LLOYD GRAY: Truth, veracity lost in political demonization

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

In the current political environment, it’s no surprise when truth – as in factual accuracy – takes an extended vacation. Whatever works against the opposition seems to be more and more the norm.
The other day, for example, a Tea Party rally organizer in DeSoto County told an interviewer that Congressman Travis Childers had voted against the will of the people when he supported the 2008 bailout for the big financial institutions.
Only he didn’t. Childers opposed the bailout.
The right certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on playing loose with the political facts. And there were conspiracy theories about President Bush on the far left nearly as loony as some on the far right about President Obama.
Political antagonisms are high these days, but the nation has been through worse periods of polarization. Twenty-four hour news cycles and the Internet are what give the current climate its more combustible feel.
More avenues exist for misinformation to be disseminated much faster and with infinitely greater reach. Rumors or flat-out falsehoods that used to be passed by word of mouth are now distributed to a potentially unlimited audience instantaneously, and the number of people willing – even eager – to believe some of this stuff, if it reinforces their preconceived notions, is astounding.
Thus we have the “birthers” who, ignoring the credible facts and evidence, insist that the president isn’t a native-born American and therefore holds the office illegally. Or the people who think he’s some kind of Muslim terrorist plant who’s secretly plotting to put us all in concentration camps and turn America over to a one-world government.
Then there was, even among some folks who ought to have known better, loose talk about “death panels” and such in the health care legislation.
When this kind of emotion-charged misinformation is widely disseminated and believed, rational discourse – even vigorous political debate and disagreement – becomes virtually impossible. You are not debating someone with whom you simply have political or philosophical differences; you are engaging the evil enemy. In that case, the cycle is perpetuated because falsehood and distortions can be justified in such an epic battle.
The fact is, Barack Obama – whether we like it or not – was legitimately elected president of the United States rather decisively in both the popular and electoral vote, as determined by the Constitution, a year and a half ago. None of the positions he has taken – with the exception of a couple of slight shifts to the center on military and environmental policy – could be considered a big surprise by anyone who was paying attention in the campaign.
The rhetoric that paints his presidency as somehow illegitimate is irresponsible and plainly false. Opposition to his policies is the great American system at work; attempts to cloak that opposition as the only legitimate expressions of “real” Americans is not.
George W. Bush, too, was the target of a lot of personal venom, his from the far left, which while not questioning his legal qualifications to be president did claim his presence in the White House was illegitimate.
Bush may have come to the presidency in 2000 by a highly unusual route – losing the popular vote, winning the electoral vote by a contested, razor-thin margin in Florida, then finally securing office by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision – but it was all in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. The narrowness of the decision made it no less a legitimate victory, and his occupation of the office no less constitutional, in spite of the critics’ claims.
Then there were the Michael Moores of the left who tried to convince us that Bush wanted to sell us all out to his family’s friends in Saudi Arabia.
It was rubbish, as are the conspiracy theories about Obama. In both cases, it’s the product of people who believe winning the battle of ideas requires, or at least justifies, demonizing their political opponents and spreading misinformation about them.
It doesn’t. That’s not the American way; it’s the way of lesser nations that find themselves continuously in civil and political strife and instability.
Political debate should be vigorous and passionate. It should be based on credible facts and an acknowledgment that opponents, while they may be dead wrong on the issues, are no less “real” Americans.
It’s time to take back the political conversation from the purveyors of demonization on both ends of the political spectrum.

Lloyd Gray is editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@djournal.com.