Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Liars Or Just Plain Lazy?

When Senator Jon Kyl and his staff opened up their “not intended to be a factual statement” can of worms last week we caught a glimpse behind the curtain of politics. We all know the old joke: “How do you know a politician is lying? When they’ve opened their mouth.” But the real problem with these non-factual statements aren’t really that they’re lies, it’s that they’re so easily disproven. It would have taken 30 seconds to get a real number off of Google. Given how amazingly wrong Kyl’s number was, there is *NO* way that Kyl and his staff could have possibly looked for a real number. What we have here is a politician who wants to rant about something he doesn’t like, so he just makes something up. That doesn’t make him a liar, just lazy.

As far as I’m concerned that makes him a worse lawmaker than if he had lied. In our representative democracy we, supposedly, elect people to take the time that we don’t have in our workaday lives to deeply research the issues and make informed decisions. Let’s, for a moment forget all the money and lobbyists flying around. If the person we elect to make the decisions for us can’t be bothered to take the time to look something up before they open their mouth then the laws they produce will be worthless at best. At worst: Harmful.

Sometimes the source of their data is just as much of a problem as intellectual laziness. Down here in Texas one of our state Representatives, Leo Berman, has just proposed an amendment to the Texas constitution based on something he heard on the radio. Rep Berman is basically proposing another of those redundant anti-Sharia laws.

“It’s being done in Dearborn, Mich., because of a large population of Middle Easterners…and the judges in Dearborn are using and allowing to be used Sharia law.”
Again, let’s ignore that our US constitution already bars the establishment of religion. It also doesn’t matter whether the story Berman heard was sonorously narrated by Ira Glass on NPR or yelled by some guy ranting on a far-right AM station (actually none of the articles I found mentioned where he heard it), you’ve got to find the actual facts before you write a bill. Berman said he “heard it on a radio station here on my way into the Capitol one day.” Then what? Did he fire up his ol’ typewriter and rattle off HJR 57 that morning while his righteous indignation was fresh? Did he stay within his echo chamber and call up Newt Gingrich or Sharron Angle (who’ve also made similar erroneous claims lately)? Berman is a retired business man and former lieutenant colonel, but as a lawmaker he could, and should, probably know what to look for on Michigan’s legislative website. Hey, how about a 10 minute call to Jack O’Reilley, the mayor of Dearborn, MI. You know, just to check.

It’s really hard to undo a law once it’s in place, let alone a constitutional amendment. Our representatives, conservative or liberal, should take the time to actually research something before they propose legislation that could affect people for hundreds of years. Texas still has anti-sodomy laws on the books, despite it being ruled unconstitutional in 2003 (FYI: The law affects gay men only, so no problem there heteros.). Despite the “No religious tests” clause in the US constitution the Texas constitution still requires an office holder to “acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.” All I ask is that you folks look before you leap.

But this is what we get when voters elect the guy or gal that they want to have a beer with rather than the smartest guy or gal in the room. Heck, the politician doesn’t even have to be the smartest: as long as they are willing to look at the facts with an open mind and make an informed choice. If new data comes to light they should change their stance. This is where skepticism and the scientific method come into play. We need both people and politicians to be educated and to be critical thinkers. I may personally disagree with a Republican, Democrat, Tea Partyer, or Communist on any number of philosophical points, but if you have done the research and can show me some facts we can have a discussion. When you spout of “non-facts” or legislation based on something you pulled out thin air or an anecdote you heard from someone else, we all loose.


  1. As an aside, I would like to point out that under a Senate perorgative, Senator Kyl was allowed to go back into the record and revise as well extend his remarks.

    The record may have been erased as it wasn't intended to be a factual statement, fortunately, today, everything is preserved for posterity.

  2. Thank Dog video tape & Daily Show interns.