A Grain of Truth
By Patrick F. Cannon
I’ve never quite understood what the phrase “a grain of truth” actually means. Some people seem to think it means that in a loaf of lies there may be hidden just a single grain that, isolated from the rest, could possibly be true, thus making the loaf palatable enough to swallow.
Increasingly, politicians of both parties are counting on us to think that just a little truth is truth enough. Here’s an example from my home state, Illinois. Unless you don’t watch television (in which case, congratulations), you’ve no doubt been told in ads from his opponent J.B. Pritzker that Governor Bruce Rauner is personally responsible for the state’s undoubted fiscal mess. Now, I happen to think that he is about as inept a politician as it’s possible to be, but I also believe he actually tried to put the state on a better fiscal course.
Why did he fail? Could it possibly be that he inherited most of the mess from someone else? And that the “someone else” preferred to keep doing business the same way? From 2003 until he took office in 2015, both the governorship and both houses of the legislature were controlled by the Democratic Party. They still control the latter, which, by the way, is responsible for passing a balanced budget. And the party itself is still controlled by Michael Madigan, a Chicago legislator who has been representing a district of roughly 100,000 souls for 47 years and is the longest serving speaker of any legislative body in the United States.
In the expected tit for tat, Rauner’s ads accuse Madigan and his cohorts of running a “corrupt” government. Using the old guilt by association tactic, he accuses J.B. Pritzker (a fellow billionaire) of corruption by association. As it happens, Madigan has never been indicted for any crime. He is an expert in gaming the system; a system, it must be said, that he has been largely responsible for designing. Official corruption is an actual crime (as Chicago and Illinois citizens know to their sorrow), so accusing Pritzker of corruption is crossing the line unless he can back it up with facts.
I do know folks who say it’s OK to stretch the truth a little, but only for the candidate they favor. When the other side does the same thing, somehow it becomes dishonest. Now, I do think there are occasions when it’s acceptable for politicians to lie. I’m reminded of Winston Churchill’s statement about World War II that “in wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Despite what many might think, running for office is not the same of fighting a war. So, it’s OK to lie to the Nazis, but to the voters?
Lying by politicians has become so pervasive that one of the world’s most accomplished liars became president of these United States. He continues to lie with abandon, confident that his supporters are satisfied with just the merest grain of truth. When we excuse a candidate who lies about his or her opponent because we agree with some of his or her positions, we have participated in the debasement of our politics.
When was the last time you saw a campaign ad that actually told you what the candidate stood for or planned to do, rather than highlighting the fictional crimes of the opposition? Are you truly satisfied with just a grain of truth in an army of lies?
Copyright 2018, Patrick F. Cannon