Election Day advice: While the truth puts on its shoes
In his autobiography, Mark Twain lampooned Thomas Carlyle, (1795-1881), Scottish historian and popular essayist: "Carlyle said 'a lie cannot live.' It shows that he did not know how to tell them."
Twain is credited with a similar quip: "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes." Likelier that is from steam engine inventor James Watt, who died 16 years before Twain's birth. However, in this case, who said what when is not critical. The larger point, however, is.
Lies often survive in spite of determined facts available to kill them. It's not that people are stupid. Some are, most aren't.
But after 74 years, it seems to me that humans more often accept as true not what they can factually verify, but what appeals to their existing biases. And those biases are often sown and cultivated by very smart propagandists.
Tuesday is Election Day. More money has gone into political campaigns than ever before in our history. The turnout is expected to be big. All patriotic Americans should vote, shouldn't they? I confess, I'm not absolutely sure.
Political disinformation, half-truths, and calculated lies are nothing new. But today the viral persistence of such stuff has never been better funded nor more successfully spread. It is a deluge. Were it rain instead of BS, Noah's ark would be our only hope.
Here are just two stinky examples:
Two weeks ago, Better Half and I attended a meeting in Stockton (one of 22 others across the state, some still to come). The purpose was to explain options in Medicare supplemental insurance. A half-dozen fellow geezers attended. A 20-ish representative of Wichita-based Shreck Financial Services led us through a 57-page booklet by Sandy Praeger, Kansas insurance commissioner. The choices are complex and confusing, but that's another story.
At one point, the presenter mentioned hearing a "rumor" that Medicare Part B would rise to $274 in 2014. Just a rumor, she said, but Medicare hadn't announced what the rate would be. Well, some rumors are true, some not.
In this case, rumor is the wrong word. It's a long-surviving, deliberate lie, originating in a January email with an anti-Obama plea: "Send this to all seniors that you know, so they will know who's throwing them under the bus."
In fact, Medicare trustees in April projected Part B rates each year through 2021, calculated then at $161.20. Unfortunately, the $274 lie is halfway around the globe, and the truth is still putting on its shoes. Or -- maybe not many people give a rat's butt about facts today. Does that sound cynical?
Last week, I had a tense exchange with a gentleman who "knew" President Obama was an Arab who was sworn in with his hand on the Koran. The gentleman had learned that on Fox News and also had seen the televised inaugural event. It was obviously a Koran, he said.
Rude of me, but I asked him what this Koran looked like, how it differed from the Bible. Could he see "Koran" on the cover? Well, it was a different color, he said. "It was blue." That clinched it.
The rumor might have started with a sarcastic remark by Fox News' Ann Coulter on the "Hannity and Colmes" show (Dec. 18, 2008), more than a month before President Obama was sworn in. At one point, Coulter said "Do you think we could get all of (Obama's) aliases before he's sworn in ... on the Koran, I imagine?" Shortly thereafter, Alan Colmes, Fox's token liberal, asked Coulter if she thought the president was a Muslim. No, he wasn't a Muslim, she said, he was an atheist. (I wonder what faith Coulter claims.)
The easily researchable Koran nonsense has gone halfway around the world. The truth is still putting on its shoes.
I checked the January 2009 Information Bulletin of the Library of Congress. Editor Gail Fineberg reported the following:.
"A small Bible, its velvet cover fading from age and its pages yellowing, emerged from its protected place in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress to become one nexus in history on Inauguration Day, Tuesday, Jan. 20."
" 'President-elect Obama is deeply honored that the Library of Congress has made the Lincoln Bible available for use during his swearing-in,' said Presidential Inaugural Committee Executive Director Emmett Beliveau. 'The president-elect is committed to holding an inauguration that celebrates America's unity, and the use of this historic Bible will provide a powerful connection to our common past and common heritage.' "
President Obama was sworn in with his hand on the Bible once belonging to President Abraham Lincoln.
It is 6 inches tall, 4 inches wide, not quite 2 inches thick. The velvet cover is burgundy, not blue.
I hope you have your truth shoes on when you vote Tuesday.
Bob Hooper is a fourth-generation western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.