It is astonishing that, in an ever-expanding “information age”, so many people are seriously uninformed or at best under-informed. A partisan take on the economy, foreign policy, health care or whatever is understandable. But clinging to the arbitrary boundaries of one’s hard and fast beliefs makes it impossible to reach a fact-based equilibrium.
If the NY Times makes one’s blood boil, there are a stunning array of other sources to which one may pledge allegiance. If, however, one commits to Fox News Channel or The NY Post to the exclusion of all other venues, there is no independent factual yardstick for opinions so derived because those sources rely so heavily on opinion-driven coverage. Thus the president’s recent speech was televised on Fox – – the only cable channel that chose not to carry the Democratic response.
Whatever reservations some may have regarding the editorial pages of The Times or The Wall Street Journal the Times is still the paper of record and the Journal, at least for most of its history, has been a leader in financial news coverage. More recently, with the increasing domination of traditional news outlets by a smaller and less representative ownership the internet has assumed a major role in disseminating a wide range of facts and opinion. For anyone within reach of a computer, the ability to track down the real deal about one’s daily life and world events is simple and breathtakingly fast.
And for anyone who subscribes to Cable, C-Span covers major political speeches, public interest panels, discussions with contemporary writers, as well as the conduct of business in both houses of Congress and its various committees. Without being glued to one’s television set day and night it is still possible to get a real sense of how the country’s business is conducted and how its needs and interests are addressed. Many of these programs and debates are repeated both daily and during the week so they can be tasted in bits and pieces depending on one’s appetite for such programming.
Why then do so many reasonably intelligent people remain committed to ill-founded, preconceived notions? How does anyone paying even the slightest attention ignore the inconsistencies and changing rationales of an administration that sees secrecy as its first principle of governance? And why have so many been willing to accept limited access to the workings of an administration that claims extra-constitutional privileges?
What induces a free countryto place its power and the future of its democracy in the hands of such a limited governing instrument? Is it the fear the Bush White House repeatedly uses to cow the public especially at election time? Is it that people are just so focused on their jobs, wealth accumulation, and the daily exigencies of their lives that they don’t take time to really examine the issues that most affect them or seek a broad spectrum of opinion? Or is it possibly, that as pragmatist philosopher William James put it, “the greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths”. Do the old pre-war ‘truths’ continue to contort our Iraq policy because it’s just too painful to admit that our misplaced trust has led to wasted lives and treasure?
The first, albeit erroneous, claims are often the ones that survive. As Bush has said “you have to keep repeating the propaganda until it sinks in.” His insinuations, indirect but insidious, to associate Saddam Hussein with 911 have survived in the minds of many to this day. Nor has the public absorbed in its collective mind even now that, although the administration said Hussein was refusing access to arms inspectors, quite the opposite was true. UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix and our own David Kaye verified they had been given complete access to whatever sites they wished to explore. Clearly the decision to invade Iraq had been made early on; claims that inspections would drive policy were just window dressing. The administration actually had to recall the inspectors before they had completed their work in order to begin its “shock and awe” campaign.
Today administration claims continue to twist truth and defy logic. The short-term “surge” to enable the Maliki government to take hold has become enduring policy to be supported into 2008 and beyond. Was that what most people understood when the strategy was first articulated – – hardly. Do the enormous sums of money now requested by the White House to continue our occupation conform to the expectations of the American public – – not really. Still the administration continues to use fear to solidify its power and claims success whether it is truly reflected by events on the ground or not. And it is quick to horn in on thwarted terrorist plots. Recently after Germany foiled a terrorist plot, the White House claimed that its surveillance apparatus had played a part in that operation – – a claim that had to be retracted when confronted by the authorities directly involved.
Once again the administration’s false premiseswill no doubt prevail in the minds of many if the nation’s electorate remains as pre-occupied and close-minded as it has shown itself to be in recent years. A wonderful quote from Thomas Jefferson might encourage us to do some serious thinking about who deserves our loyalty – – “It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.” (from “Notes on Virginia”)

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