The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


September 17, 2012

John Cox, guest columnist: Voters owe it to themselves to search for the truth

JOPLIN, Mo. — The political season is upon us. Some might say it’s in our face.

Many people are rightfully cynical when it comes to this process. I have also pondered the process and its aftermath. We seem to have devolved into a nation of people who value ideology over facts; political parties over ideas; winning over statesmanship.

I’ve listened over the past three years to the mistruths — lies, really — that have been spread about the health care bill as a way of discrediting the president. The bill’s opponents have stirred up outrage over things that simply were not in the bill — they scared seniors into thinking that their Medicare was going to be reduced.

I actually took the time to read the bill and talked to one of the doctors who helped write it because it is my job to know about health care.

Under the new bill, seniors will see an increase in benefits. There will be no donut hole, no death panels and no government interference with decisions seniors and their doctors make.

What there will be is better health screenings. And when 30 million more people have insurance, the chances of the health care costs of a sick patient being passed on to the rest of us is reduced. It also means an illness doesn’t bankrupt that patient. And, no, I do not think we’ll see a mass exodus from Medicare by doctors.

But to some, the facts don’t matter. Their goal is to attack the president and his party. Ideas lose and ideology wins. Winning the next election is what’s most important. A Republican spokesman at his party’s recent convention said, “We will not run our campaign based on fact checkers.”

No argument there.

How did this happen? Some politicians are win-at-any-cost people who will do and say anything to discredit those they demonize. However, I don’t think that most politicians are truly bad people. But how does a man such as Todd Akin — a college graduate — harbor such bizarre ideas about the human reproductive process? If he is willing to think the way he does on important issues, such as rape, without doing proper research, then what other scary ideas does he have?

I think the reason people like Akin believe in this stuff is because of the segregation of ideas. People start to listen only to certain media commentators and certain inflammatory stations. They attend meetings with like-minded people. In the case of Akin, perhaps someone spoke authoritatively to him about the effects of rape without really being informed on the subject. Perhaps he really, really wanted to believe that what he heard was true, so he did. Then he repeats the claim like it’s fact without independently looking it up. And, again, ideology wins over fact.

Another example of fact-free debate is climate change. Why does the idea of serious, man-made climate change see such resistance from the right when the overwhelming consensus by legitimate climate scientists is that it is real and upon us right now? Why would this be the “conservative” position? Doesn’t it affect all of us? The answer lies in who has funded this resistance and what they have to gain. There are powerful interests that pay a lot of money to create a totally deregulated business-as-usual atmosphere, regardless of the facts. The same thing occurred in the past with big tobacco companies. Ideology over fact. Party politics over good governance.

“My job is to see that this president is a one-term president,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in early 2009.

Really? You are the Republican leader in the Senate? This is your primary job? Unemployed be damned? Country’s future be damned?

Our country is in trouble.

Part of the process of getting people to believe propaganda as fact is to try to discredit all other sources of information. Note the disdain for the “lamestream media” that is repeated. The idea that all news is tainted — except that which comes from Fox News Channel and a few conservative radio hosts — is so accepted by some that they will not allow any other voice in their home or business. They never hear alternative opinions. Is it any wonder that when these ideas are challenged, the response is that the other side listens only to the “liberal” media?

It has not always been this way. Former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., was an American and a follower of God first, before he was a politician. Truth trumped political rhetoric. To my knowledge, he never lowered himself to demonize his opponents or spout bizarre notions of physiology. Amazingly, he was willing to work with Democrats to actually get something done. And there are other historical examples. Those who still behave that way have to be on guard.

We cannot act like sheep who believe everything we hear, just because Rush or Rachel said it. There are powerful and well-financed forces out there that use people because they can; because people allow it. They know people won’t look up facts. They know people will vote straight ticket because they have somehow created the idea in people’s minds that one kind of sin trumps the other. They want you to forget “that what you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me,” and that people out of the uterus are God’s children, too.

Politicians of all persuasions certainly stretch the truth.

Lying about marathons (Paul Ryan) or the origins of the Internet (Al Gore) doesn’t matter in the cosmic scheme. That’s not what I am talking about. I’m talking about repeatedly spreading overt untruths about important issues to sway public opinion. Thanks to the Internet and super PACs, we often don’t know who is doing the talking and, more importantly, who is paying for it. People now wall themselves off from fact-checking or ideas that challenge their view of the world.

The bottom line, whether you lean to the right, left or center, is that you owe it to yourself and future generations to base your vote on factual information. Use historical examples, verifiable science and, if you are so inclined, consider the totality of human suffering — not just that of the unborn — and moral justice for all.

John Cox is a Joplin physician.

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