In this election year, two questions will guide my deliberation: What evidence is being ignored when people make political or economic claims? And what questions are not being asked about social and moral issues?
Making political judgments, like making moral judgments, ideally approximates the procedures of a courtroom. In fact, when we exercise our conscience, which is our practical moral judgment, we are acting as a judge. And like any good judge, if we are going to be able to render a judgment, we must have evidence. Otherwise our judgments are groundless and, in a worst case scenario, dangerous.
Hearsay is not enough. Interpreta-tions are tendentiously inadequate. Unexamined premises nullify arguments. Evidence that has been tampered with is disqualified. And yet these tactics are the stuff of the political and media discourse that seems to rule the day.
We have already witnessed previews of the diatribes that will be launched against President Obama: “He hates America.” “He has a hatred for white people.” “He hates capitalism.” Could someone please name the source that justifies such assertions? At best these are perverted interpretations. At worst, they are vile slanders. We will no doubt hear again the claim that Obama “goes around apologizing for America.” Well, even if you grant the questionable proposition that calling us an “imperfect union” or admitting that our country has “made mistakes” is making “apologies,” it is a gross distortion of Obama’s public words and actions.
The other side knows how to distort evidence as well. Now that former Senator Rick Santorum seems to be surging as the possible Republican nominee, look for (if it has not happened by the time this column appears) liberals to mount an orchestrated ridicule of his approach to human sexuality and his antipathy toward abortion. If you have not heard it already, you will soon hear that Santorum has outrageously compared homosexual acts to bestiality or polygamy. True, he did utter the words in the same sentence, but if you are able to find an unedited video of his talk, you will see that he was asking for a principle, rather than making a comparison.
The question is this: if autonomy is the supreme principle in matters of sexual attraction and love, then on what grounds do we deny marriage between five consenting adults or someone who wants to marry a domesticated pet? We may not like the examples or analogy, but has anyone offered an answer to his question? Similarly, in his opposition to partial birth abortion, Santorum has been criticized for his graphic description of the procedure. But why? Must such evidence be suppressed?
A telling moment occurred recently during a Republican debate, when Ron Paul was questioned about his “non-intervention” policy. To a cascade of disdain and hoots, he invoked the golden rule. Perhaps the idea of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you should be applied to nations, he suggested. The largely Christian audience in this largely Christian country was outraged. How dare he wonder whether Jesus’ summation of the law and the prophets be applied to contemporary life? Such questions must never be asked.
And yet, the unasked questions are often just a request for principles and evidence. I for one would love to hear a few more of them, including a few like these:
If Obama ever succeeded in bringing the graduated tax rates back to where they were in the time of Ronald Reagan, would that mean Reagan was a socialist bent on punishing the rich?
How does the refusal to pay for someone’s abortion deny the rights of that person?
If the government, with our taxes, has never created a job, what paid for the interstate highway system, our standing armed forces and our stellar politicians?
If you want no restraints on a woman’s right to abortion, do you support abortion for sex selection?
If you wish to criminalize abortion, should people who play a role in one be imprisoned?
If torture or the killing of the innocent is justified for national security, does that principle apply to other nations and political groups?
Oops. There’s that golden rule again. Better not to have asked the question.