Reality-Based Community: My life on the Republican right—and how I saw it all go wrong, The American Conservative.
  9. ^ Damon Linker (January 27, 2016). The left vs. the reality-based community,
  10. ^ Andersen, Kurt (September 2017). How America Lost Its Mind: The nation’s current post-truth moment is the ultimate expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional throughout its history, The Atlantic.
  11. ^ Pennycook, Alastair (2017). Posthumanist Applied Linguistics. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 9781138209244
  12. ^ Brzezinski, Zbigniew (2008). Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower. New York: Basic Books, p. 137. ISBN 0465002528
  13. ^ Rosen, Jay (20 December 2006). "The Retreat from Empiricism and Ron Suskind's Intellectual Scoop". The Huffington Post.

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