Telling the truth will only enslave you to stupid facts

January 5, 2016

Dear Lawrance Bernabo:


So, you don’t need to read another letter from Jason Johnson’s dad, eh? Well, I’m not running this through any editor, whether the Zenith’s, who would cut the heart out, or the DNT’s, who only change a word or two to alter the meaning. It’s going directly to you. I may not be a Norwegian terrorist, but I am terrifying in my own right: An old man with time on my hands (and you know what they say about idle hands).


This is just to let you know that I am reading your columns, and if you publish that Pi column, I will not only read it, I will check you for accuracy.

Keeping my eye on you,
Ken Johnson
Cloquet
 
P.S. I did enjoy the puns. In case you’re short of punchlines for that column, here’s one from Al Franken’s father’s favorite joke: “You won’t have to look at it—the balls will cover your eyes.”


Lawrance Bernabo replies: Just in time for the holidays, Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen, offended by a photograph of First Lady Michelle Obama on Facebook, posted the comment: “Unbelievable! She and her Muslim partner have destroyed the fabric of democracy that was so very hard fought for.” Equally offended by Hagen’s comment, half of the Superior City Council called on the mayor to apologize and either retract his comments or resign.


Initially, I was curious as to exactly how the fabric of democracy has been destroyed in the last seven years. I also wanted to know what specific type of fabric democracy is made of, although that is probably not especially relevant to this discussion. I wish I had seen the offending photograph, because I wondered if Michelle Obama was doing anything besides, you know, just standing there being first lady, because that could be evidence as to how she and her Muslim partner have destroyed the fabric of democracy.


To be clear, I think Michelle Obama is perfectly capable of destroying the fabric of democracy with or without a husband and regardless of his particular religious beliefs. But then you have to go back to the ’60s to find a time when I did not think the first lady was smarter and, therefore, arguably better than her husband.


In response to the public furor, Hagen told the Superior Telegram, “If the First Amendment is still a force in this nation, I have a right to respond and should, as anybody would and should, and that’s what I did.”


Hagen followed that up by declaring, “I have no proof to know whether [President Obama is] a Christian or a Muslim. He says he’s a Christian, but he’s said a lot of things.”


This response is brilliant, because formerly it was thought you actually needed proof to make a public accusation. Now the absence of proof is no longer an impediment to public attack, as millions of Facebook users prove daily.
Nor is Hagen the only proponent of this new rhetoric. In a New York Times opinion piece entitled, “All Politicians Lie. Some Lie More Than Others,” Angie Drobnic Holan looked at statements since 2007 by presidential candidates (and some current and former officeholders) as fact-checked by PolitiFact.


While Donald Trump was unsurprisingly leading in the “Pants on Fire” category, his overall score of 76 percent Mostly False and worse was actually eclipsed by Ben Carson’s 84 percent. Ted Cruz is third at 66 percent. You have to get down to the ninth spot on the list before you finally find a Democrat (Joe Biden).


If you flip the chart and go for highest percent True or Mostly True, the leader is Bernie Sanders at 54 percent. Hillary Clinton is at 51 percent, Bill Clinton at 50 percent, and Barack Obama at 48 percent. Martin O’Malley is at 19 percent, which is the third lowest percentage on the chart (Trump is at seven percent and Carson at four percent).


Highest Republican? Jeb Bush at 48 percent, followed by Rand Paul at 47 percent, and then Chris Christie at 41 percent (three Republicans who are not going to get the nomination).  


We have to take these numbers with a grain of salt, since they did not check the veracity of everything a candidate said in public, but they can be seen as providing empirical evidence that the more politicians lie, the more successful they will be. That would be damning evidence...if proof still mattered.


I have largely avoided criticizing Trump because, quite frankly, making fun of him is too easy. But Hagen has brought this new rhetoric to the Twin Ports and I think it is inevitable it will be embraced, allowing not only politicians but ordinary citizens to enjoy the same right I enjoy as a satirist to just make stuff up to attack people.


Once upon a time on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Dick was trying to sing “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” from The Man of La Mancha. Tom, searching for examples of inspirational figures, came up with lovely, courageous Joan of Arc, who built an ark to get all the animals aboard. Dick pointed out Tom was confusing Joan of Arc with Noah and the Ark. Tom thought about it, considered it, and announced Dick was wrong and that he believed he was right: Noah led the armies and Joan built the ark. Horrified, Dick tells Tommy he is wrong.


“You said for me to stand up for what I believe in,” Tommy pointed out.


“Yeah, but that’s only if you’re right,” Dick insisted.


“Doesn’t make any difference whether I’m right or wrong,” Tommy roared back. “That’s my conviction. I’m committed. Once I’m committed, I’m an American!”

 

Tommy Smothers was a man ahead of his time.
 

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