Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Latest in "They Don't Care About the Truth"

In politics these days, it's common for people to believe that their opponents are a disreputable lot who will do or say anything to get elected.

Specifically, it's popular to say that your opponents don't care about the truth at all.

And we're getting a good dose of that in recent days. Consider a couple of recent instances in particular.

First, there's a recent appearance by Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees:
COOPER: Do you at least acknowledge that the quote that you gave from "The L.A. Times" is completely incorrect?
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, I don't acknowledge that. I know that is what you're saying.
COOPER: Well, I can read it to you right now, because what you said is...
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Anderson, what I'm saying is, it doesn't matter.
COOPER: I think what you say does matter. You're quoting "The L.A. Times" and again you have misquoted them and to back up a position.
This, in pundit Neal Boortz's view (as expressed this past August on his radio show), is proof that Democrats don't care about the truth: Cooper has pointed out that Wasserman Schultz is misquoting the LA Times article, and Wasserman Schultz is saying that "It doesn't matter". Case closed.

Meanwhile, Neil Newhouse, a pollster for GOP presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign, has been caught saying:
"We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."
Which President Barack Obama took to mean that Republicans "will not let the truth get in the way".

Now, in both of these cases, we have some exaggeration and caricature.

First, Wasserman Schultz wasn't saying that the truth doesn't matter. She was saying that Romney's stance on abortion was unacceptable regardless of the issue of whether or not she'd accurately quoted the LA Times article. Now, Wasserman Schultz was avoiding responsibility for the misquote (in particular, by using "the broader truth" rhetoric), for which she deserves criticism. But this is a far cry from her explicitly saying that being truthful doesn't matter.

Likewise, in the case of Newhouse, what he said was this:
"These fact-checkers come to those ads with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs. We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."
Clearly, Newhouse isn't explicitly saying that the truth is unimportant. Rather, he's saying that he doesn't trust many of the people who play the role of fact-checker because he believes they are biased. Newhouse is guilty of ad hominem reasoning -- "they're biased, therefore their fact-checking is wrong" -- but he's not saying that facts don't matter.

In other words, Republicans and Democrats are exaggerating what the other side is saying so that they can demonize their opponents as explicitly rejecting truth.

This is yet another chapter in the usual political game. Yes, there are egregious distortions coming from each side. Just to cite a few recent examples of accusations -- ranging from questionable to outright false -- that Republicans and Democrats have come up with:
Some Republicans have:
  • accused Obama of removing the work requirement from welfare;
  • accused Obama of cutting $700 billion from Medicare (while also calling for the same amount to be cut);
  • misrepresented Obama's "you didn't build that" remark;
  • held Obama responsible for the closing of a GM plant in Janesville, WI;
  • chastised Obama for rejecting the Simpson-Bowles committee's suggestions (even though the same Republicans did, too).
Some Democrats have:
  • accused Romney of being responsible for the death of a woman with cancer;
  • said Romney may have committed a felony in relation to his position at Bain Capital;
  • misrepresented Romney's "I like to fire people" remark;
  • misrepresented Romney as opposing abortion even in the case of rape and incest;
  • distorted the history of their own party with respect to racism.
As usual, everyone's livid at the misrepresentations coming from the other folks, but not at the ones coming from their own folks. Their distortions prove that they don't care about the truth, but my own side's distortions don't prove that my own side doesn't care about the truth. This kind of double-standard just adds another layer of name-calling, caricature, and distortion into the political arena.

And, of course, it feeds into the notion that "they'll do anything -- even hypocritically overlook their own distortions -- in order to win!"

It's painfully easy to uncover distortions and misrepresentations coming from either of our major political parties. We need to condemn them equally or be equally forgiving of them.

But we can't cast a blind eye to one side's transgressions while saying that the same thing coming from the other side is proof that they care nothing about telling the truth.

No comments: