Does Truth Matter?

obama - does truth matter? photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/beckyfiedler/

The current political situation in the U.S. frustrates me to no end. A recent NRP report suggests one of the reason things might be so problematic: not only do campaigns not seem to care abpout the truth – people seem to be ok with the fact that this is happening.

Here are two examples from both sides:

From the very beginning, this campaign’s relationship to the truth has been shaky at best. Mitt Romney’s first ad quoted President Obama, saying…

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.

SHAPIRO: In fact the president never really said that. Here was the full quote.

OBAMA: John McCain knows his economic theories don’t work. That’s why his campaign said that if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.

In this one, you see the very dirty trick of pulling a soundbite of the president quoting someone else and then implying that it is something that he himself said! This is about as ridiculous as it gets. But it cuts both ways:

SHAPIRO: The Democrats pulled a similar trick in January after Mitt Romney answered a question about health care in New Hampshire this way.

MITT ROMNEY: I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means that if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people that provide services to me.

SHAPIRO: “I like being able to fire people” took on a life of its own. The Democrats juxtaposed the clip with Donald Trump in a Web video.

DONALD TRUMP: You’re fired. You’re fired.

ROMNEY: I like being able to fire people that provide services to me.

This is exactly the sort of thing about politics that infuriates me. This is what makes me distrust everything I hear. But apparently, that’s not a common response:

DAN ARIELY: And we recently did a study on this. We just asked a few hundred people online to what extent they think that their candidates could be dishonest if it promoted their political agenda.

SHAPIRO: He found that people were totally comfortable with politicians of their own party being dishonest to get elected.

SHAPIRO: There is lots of evidence that people don’t necessarily seek the truth. They seek to have their beliefs confirmed.

What I’m taking away from this is that I can’t just blame politics, the issue is much more systemic. We the people not only allow it, but possibly even encourage it. We can’t blame our politicians until we look more inward and start blaming ourselves.

We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard of rationality. We need to be moreĀ concernedĀ about the truth than about being right. We need to promote critical thinking skills. We need to learn how to disagree with others in a way that is productive. We need to learn that it’s ok to be wrong. We need to learn that we actually learn from making mistakes. We need to learn that the truth is more important than winning. Until we accept these things at large as a society, our political landscape is not going to change.

You may also like: