Dialogues in Democracy: Commitment to Truth

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November 15 and 16, 2012
Miami, Florida

October 23, 2012

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By John Hart

Dialogues in Democracy: Commitment to Truth

Politics in our democracy has earned its reputation as a “blood sport.”  It’s been ugly from the beginning of our history.  It will likely be that way through its demise, as unlikely as it is that day will ever come. We have proven ourselves to be too resilient a people to allow ignorance to bring us down.

But there is something more surreal about the degenerated public discourse this election cycle.  Like in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, “Alice in Wonderland,” logic has been replaced with nonsense.  And similar to the peculiar creatures living down the rabbit hole, many of the characters playing the candidates role this year seem to thrive on the inane.

If we didn’t know better we could swear we are witnessing a fantasy play where facts are interpretive and truth is subjective.  There seemed a time when facts were indisputable.  Now, from one campaign stop to the next not only is the truth stretched, the facts and positions change.  Worse yet, an electorate both disenfranchised and highly partisan are oblivious to this playing loose with the facts, acting like bench players in their own game.

As much as the irreversible progress of science and technology will serve us in our future, there’s evidence that in this snapshot of time, smart phones, IPads and social media, has us moving so fast our absorption and processing rate of what we hear, see or receive comes and goes with little sticking in our consciousness, the proverbial in one ear and out the other.

It feels like we have become a collectively numb public, anesthetized with endless doses of policy pabulum, purposely twisting of opponent’s statements and vitriol that is off the charts.  The meanness in the air is stifling. Unfortunately, not all but way too many of us watch from the sidelines not demanding real discussion about real issues confronting our democracy.

The time is long overdue to rewrite the rules of engagement.  What is at stake is certainly greater than changing out the NFL Replacement Refs with the pros, yet that controversy grabbed the headlines and the attention of the press.  We need, as responsible citizens, to demand truth in the policy positions being advanced by those seeking to obtain our vote, those seeking to hold a public trust.

But the rules will not change if we, the people, don’t demand it.  We are a little more than a month away from the November election, and far too many of the specifics of how the next president will conduct our nation’s business remains elusive in the critical areas of job creation, deficit reduction, environment and energy independence.

Speaking about being locked out like the professional NFL refs, is it any wonder trillions of dollars available for reinvestment in our people and our infrastructure are uncommitted awaiting clarity and predictability about what will happen with health care reform and the future structure of the compacts we have created through Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?  If the ones who invest in our country are confused and unsure about where we’re headed, how can the average citizen be expected to understand?

A great political catch phrase some 30 plus years ago read that “government is not the solution; government is the problem.”  Snap!

The truth is government is neither the TOTAL solution nor the TOTAL problem.  And government is certainly not the enemy, the purveyor of all our ills, some would make it out to be.

Government and the private sector have been, and are, partners in an ever changing economic landscape, leaning more liberal or more conservative as warranted by the fiscal circumstances existing at the time, or the leader at the helm.  Government has served us all in critical and meaningful ways: from building our national highway system; to funding Medicare and Social Security to give protection and security to our elders and persons with disabilities; to building and sustaining our military that helps promote democracy around the world and protects our rights and freedoms at home; and takes care of our soldiers and their families for the sacrifices they made.

As responsible participants in our own democracy, exercising our vote is paramount.  Doing so as informed as we can be, and cutting through the spin, is critical. Not allowing the negative and highly partisan demagoguery to overwhelm us is essential.

If we are to have a sustainable future, we can’t ignore the fact we are a divided nation.  We simply can’t survive by hiding our heads in the sand, pretending the real and deep schisms and distrust of one constituency for another doesn’t exist.  No doubt we are split almost down the middle, truly united only in times of crisis and threats to our national security.  There are reasons we have come to this place. Jonathan Haidt’s brilliant new book “The Righteous Mind” spells out in extraordinary fashion “why good people are divided by politics and religion.”

He argues our moral intuition is a starting point for our political beliefs. Mr. Haidt points out “the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do.  These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are wrong.”  In the end, Mr. Haidt concludes we need the insights of liberals, conservatives and libertarians if we are to flourish as a nation.

Let’s insist good ideas are the ones to be implemented regardless of who generated them.  Reward politicians who accept compromise when it serves a national end. Support candidates who exercise civility.  Elect individuals no matter their party, who have made a commitment to truth.  Practice is over.  It’s time to put on our pads, strap on our helmets and take the field.  Watch out for rabbit holes!

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