What would it take to believe some stories making the rounds? Is closer examination warranted to judge whether truth is stranger than fiction, if reality exists in some provable context or is simply the verbal gymnastics of fanatics and political opportunists?
Let’s see, a young white woman gives birth to a baby, fathered by a man from Kenya, and as soon as the infant is born, she thinks to herself “maybe some day my little biracial offspring could run for president of the United States.” Fearing that her status as an American citizen might not suffice, she rushes from her Kenyan birthing hut, boards a plane for Hawaii and persuades the registrar of births there to phony up a birth certificate and alert the local newspapers about her son’s arrival. What an ambitious woman, but that’s how mothers are sometimes. And darned if baby Barack didn’t become president after all; time to sow the seeds of doubt about a woman on a mission.
But despite attempts to question the president’s right to inhabit the White House, the “birther” thing hasn’t really taken hold except at tea-bag rallies and on some of the more scurrilous right-wing talk-shows. However, other lurid scenarios have been used to blur the line between fact and fiction. If so many Republicans believe ACORN stole the last election for Obama, could that actually be true?
In fact, ACORN is a community organization that seeks to help poor Americans find better housing, fairer wages and develop a political presence. However, in recent years it has become the butt of conservative attacks precisely because of its success registering minority voters who tend to vote for Democrats. True, there have been irregularities with workers trying to earn a few extra bucks making up names or registering Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Needless to say, though, if a cartoonish mouse or duck showed up they were not allowed to cast a ballot. On the other hand, in 2000 George Bush was swept into office by some characters in black robes who sat in the nation’s highest court. Who played the more nefarious role in shaping our history, ACORN or the Supremes?
Republicans are masters at creating outlandish tales about Democrats, e.g. their disdain for doddering old fools, oh not you Rush, the nation’s Grannies. According to popular wisdom on the right, Democrats, apparently having no elderly relatives of their own, would rather send Grandma to an early death than provide her with adequate medical care. When even respected members of Congress declare that “death panels” exist, a certain credibility attaches to their claims. Would it help if greater care were taken to clarify what is meant by end-of-life discussions - - probably not because facts would only confuse issues that have become political fodder for seekers of the limelight.
And according to the GOP base the gay lifestyle is a curable condition. Oklahoma’s Senator Inhofe says there have never been homosexuals in his large family. But I rather suspect there are some closeted incurables around the country, maybe even in Oklahoma, happy in secret with the life their sexual orientation dictates. A NYC subway scrawl once read “my mother made me a homosexual.” Underneath someone had responded, “If I send her the material would she make me one too” - - suggesting, some might say, that homosexuals are made not born. Could they be right or does their self-contained vision struggle against the tide of human diversity and the country’s civil rights tradition?
Can the American people subscribe to the view of leaders who distrust science and say the earth is but six thousand years old after, one assumes, counting the “begats” in Genesis? And what of the dinosaurs they believe shared Eden with Adam and Eve? Did they miss the boat or become extinct as a result of their cigarette habit as one anti-smoking poster depicted them?
Opinions abound but intense delivery is no guarantee of rational discourse or informational integrity. And when facts are distorted by religious belief or motivated by partisan ambitions, great damage is done to our political system. If, for example, Kansas Senator Brownback’s position were to prevail, the American people would be instructed by the Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding abortion and presumably other matters - - a major step towards organizing the country along religious lines. Is that what most people believe? Does that support our founding principles?
It is said in some media circles “we report, you decide”, but ostensibly earnest reportage can be just wildly improbable theorizing. It is often said that if something sounds too good to be true it probably isn’t true. By the same token, if a story or opinion seems too absurd to be believed, it probably shouldn’t be taken seriously.