By Betty Mills
Carrying that theory to its ultimate conclusion, is it then possible to read nothing at all and be superbly knowledgeable?
Such hyperbole struck me as nonsense at first until I remembered that given the effect on public opinion of such talk shows hosts as Rush Limbaugh, it is also possible to listen more and know less.
With the campaign season of 2012 already upon us it seems a good idea to decide how we are going to make our ballot decisions. What and whom should we trust for accurate information? How do we decide who not to trust?
I’ve decided on a couple of those now popular bucket lists to help guide me through the upcoming torrent of information, starting with a negative version–the stuff I don’t need to know, don’t think relevant, and often consider an invasion of privacy, an unfortunate aspect of our political process which keeps some very qualified candidates out of the running. It also can bring unnecessary suffering to the candidate’s family if their private lives are paraded before the public.
So on the negative list of what I don’t need to know about are the sins of the family or some long ago antics of the candidate him or herself. Nor do I want to hear fragments of a paragraph, a speech, an article which changes the meaning of the original or a quotation out of context.
Then there’s the erroneous facts and clever name calling category: “Social security is a Ponzi scheme,” for example, both makes social security sound fraudulent a la the Madoff disaster not long ago and endangered. Ditto declaring climate science a “contrived phony mess.” It would be comforting to file those under “scare tactics,” and deep six the lot of them, switching to the other bucket list, which even in the light of a barely begun campaign seems destined for the wishful thinking category, would include a vow by voters to read up on the issues and candidates from neutral sources.
There is, for example, Project Vote Smart, www.votesmart.org, a nonprofit group which collects data on candidates, voting records of incumbents, and a wealth of useful information. Its founding members include Barry Goldwater, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, George McGovern, Newt Gingrich, Geraldine Ferraro, and Pat Shroeder, which is high class and bi-partisan enough to bring on a nostalgia attack considering how impossible it would be in today’s political climate to put together such a distinguished group from both parties.
There are news organizations which provide analysis of political statements and debate claims, fact checkers, to alert listeners to the half truths and outright falsehoods This is particularly important when we consider you cannot un-ring a bell, and a lie can go all around the world while truth is still getting out of bed.
I would like real debates with a bi-partisan audience sworn to utter silence no matter what the candidates said. Anything louder than a quiet sneeze and out they go. The interviewers would be allowed follow-ups, and questions could be submitted in writing by the audience.
Position papers by candidates would be limited to one page on each issue and would be factual, easily understood, and free of campaign jargon.
Actually there has never been a political campaign in our history free of slander, fibs and confusion. Each technological advance has provided more information for voters, but created its own hazards. For example, the advent of television and the first presidential debate. Poor Richard Nixon, recovering from an illness, with his five o’clock shadow creating a positively sinister effect, up against handsome Jack Kennedy with his movie star good looks, articulate and at ease.
Now we have Facebook and Twitter and e-mail, and “facts” floating out there with the greatest of ease, true or false, and no way to know who believes and who disdains. Which makes it all the more important to be careful of sources, willing to listen to the opposing views, and able to sort out truth from fiction, the relevant from the frivolous.
As a political junkie I am willing to stay to the bitter end of a dreadful speech, a preposterous argument, a dishwater dull debate, always hoping someone will light up the night, make mighty political sense, and move the audience to go door to door for the rest of the campaign.
I would be very happy if I were one of them. Think I’ll put it on my bucket list.