Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I believe most politicians get where they're going by obfuscating the truth. This could include selective truths, omitting facts that run counter to the desired argument. It might be through use of deceptive statistics (e.g. choosing to use percentage versus numerical volume or vice versa - if you say only 1% of Americans it doesn't have the same impact as saying "3 million people", for example). Perhaps they intentionally misquote or take out of context the words of their opponents.[1][2] They might even simply lie.[3]

Yet, politicians continue to bend the truth to try to make their case stronger. The media often buys into it, repeating their assertions and using them as counterweight to opposing viewpoints. Some of this is in the interest of appearing to be non-partisan, but it simply detracts from the level of debate.

It's wonderful that in this day and age we can use sites like Snopes, PolitiFact, and FactCheck, among others, to help sort fact from fiction. However, that requires time and effort. Why go to the trouble of validate all the numbers we hear from politicians, reporters, and the various spin doctors when we can just take their word for it? That's not to mention all the data we receive from coworkers, friends, family, and everyone else we happen to know who got their information from who knows where. We could spend all our time checking facts and never get anything useful done.

The intensity of the arguments I've read about whether or not there actually existed a surplus in the late nineties is remarkable, for example, particularly because the main ones both got their data from the Congressional Budget Office. When two people look at the same data and arrive at different conclusions, who do you believe? Do you trust the person with the right degree? The person who says what you want to hear? How do you choose?

If only there were a way to know whether the person actually believed what they're saying instead of simply listening to them. Certainly, two people might believe completely incongruent facts, or even one person might have a set of beliefs that are not consistent, but at least that way we would know that they're not trying to deceive us.

Then again, is it just as bad to be unintentionally led astray as if it were planned?

Who do you trust?

[1] Lipstick on a Pig had nothing to do with Palin
[2] Governor Perry's calling President Obama a "dark cloud" hanging over the economy is racist?
[3] Jon Kyl claims Planned Parenthood services are well over 90%