June 27, 2012 | Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

“Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.” — Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

“The chances of factual truth surviving the onslaught of power are very slim indeed … ” — Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future

Although this may be more apparent than real, it seems as if the lying and the lies are increasing in frequency on the national level. Politics has long been characterized as a blood sport, but the escalation of vicious contentiousness since 2008 is unusual and extreme. Factual truth has been cast aside, casually thrown to the wind as if one were systematically ripping the petals off a roadside wildflower and tossing them into the air as so much refuse. The losers are the public, of course, the citizens who depend on the government for sound fiscal policies, welfare for those unable to care for themselves, and protection in the form of national defense.

Consider the lies told about the current economic situation. The opposition party points the finger at President Obama, declaring that he has done too little to “turn the economy around”. But the fact is that financial markets went belly-up during the reign of the White House previous occupant, President George W. Bush, and it was Bush’s team, including then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who devised the more than $700 billion bailout of firms that had pursued questionable, unethical, and disastrous policies. It was up to the current administration to begin to clean up the mess. For example, General Motors and Chrysler faced bankruptcy and the federal government provided more than $80 billion in relief funds. Many jobs were saved as a result of federal action. Almost 1.5 million people are working as a direct result of the government bailout of Detroit companies. But the opposition declares that “without [the president’s] intervention things there would be better”. The bailout is described as “crony capitalism” because it helped save the jobs of union workers. Facts are very slippery things.

Fact: U.S. Health care expenditures totaled more than $2.5 trillion in 2009. Fact: Approximately 50 million Americans are unable to purchase health insurance. Fact: The obesity epidemic persists in the U.S. Fact: The type II diabetes epidemic persists in the U.S. Fact: More than 23 million Americans have autoimmune diseases and the prevalence is rising. But opponents to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) declare that the legislation is a “job killer”. The legislation is described as “the biggest handout by liberals to a single interest group - the health insurance industry - in American history”. Additional cant asserts that the ACA will impose “massive penalties” on young workers and small businesses. But none of these statements is backed by actual fact.

We might expect presidential candidates to have knowledge of the actual workings of government, i.e., the facts. But that would be a false expectation. In response to the 6/25/2012 Supreme Court ruling on the 2010 Arizona immigration law, the presumed Republican candidate declared “I believe that each state has the duty — and the right — to secure our borders”. However, this is not factual. States have no such right. In his majority opinion in Arizona et al v. United States, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated “The Government of the United States has broad, undoubted power over the subject of immigration.” Justice Kennedy continued, “… the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law”. Apparently, facts are an afterthought in what passes for political discourse.

None of this is a surprise. As Arendt states in her essay “Truth and Politics”, modern ideologies openly proclaim themselves "to be political weapons and consider the whole question of truth and truthfulness irrelevant”. Further, “it may be in the nature of the political realm to deny or pervert truth of every kind”. As the nature of truth as such is limiting (in other words, it is what it is) , politicians will naturally bend the truth to fit their purposes. As citizens, we need to be on our guard and strive to identify factual truth or the lack thereof in political pronouncements. But such activity requires substantial effort. Thinking is required, as is the concomitant ability to simultaneously hold two contrasting concepts or points of view in mind. A broad education is required, as is a good facility with language. Sadly for us, most of these requirements and capabilities are now in short supply.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

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