John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
Yet questions of truth, fact, and credibility have overwhelmed the presidential and vice presidential debates. Facts have been the opposite of stubborn. Candidates have denied them, qualified them, and, in the worst cases, simply invented them.
A couple noteworthy exchanges:
On the Auto Bailouts
Romney: My plan “wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt…and [Obama] actually did.”
Obama: “What Governor Romney said just isn’t true.”
On Oil Production on Government Land
Obama: “Production is up.”
Romney: “It’s down.”
Obama: “Governor, what you are saying is just not true.”
Romney: “It’s absolutely true.”
WELL, WHICH IS IT?
Sure, one can turn to nonpartisan services such as PolitiFact for some clarity… and some sanity. But can we really count on the average voter to independently verify the candidates’ assertions? Can we count on the undecided voter?
A recent Saturday Night Live skit parodied the apathy of undecided voters. Though obviously a caricature, the sketch pointed to a very real fact: Undecideds tend to be less politically informed. A recent poll by NBC, the Wall Street Journal, and Marist concluded that the undecided voters in at least three battleground states “simply aren’t paying attention.”
Now, it is not just that the uninformed and uninterested voters are deciding the election; it is that they are no longer simply choosing between good and bad. With very limited context and background, these voters are now determining what facts about the United States are indeed true.
This is a scary thought. The onus is on the voter to decide whether our deficit is under control. The onus is on the voter to decide whether government spending is out of control and if deeper tax cuts will jump-start the economy. The onus is on the voter to weigh the pros and cons of policy proposals and decide what is likely best for his or her country.
However, the onus should not, must not, and cannot be on the voter to research the accuracy of every fact thrown around in the election. This is an unrealistic and unfair expectation of voters, especially of the ones most likely to be swayed by the falsities.
I still believe in Adams. Facts are stubborn, and you cannot alter them, denounce them, or qualify them when your listener knows what they are and where they are from. Tell me exactly, Governor Romney, how you can say your tax loopholes cover the costs of additional cuts. Tell me, Mr. President, what statistic proves oil production on public lands has actually increased, as you say. We have to start demanding these facts of our leaders.
On the other hand, I might just toss some statistics into my papers at CMC and make my professors look them up. I’m sure that will be fine. Besides, 86% of all papers without citations get As.