Do Facts Matter?

Published: September 14, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts, and evidence.”
– John Adams

I wonder how Adams would have responded to a local politician I recently spoke with who told me bluntly, “people don’t care about facts.” This same political leader went on to imply that the flagrant, partisan ravings by people like U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are just “business as usual.” Without offering a shred of documented proof, Reid stood on the floor of the Senate and declared that a “source” had told him that Mitt Romney paid no taxes for the last ten years. In broadcast follow-ups, Reid refused to identify the source.

When I asked this local politician, “Would you do that? Look me in the eye and tell me you would do that.” He held up his hands, shrugged and appeared to suggest… maybe.

In contrast to Reid, Rep. Michele Bachmann claimed, without substantive proof, that, “It appears that there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood,” and implicated a close aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A member of Bachmann’s own party, Senator John McCain, went on the floor of the Senate to repudiate his colleague’s claims.

Now, I’ll admit that when it comes to believing in things like facts and principles, I’m a card-carrying idealist. You see, I believe that as difficult as the truth may be, as hard as the evidence is, that’s the essential groundwork you begin with before crafting any legislation or requesting any investigation. However, what this politician and too many others like her donot realize is that when it comes to issues and individuals who can, by their actions, affect us all, politicians, including andespecially this one are not voted into office based on the way things are. They are selected to work to make things better for all of us.

While I am well aware that confirmation bias (the tendency of the brain to easily accept information compatible with what we already know) works its “magic” on all of us, when it comes to those special few selected to represent the many, facts and evidence should matter. As Adams unambiguously states “…whatever may be our wishesour inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts, and evidence.”

The erosion of trust in politicians in last several years isstaggering. According to an August 27, 2012 Rasmussen Report, only 8% of likely U.S. Voters think Congress is doing a good job. (It would be interesting to know who represent the eight percent!)

“I am a firm believer in the people,” Lincoln said. “If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

That political leader I spoke with recently misses the very critical point that they have a duty to inform the citizenry of the facts to the absolute best of their ability, Period. Civic duty extends beyond one’s self-interest. It calls for the vital commitment to a higher sense of responsibility that asks those who wish to lead to make the very best decisions they can for the many using all the tools in the box.

Serving the people should always trump election spin or beliefs that voters don’t care about the facts. Crafting the best legislation to deal with the hard issues utilizing the facts, shouldalways take precedence over “business as usual.” And cooperation and compromise should always transcend entrenched Us vs. Them thinking.

What this political leader failed to realize in that “maybe” moment is that they just lost my vote.


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