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Rants & Reason

In caucus rhetoric, we have to do better than this

4/3/2019

A lot more is at stake in terms of self-governance and dealing with inconvenient truths.

You’ve likely seen the TV ad in which John Delaney, a hard-working, earnest campaigner for the Democratic Party nomination for president, says, in essence, he is different from others who have sought the presidency because he tells the truth.

Is that what we’ve come to?

Some have suggested we throw in the towel when it comes to supposed lies and truthfulness from those seeking public office. As noted on a Washington Post website: “Counting up and/or refuting President Trump’s lies is an exercise with diminishing returns” — like putting more citations for littering atop a
garbage landfill.

Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, offers an answer: “Leaders and government need to produce real solutions to real problems. If they don’t,
their disaffected publics will look for answers elsewhere.”

Good advice, not only regarding the caucus, but good advice for the Iowa legislature, which seems intent on providing awful solutions to problems we don’t have — like legislative steps to politicize Iowa’s highly regarded judiciary.

Perhaps lies are commonplace — and every day can be “April Fool!” — because it is human nature to prefer hearing reassuring lies to confronting inconvenient truths. And the one clear dynamic of what information we expose ourselves to or pay attention to is what reinforces our existing beliefs. However, a lot more is at stake in terms of self-governance and dealing with inconvenient truths — like racism and growing income disparity — than the distraction of dealing with lies.

For more productive looks at what we’re risking, consider at least two of Bill
Moyers’ old PBS programs.

The TV programs were aired about 30 years ago. The length of the programs
are plainly unfit for social media, but the scripts are available online and reading
them takes less time than viewing.

Each is a welcome relief from the polemics of the day.

Go to https://billmoyers.com/ content/truth-lies and you’ll find the script for a program that aired Nov. 29,1989, “The Truth about Lies.” It focuses on how the public was deceived in accounts of such events as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and other national tragedies. The deception often was viewed by those involved as serving a greater good or as being in the public interest.

A summary of the truth-lies program: The public mind is often deceived by those who manipulate it, and it deceives itself, as well. Bill Moyers examines how
deception has influenced some of the major events of our recent past and how
self-deception shapes our personal lives and the public mind.

A year earlier, Oct. 3, 1988, PBS broadcast: “Sissela Bok: The Psychology
and Ethics of Lying and Deception.” Its script is at https://billmoyers.com/
content/sissela-bok.

This program offers some rays of hope from Bok, a philosopher and daughter of Nobel Prize Winners Gunnar Myrdal (for Economics 1974) and Alva Myrdal (for Peace 1984). Bok is a member of one of the two families to have both mom and pop as Nobel winners. The others were children of Pierre and Marie Currie, who shared the Nobel for Physics in 1903 and she also received the Nobel for Chemistry in 1911.

A summary of this program: As a philosopher and ethicist, Sissela Bok grapples with hard truths, as well as with hard untruths. Her writings explore the psychology of lying, the consequences of deception and the perils of keeping
secrets…Bok discusses the psychology and history of political lies and the impact of deception on public trust.

Check out the programs for reassurance that we still have a lot of good folks to learn from and to get us through these days. The programs also testify to the strengths of Internet access to worthwhile information and that the digital age need not surrender to social media nonsense.

Nor should we surrender to questionable caucus rhetoric and to a legislature that invents problems to solve because it will not cope with Iowa’s real
problems. ♦

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes the monthly Rants and
Reason column for CITYVIEW.

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