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The Politics of Truth

Thomas Whitley

There are certain phrases and arguments that we have all become accustomed to within the American political system. Some possess staying power while others are trite and cliche. An article out yesterday on MSN ("Did George W. Bush Cause This Crisis?") got me thinking again about how it is generally acceptable to blame one's predecessor for whatever bad situation one was met with when he/she came in to office, but this acceptance fades after about 2 years. I understand that the cliche "presidents own the economy" is true in the sense that whether the sitting president actually had any direct impact on the current economic situation, be it good or bad, they generally get the blame or praise for it. As I think about this phenomenon from a researcher's and historian's perspective, though, it strikes me as massively short-sighted with no actual desire to rely on facts or truth. By that I mean that a majority of Americans today do not actually care anymore whether George W. Bush created the current economic crisis or whether his policies adversely affected the economic climate so much as to aggravate the crisis; they are just tired of hearing the Democrats say so. Instead, the magic 2 year window has shut and President Obama is now expected to "own" the economy.

Full disclosure: I do think that policies from the Bush Administration negatively affected the economy, but I also do not think that the Obama Administration has produced only great economic policies either. But, when you look at job loss/creation from January 2008 to July 2011 as a whole it becomes clear just how low the down turn was, as this chart shows...and, by default, how far we have come.

With that said, my point today is not to argue that Obama should not to be held to account for his economic policies. Instead, my point is that our current political system - and our public if polling data is a good indication of where they stand - does not actually value truth when it comes to issues like this.  Rather, the views of both parties and of many in our country are extremely short-sighted and are often formed based on how they will benefit their previously held beliefs.

As a research, student, historian, etc. my penchant is toward finding the facts and presenting them. Simply put, facts do not have a "Best if used by" date. Economic policy decisions often have effects that last much longer than a few years (both positive effects and negative effects).

My hope is that we as the American people will stop allowing party talking points and news organizations to shape our views on the world. Political parties, yes even the one to which you belong (if you do belong to a political party; I do not), have agendas. This means that in our current climate since the economy is still bad the Democrats will continue blaming the Bush Administration and Republicans will say it isn't fair. If the economy were growing by leaps and bounds, the Obama Administration would be taking all the credit and never considering that any of it may be due to some one else.

My point is simply this: there are political talking points out there and there are facts. Sometimes these two are related, but often they are second cousins twice removed at best. It is our responsibility to seek out facts and not disregard something that is more than a few years old, an absolutely minuscule amount of time in the grand scheme of history, because some people are tired of hearing about it. If we truly care about the future of our country, then we will be more concerned with finding and presenting facts than with repeating rehearsed talking points.

As Monsters of Folk said, "Don't ever buy nothing from a man named Truth."