Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Political Climate: In Defense of Truth and Progress

I confess to being hooked on crime novels and mysteries. One of my favorite authors is Michael Connelly, creator of Harry Bosch, a Los Angeles detective with a conscience.

In City of Bones, for example, Bosch investigates the twenty-year-old murder of a boy. On two separate occasions, the case focuses on suspects who could easily be convicted of the crime—the kind of people whom society routinely dismisses and who would be unable or unwilling to participate in their own defense. The department wants the case closed, period, and Bosch is under a lot of pressure to stop looking as soon as he finds a suspect that could be convicted.

There’s only one problem: in the case against each of the suspects, something doesn’t add up. The detective’s highly developed intuitive instincts tell him something just isn’t right, and he refuses to stop looking until he finds the truth. He refuses to be satisfied with an answer that simply fits the narrative he wants to defend.

In politics and in American life, we need more people like Harry Bosch—people who won’t bend—or even torture—the truth to fit the narrative they want to defend.

For example, as convenient as it might be for the right, the current president is not a socialist, communist, radical, or Muslim. He’s a decent, honest, idealistic man who is morally sensitive, persuasive, and wickedly smart. He’s a complex man who’s motivated, at least in part, by a profound desire to improve lives and ensure that America, the most powerful and influential nation on earth, acts responsibly. He’s lived a very public life, and anyone who wants to know the truth about him could easily find it out.

Those who disagree with his principles or beliefs can argue them. For example, there are those who are genuinely convinced that an unfettered market can be benign or even altruistic—an assertion that many conservatives believe but most of the rest of us do not.

But to pick at the president’s religion, deny his birthright as an American, and viciously demonize him and those who agree with him (including Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid) is simply wrong—intellectually and morally wrong.

In this land of political correctness, it’s fashionable to say that all politicians are the same, that both parties play the same games. But after seeing the way Republicans behave when out of power—especially during the Clinton administration and now in the past two years—it’s very clear to me that conservatives will win at any cost—any cost—and the truth be damned. From death panels to “raising taxes” (e.g., allowing the Bush tax cuts for the very rich to expire), lies have been treated as simply a tool in the anything-goes world of furthering the conservative agenda.

In trying to find consensus in the Senate, on one issue after another, the president has come up against a wall. Clearly, when they’re not in control, Republicans are simply not going to play—much less play fair. I’ve learned a similar lesson in trying to find common ground with my conservative friends. There comes a time when there’s just no point in talking to people who reflexively deflect every argument in favor of the narrative they’ve chosen to believe.

So in terms of politics, I guess I’ll try to spend my energy talking with people who habitually look for narratives that have the ring of truth. I’ll try to focus on how, not if—that is, how to use the power of government to improve lives and get a few things done, regardless of the obstacles others throw up in the path.

Getting things done: that, after all, is the meaning of “progressive.”

1 comment: said...

Two of my favorite television shows of all time are "Kolchak - The Night Stalker" and "The X-Files." What these two shows have in common are a hero, flawed as he is, whose only goal is to find the truth. (The Truth Will Set You Free.) Few people believe him, he rarely gets the evidence he needs, he sacrifices family, friends and relationships for his cause. So many of us make compromises. You have to in our society, but Mulder and Kolchak don't. I believe this is what makes these characters so endearing.

I find the problem with people with irrational viewpoints is the idea of a worldview. (I found this in a book on psychology.) We each have our own worldview and it is as much a part of us as our physical body. Therefore, when it is under attack, it is as if we are under attack. Which is why many of us will make circumstances fit our worldview rather than changing our worldview to fit reality.

I remember during the Clinton years wondering at people I knew who were convinced that they had to have guns to protect against the time the government came to take them away. Nothing you tried to say could chip away at this conviction.

So, no matter how disgusted conservatives and their actions make me, I guess I shouldn't be surprised at their irrational beliefs. We must all take comfort in the fact that we live in a country where such free speech is legal and celebrated.