If you’re wondering why politicians make patently false comments during debates and expect the public to believe them, it’s because people do, in fact, believe them.
This is as much true of Wednesday night’s face-off between President Barack Obama and Republican contender Mitt Romney as anywhere else. Irrational partisans from both the left and right will assert victory for their respective candidates, regardless of whether these supporters watched the proceedings. The same can be said for pundits. And as for polls on who won, people on Facebook and other social media are already boasting how they invested four minutes of their time to skew survey results.
How can a sincerely inquiring mind separate fact from fiction, and make rational choices at the polls? It’s not easy, but it starts with research. And that means reading and asking questions, rather than simply watching a debate – a staged scenario that prompts each candidate to say what he believes viewers will want to hear. And part of what viewers want to hear is relentless attacks on the opponent, even if those attacks aren’t grounded in truth.
For instance, Obama insisted Romney’s core economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut, in addition to the Bush tax cuts, which the president calculated at another $1 trillion. Romney denied “having” a $5 trillion tax cut. Notwithstanding the fact that the average American can scarcely comprehend the meaning of the word “trillion,” both candidates muddled the issue further. Romney has, indeed, proposed cutting tax rates by 20 percent. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, that would slice tax revenue by nearly $500 billion in 2015, or $5 trillion within 10 years. Romney added his tax plan will be “revenue neutral” because he’ll throw out loopholes and deductions, which he has yet to specify. The Tax Policy Center says Romney’s figures don’t bear out a “revenue neutral” plan. Romney insists “other studies” support his claim, but they don’t. On the other hand, Obama’s implication that higher taxes for middle-class Americans will bolster Romney’s plan is a blatant scare tactic. There’s virtually no chance Romney could push through such a tax hike in today’s economic climate, even if he wanted to.
A number of “facts” cited by both candidates are clearly erroneous, as pointed out by non-partisan fact-checking sites. The “non-partisan” label is borne out by the reality that both candidates stand equally accused of the sin of exaggeration. Folks who don’t accept the validity of reputable fact-checkers are too enthralled with their respective candidates, or too blinded by hatred of their opponents. If you’re somewhat open-minded and want to compare notes, check out http://tinyurl.com/99vwcy7 or http://tinyurl.com/9llcd7z.
Over the next few weeks, Americans will have two more opportunities to see each man “exaggerate” his own position, and denigrate those of his opponent, in televised debates Oct. 16 and 22. Those who care about what the vice presidential candidates have to say can tune in Oct. 11. But doing the research yourself, and talking to intelligent people you trust to be fair and even-handed, will be far more helpful.
What do you and your family care most about? Do you see the middle class as being unfairly burdened and squeezed, while the more fortunate get a pass, or do you believe the innovation of “job creators” can pull the country up by the bootstraps? Is the rising cost of health care a concern for you, and what’s the best way to address that? Should the government shun any role in regulating what goes on in the boardroom, but use a heavy hand with what goes on in the bedroom, or vice versa? Should American jobs go overseas? Is private enterprise the ultimate answer for what ails us? Should entitlements for many folks be cut?
Think about what’s good for your family, and what’s good for the country. Most of all, think about what’s morally right, according to your deepest-held religious or philosophical beliefs. Then do the research on both men, and you’ll be ready for Nov. 6. You can watch the debates, too – but don’t believe everything you hear.