Political Roundtable: An informed electorate is important in sustaining a democracy. We've just completed a presidential and vice-presidential debate, and will see two more presidential debates. I've just read some factchecking from the vice-presidential debate which suggested that accuracy was a bit scarce. What specific recommendations would you make to individual voters as to how they can become informed voters? Feel free to list and/or link to resources.
The first casualty in politics is the truth. This is nothing new. Half truths and outright lies have been spread in political campaigns for many decades that would bury the entire population of the United States if such falsehoods were manure. No farmer can compete with politicians and their campaigns when it comes to spreading such "fertilizer" across the landscape of the American electorate.
Because of the human problem of bias confirmation that affects all of us, the all too real temptation, for people whose views are more partisan, is to minimize the falsehoods perpetrated by the campaign they support while pointing out all too quickly the misleading claims of the other side. Thus, when it comes to the lack of truth on one side, ignorance is bliss while the falsehoods on the other side prove the nefarious motives of the other candidate and her or his minions. I am not speaking here of legitimate differences in policy and what approaches will best achieve desired ends. Reasonable people on both sides of the political aisle can disagree over taxes and spending cuts and social issues, and honestly draw different conclusion. What is in view here is the misrepresentation and twisting of the truth in both stark and subtle form.
In recent years, fact checking groups have been formed in an attempt to keep all sides honest, not only over the inflated claims of their own achievements, but to also call out misleading information directed at political opponents. While these fact checking endeavors have been helpful in informing the voters in their attempts to separate truth from fiction, they have not been successful in making campaigns think twice about spreading their political manure across the land. In spite of the fact that fact checking groups have called out both the Obama and Romney campaigns over total falsehoods, both campaigns have continued to repeat such claims with complete disregard for such fact checking organizations. Apparently, telling the truth does not bring sufficient reward in politics, while lying through one's teeth is simply the best way to win an election. Political campaigns and their minions (including the Super PACs) have all kinds of subtle ways to mislead voters in their quest for power. Indeed, it may be that the most influential falsehoods are not of the outright variety. It is perhaps the half truths mixed with spin that ultimately do the most damage.
Unfortunately, the campaign manure spreading on both sides is not going to stop. So for those voters who really want to work to figure out fact from fiction, I suggest the following:
First, do not simply accept what any candidate and their exponents say. Of course, it is important to go to the websites of the campaigns and read what their positions are on various issues, but do not assume that when you do so you are getting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The candidates and campaigns you support are as equally capable of stretching the truth and outright fabricate it as the candidates and campaign on the other side. And do not fall into "Well, both campaigns lie, but their side is worse," mode. Why would anyone find lying 50% of the time to be an acceptable alternative to uttering falsehoods 60% of the time? Surely no one concerned with the truth.
Second, try to get campaign news from reputable and fair news sources. This excludes Fox News and MSNBC, particularly their evening "news" (and I use the term loosely) magazine shows. MSNBC's primary task is to function as Barack Obama's cable news election campaign headquarters, while Fox News functions in the same way for Mitt Romney. If either network is your primary source for this year's presidential election, you are a misinformed voter.
Third, even though presidential campaigns seemed uninterested in the verdicts of the fact checking watchdogs, the informed voter will make regular use of them. There are plenty of good ones out there. I personally like Fact Check. They are not perfect, to be sure, but they are very helpful. I also like to get information from such groups as No Labels. Such organizations realize that often the truth tends to reside somewhere in between the extremes. Of course, such groups are not always right, but when people from both sides get together, who are more interested in fixing than fighting, and searching for true bipartisan solutions, which understand that neither side has a corner on the market of truth, more light than heat is usually the result.
Fourth, I have saved the most important suggestion for last. If Christians are to be informed voters, they must not only be informed on the issues, but they must be informed in reference to their faith. It is a good thing, indeed it is an important thing for Christians to take their Christianity into the voting booth. Those who suggest that religious folks should leave their faith outside misunderstand the nature of faith itself. Before Christians vote they should ask themselves and indeed ponder for a while how their core Christians convictions inform how they vote. By the way, let here make the claim that will no doubt put off more than a few of my readers-- while I vote and encourage everyone to do so, I think legitimate Christian convictions can lead one to abstain from voting. If we disallow this as a Christian option, we are putting the democratic process above Christian convictions. Jesus is Lord, not President Obama nor Governor Romney.
Now in saying this, I am not suggesting that Christian convictions will lead one to vote as a Democrat or a Republican. It should go without saying that faithful Christians can be Republicans and Democrats (and Independents) and will vote for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Anyone who thinks that Christian convictions must lead to support for one person or the other misunderstands Christianity. But we Christians simply cannot jettison our faith as if somehow it makes no difference. That is true in reference to every decision we make in life.
Stanley Hauerwas has said that the one thing Christians should be able to offer in an election season is truthful speech while insisting on being told the truth. Perhaps if the Christians who are committed Democrats and Republicans were much more intentional in calling out their own side instead of the other side when falsehoods are being perpetrated, campaigns would become more honest all the way around.
I'm not going to hold my breath on that one.
Other members of the Political Roundtable: Joel Watts, Arthur Sido, Elgin Hushbeck, and Bob Cornwall.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)