Monday, September 10, 2012

Truth: The Recurring Theme

Jack Nicholson’s famous character in “A Few Good Men” suggested Tom Cruise’s character may not be able to handle the truth.

Paul Newman’s character in “The Verdict” said truth was hard to find, and that you don’t come by it easily.

Al Gore insisted global warming was “An Inconvenient Truth.”

One of my college professors (Dennis Greene, Ph.D.) taught his logic class that there are at least three kinds of truth: objective truth, subjective truth, and putative truth.

I’ve done a great deal of thinking about the truth as it relates to the political world.  Vladimir Lenin and Paul Josef Goebbels both cynically said a lie told often enough becomes the truth.

Plenty of untruths are told during any political campaign.  White lies; shading of the truth; partial truths; outright falsehoods; some say, with resignation, that it’s all just part of the game these days.

Philosopher and educator Stanwood Cobb said our character determines our destiny, because our character determines our deeds, and from our deeds flows our destiny.

My background as a collegiate debater and later as a news anchor made clear to me the concept that there are two sides to most stories.  I learned that some things – which we used to call facts – are generally not debatable propositions.  And I learned that some stories should not be “balanced” with an alternate viewpoint.  But this prism doesn’t work with politics.

What set me off on this rant about truth was watching David Gregory interview Mitt Romney on “Meet the Press” Sunday.  This will come as a shock to some of my friends, but I really am interested in what Mitt Romney has to say.  I am, from early childhood, a very independent cuss.  I do not identify with any political party. Under tough questioning by Gregory, Romney said there were many parts of “Obamacare” that he liked, and wouldn’t change.  That was the Mitt Romney who governed Massachusetts several years ago: practical, as opposed to idealistic; willing to compromise for the common good; able to see differing points of view and synthesize a solution.

A few hours later, perhaps after his handlers had seen the entire Meet the Press interview, Romney walked back (as they say in political circles these days) the comments about health care, and said, at a campaign appearance, that the only solution was the complete repeal of “Obamacare”.  Once again, his persona had changed to the “severely conservative” politician he claimed to be during the Republican Presidential debates.

I do not make this observation as a “gotcha”, which is so disgustingly a part of the news media’s M.O. today.  I wondered if the “whole truth” of what Romney said later in the day Sunday was that yes, he would repeal Obamacare (as if he actually could), but he would reinstate those parts of it that he said he liked, on Meet the Press interview.

I see parallels between Romney’s campaign and Tommy Thompson’s campaign.  I wonder if the Romney who governed Massachusetts from 2002 to 2006 is the “real” Romney; I wonder if the Tommy Thompson who governed Wisconsin from 1987 to 2001 is the “real” Tommy Thompson.  Both have courted the Tea Party vote.  Both must constantly insist they’re hard-core conservatives (because so few believe they actually are).

I guess the Paul Newman character (attorney Frank Galvin) in “The Verdict” had it right: it’s tough to come by the truth.  Too often, it’s not that easy to ferret out.  And it’s hard to be sure you really have arrived at the truth.


  1. ....and if "objective truth" is in conflict with either of the other "truths"?


  2. A lot of my Madison friends claim to be independent. But it rings hollow when you listen to them constantly bash one side and not the other. 90% one way is not independent.

    Who do they think they are fooling?