Half-Truths

Senator Mike Lee of Utah protested the representation of his position on the television show “Newsroom.” On the show the lead character, a news anchor, states that Lee is for the repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment.  He also says that Lee has a double-digit lead over Senator Bennett, the most conservative member of the Senate. For those who actually follow politics, the show is only partially correct.  Lee only favors repealing the part of the Fourteenth Amendment that allows citizenship to any child born in the United States of foreign-born parents here illegally, and Bob Bennett never got to a primary election because he didn’t even get 20% of the votes in the Republican state caucus.  The problem the writers of the show faced was that trying to explain what really happened would have lost most of the audience.  So they opted for a simplification that was essentially true to the spirit of the situation, showing Lee’s ultra-conservatism and his appeal to the far-right Republicans, but, factually, it was a misstatement, resulting in a half-truth, if you will.

This whole tempest in a Utah teapot, however, raises a much larger issue.  How does one raise vital issues in a complex world with a twenty-second attention span without either losing the majority in the details or oversimplifying into half-truths that can often be misleading? In the case of Mike Lee, the half-truth is partly incorrect, but not misleading.  He is now in all probability the most right-wing senator serving in the Senate, and if not, so close to it that in political terms it makes little difference.

Although I’ve criticized the opponents of the Affordable Health Care Act for their misleading statements and half-truths, the fact is that, for all its virtues, its supporters have also engaged in a campaign of half-truths, because the act won’t solve all of the health insurance problems facing the United States.  Even the individual mandate features won’t force full coverage, because the fines imposed for not having coverage are most likely to cost non-compliers less than insurance would, for those who could afford insurance, and for those who cannot, it’s rather difficult to obtain funds from those who have none.

Senators and U.S. representatives who head to Washington promising to balance the federal budget and get spending under control are spouting half-truths, if not total falsehoods, because no senator and no representative can do that by himself or herself.  Any successful legislation requires in these days 60% of the Senate and a majority of the House of Representatives, and all the rhetoric in the world won’t change that.

Part of the problem is the complexity of the world in which we live.  As I’ve noted before, we all prefer simple answers and explanations, but most of the problems we face don’t have simple answers.  The tax code, for example, is a complete nightmare of complexity.  Why?  Because straight and simple taxes are often unfair and fall disproportionately on certain individuals or people who live in different places or under differing circumstances. New industries might never develop without certain tax breaks, and so Congress, almost as soon as an income tax was made constitutional, began to amend and change the tax code, both in the interest of “fairness” and in order to encourage and discourage certain behaviors. Those who wanted those changes certainly didn’t tell the “whole truth.”  They said what they hoped would get what they wanted.

In the end, everyone wants the “other guy” to tell the whole truth, but not to tell it themselves, and that hasn’t changed a lot since the dawn of government, and certainly not since the founding of the United States, but too many half-truths result in fundamental misunderstandings and problems in a time of greater complexity and greater ramifications arising from all too many business, political, and technological changes.

That said… will half-truths persist?  Of course. They’ll even multiply, based on the all too human need for a simplicity that doesn’t exist in a modern world.

 

13 thoughts on “Half-Truths”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    Probably one has to phrase the essentials of a concept in such a manner as to make it both possible to keep reasonably short, and difficult to disentangle into separate parts that can be edited according to someone else’s agenda or time constraints.

    That’s what bothers me about this – agree or disagree, there is a major difference between modifying the Fourteenth Amendment to eliminate the loophole for a child born here to two parents here illegally versus repealing the Fourteenth Amendment. That’s not just a simplification for short time and attention span, that’s telling a half-truth (if that) in pursuit of an agenda. In no way does that affect children born to citizens or even one citizen, or the Due Process clause, or the Equal Protection Clause.

    I tend to be of the opinion that except for due process, the US government has little obligation to uphold the rights of those here in violation of our laws if that would in any way adversely impact the welfare of those here legally; or except under treaty or as a useful mutual courtesy, the rights of non-citizens outside our borders. I do _not_ subscribe to Capt. Kirk’s speech in “Omega Glory” “These words (the words of the Constitution) must apply to _everyone_, or they mean nothing.” A nation’s government has an obligation to it’s citizens, _not_ to all of humanity.

  2. Joe says:

    Isn’t it ironic that the same people who worry about the rights of “unborn children” also want to remove rights from children born inconveniently.

    Say you were born here. You don’t get to choose your parents, so through no fault of your own, your parents happen not to have their papers in order. Should you really be a person without nationality? (You weren’t born in your parents’ countries, so why should they claim you?). Without papers, there’s no reason other countries would even allow you in, so you’re stuck in limbo.

    If a kid has been brought up here, has absorbed US culture, then the kid is an American. He or she has done nothing wrong, and should not be punished. And there’s no reason for the government not to tax him/her as mercilessly as everyone else.

    As to LEM’s question, I often think that one should have to prove one understands the issues before being allowed to vote. That would change the campaigns from “look at me, I look like Presidential” to something a little more educational.

  3. Thomas R. says:

    I’ve always liked Heinlein’s idea on voting he expressed in “Starship Troopers”. Earn the right to vote!

  4. R. Hamilton says:

    It’s irrelevant how much they’re integrated, or whether they’re stateless or homeless or hopeless. We didn’t make their parents come here in violation of our law.

    I wouldn’t penalize the kids in one sense: while I’d blacklist their parents as illegals that would NEVER be allowed back, since the kids didn’t have an independent choice, they could still come here LEGALLY (by the same procedures as anyone else would have to follow, however slow and burdensome they may be – and that’s not something I’d oppose an orderly and limited reform of) once they turned 18 or 21, provided they had at least the equivalent of a high school education, no felony or comparable convictions, an ongoing commitment to further education or self-improvement, a sponsor that would be responsible for ALL their expenses until they qualified for a green card, and some skill or educational agenda that filled a skilled role in short supply. Unskilled labor in short supply should only qualify for seasonal work permits, but never citizenship or permanent residency.

    There should be ZERO compassion in government policy for illegals, once (after due care not to harass those who merely looked or sounded similar) that determination was made. Compassion for foreigners is for private charity; government’s only obligation is to its citizens; in the case of illegals, to minimize costs and disruptions by deporting them expeditiously.

    Bluntly, we should tell Mexico that until they take control over their side of the border, all fund transfers resembling “remittances” are cut off.

    Much as I’d like to be libertarian, there’s one great flaw in that philosophy, which is that power vacuums are ALWAYS filled; so one had better be prepared to fill them on one’s own terms rather than let someone else dictate terms. Demographic warfare need not be tolerated.

  5. Bain says:

    The parents of these children has broken the law of the United States,many of these people has been living in this nation aware of their status. As a nation we cannot maintain this bottleneck. People need to set emotions aside and look at the big picture. R. Hamilton point is valid.

  6. Mayhem says:

    Minor point – as I understand it the real economy of the southwestern states revolves around having an underlying market of illegal immigrants as cheap under-the-table labour sources.

    It might sound like they want to keep illegal immigrant children from becoming american, but I strongly suspect that there really aren’t all that many of them in proportion to the legal population. Remember, the US is the third most populous nation.

    Instead I suspect what this modification serves to do is to remove any chance the illegals have of escaping from their situation outside of the regular state amnesties, or fleeing back to whatever hell they tried to escape out of …

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Undoubtedly there are those that profit from cheap “under-the-table” labor. But that’s not every employer, and it’s certainly not clear that it reaches the scale of “real economy of the southwestern states”. For those living there (and elsewhere – illegals are present in significant numbers in most states now), unless they’re wealthy enough to routinely hire work done that they could probably do themselves, the presence of large numbers of illegals is NOT a plus…except insofar as a fraction of the cost savings in for example agriculture results in reduced prices for the consumer.

      And unlike those groups that vigorously encourage education and learning English, this wave of immigrants does so much less; and is therefore vulnerable to higher crime, leftist agitators spewing nonsense about Aztlán, Reconquista (in the modern sense), etc.

      Managed legal seasonal migrant work (where people went home when the farm jobs shut down for the season) or expanded LEGAL immigration would address these issues. In the former case, the people in question would maintain their home to the south of our border and would not need to assimilate here; in the latter, they’d be openly present, and taxed too, just like everyone else. In both cases, they’d bring any underground economy out in the open, and eliminate any incentives associated with it.

      Amnesty is NOT the answer; having the gonads to either enforce the law or change it to something we’re willing to enforce, that’s the answer. Seems I saw the following line in a book I read awhile back:

      “I would agree. I would also say that a land that does not live by its laws will not long endure. It may change those laws, but to flout them will destroy it far more quickly than following bad laws.”

  7. Wine Guy says:

    Back on topic of half-truths (or, perhaps we should say omission of key facts):

    Most of us have a real gap in specific information, mainly because the big picture is deliberately obscured by those who start to comment on things before the actual facts are even out. When I read about proposed laws/taxes/political agenda items, what I want are facts – which are exceedingly hard to come by. I have enough general knowledge and life experience to make my own decisions, thank you very much.

    Before the general public can get the facts, 95% of the time the talking heads (T-heads, in LEM’s Flash and Octagonal Raven parlance) are telling us ‘what it actually means’ without giving us time to form our own opinion. ‘Getting out in front of the message’ is now more important than the message itself.

    There is so much ‘analysis’ and ‘commentary’ (I put these words in quotes because I consider all of it less useful than navel lint) that occurs even before the facts are made available that the average Joe (i.e. me) wants to tune it out. My fear is that this is the actual reason for all of the navel-lint commentary.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      While you’re right (and an acute lack of the teaching of critical thinking must be happening, or else an acute case of public laziness to apply what they were taught), it’s seldom that clear-cut. Take the computer simulation “Life”: very simple rules can lead to very complex behavior. Even if one can agree on the accuracy of a certain set of facts, it’s not as if there will always or even usually be just one reasonable course of action to follow from those facts.

      _Everything_ is rationalization; reasoning is a mere illusion, although our choices of illusion may influence future decisions to the point that reasoning is approximated. The real question is what can be demonstrated to work. No ideology is perfect; heck, no ideology can possibly model reality. But some clearly don’t work. The left only works if you’re a parasite, not if you’re the one the parasite is feeding on.

    2. Joe says:

      The function of journalism is to place facts within the overall context. Journalists get paid to provide you with the big picture you’re too busy to read up on. Unfortunately good journalists are expensive, and were replaced by reporters (wet behind the ears, simply reporting so-and-so said such-and-such) and talking heads (opinion). There is still a need for true journalism, but we need to find a way other than advertising to fund it.

      1. R. Hamilton says:

        No. Not paid by advertising means either taxpayer funded (which means the agenda for their paycheck is to support expansion of government), or it means paid by private charity. The latter might work if none of the former were present…maybe; or maybe it would just be a less transparent case than advertising of journalist bought and paid for.

        A reasonably honest journalist – one who acknowledged their biases, and let you know that they’d make an effort not to let them affect their output, would be refreshing. Some conservative commentators took that interpretation of Anderson Cooper’s public “coming out” – even it was being honest about something they’d rather didn’t exist, at least it was honest.

        Commercial news can work – but the standard of ethics for _all_ journalism, commercial or not, has to have a clear delineation between fact and opinion, and to (as cantankerous Les Kinsolving says) leave no sacred cow un-milked. The sacred cow is of course whatever the journalist themselves believes is the “right” choice! I want to see an avowedly left wing journalist rip chunks out of a left wing politician, based strictly on fact and policy. If it pleases you, replace both instances of left for right in that sentence and the meaning will be the same, save only that the left seems to have been so much more reluctant to engage in that sort of brutal self-examination.

  8. Tim says:

    To really experience half truths, read the US and Russian rhetoric at the UN concerning Syria. Two sets of half-truths do not seem to make a whole.

  9. Wine Guy says:

    I would never posit that two half-truths make a whole. I would say that willful omission of key facts is worse than not making a statement at all.

    Journalism these days need to be printed on yellow paper (or to have an updated version – yellow background). There is little difference between news now and that of New York in the late 1890s and early 1900’s.

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