Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Time To Speak and a Time To Refrain From Speaking

We put a tremendous burden on our politicians when we require them to speak constantly during the year or so before an election. That is particularly true of Presidential candidates. In the election four years ago, then candidate Barack Obama embarrassed himself and potentially offended some voters by declaring that voters in Pennsylvania “cling to their guns and to religion.” This year Mr. Romney put his foot in his mouth by declaring to a group of wealthy supporters that 47% of the citizens believe the government owes them a living and that the same 47% pay no income taxes.

Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney were in a meeting not open to the public or the press but, as often happens, a microphone was open (purposely or not) and their comments became public.

Chuck Todd, of NBCNews explained that Mr. Romney may have been expressing his true opinions or he may have been “throwing ‘red meat’” to a group of Conservative supporters because that is what they like to hear. Presumably he would cut Mr. Obama the same amount of slack for his indelicate remarks.

But, if Mr. Todd is correct, does that really provide a legitimate excuse for such insensitivity on the part of men seeking to become President of the United States? I think not. If they were speaking what they really believe it shows a disdain for a large part of the population. Not a very good attitude for one who will claim that he wishes to be the President of “all the people.” On the other hand, if he is merely placating the partisan interests of particular supporters, and doesn’t really say what he believes, he is a hypocrite and unworthy of any office in the United States.

I don’t know anyone who isn’t convinced that politicians (and those producing ads for them) are liars, at least to the extent that they stretch the truth so thin that any honest person can easily see the lies that their “truth” is meant to cover.

The Presidential debates are coming soon. The candidates will be asked important questions and then will be allowed to answer them by bobbing and weaving and mouthing the same half-truths they have used all through the campaigns. Wouldn’t it be useful if the moderators (and those others who ask questions) would simply call the candidates to task and require them to defend the lying ads that their campaigns have been running? The “facts” in most of the campaign ads have been judged by fact-checking organizations to be lies at the worst, distortions of truth at their best. Wouldn’t it be useful to require the men who, in each of their campaign ads, declare, “. . . I approve this message” to either prove its validity or agree to take it off the air? Wouldn’t it be useful to present them with untruthful ads run by their supporting PACs and ask them to renounce the ads, the organizations who produce them, and the wealthy donors whose contributions make them possible?

That is a “pipe dream” I know. Politicians know that they will not be held accountable for their prevarications; indeed, their partisans will stand and cheer when they deliver their lying lines. They will pass on the untruths in e-mails, and conversation. They will vote for the liar whose lies tickle their ears most pleasantly.

Wisdom says that “there is a time to speak and a time to refrain from speaking.” The time to refrain from speaking has come when you have nothing truthful to say, or when you are afraid to speak the truth because it may disadvantage a cause you would like to see succeed – by any means possible.

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