Monday, October 15, 2012

Fact Checking Candidates? Energion Round Table Quest. 9

As the election draws ever closer and the polls tighten, the ads are coming fast and furious.  The claims made by Super PACS and candidates seem so wildly different that it’s difficult to know where the truth lies.  And this is the topic of this week’s question – how do we stay informed enough to determine what is right and what is wrong?   So, Henry Neufeld, the moderator of the Energion Political Roundtable posts the following question:

An informed electorate is important in sustaining a democracy. We've just completed a presidential and vice-presidential debate, and will see two more presidential debates. I've just read some fact checking from the vice-presidential debate which suggested that accuracy was a bit scarce. What specific recommendations would you make to individual voters as to how they can become informed voters?

It should be clear by now from my writings, including my recent book – Faith in the Public Square (Energion Publications, 2012)that I believe that it’s important to be engaged in the political process, at least in the form of voting.  But if we’re to be effective in our voting, we need to be informed about candidates and propositions.  Even if we vote a party-line, we need to understand what this means.  What is it that a particular political party stands for?  

Informed voting starts, in my mind, with having a good understanding of one’s own perspective on the world.  As a Christian, I need to ask, what is it about my faith that can and should influence my votes.  What are the priorities that I should emphasize in choosing how to vote and how to get engaged in the political process?  So, for me justice, compassion, equality, grace are qualities that should inform my choices.  I begin with the two great commandments – love of God and love of neighbor --- and ask myself, how do a candidate’s positions represent these commands?  For me, this means voting for candidates who are concerned about the poor, the environment, and the marginalized. 

But once I’ve established my own perspective, how do I check out what is right and what isn’t.  You’d think that with all the varied news outlets – on TV, the Radio, and on the internet – that we would find the right sources.  But the variety is such that it can be bewildering.  And since no outlet is completely unbiased, how do you discern the truth?  Because there are so many options we tend to choose the ones that reflect our own biases.  So, conservatives watch Fox and progressives MSNBC.  Conservatives turn to the Wall Street Journal (owned by Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox), while liberals tend to go to the New York Times and the Washington Post.  Our news is filtered as a result. 

Then there are the candidates.  We’ve had a Presidential debate and a Vice-Presidential debate, and both sides made claims and counter claims.  How do you know who is telling the truth?  It’s not always easy to decide.  Fact Checkers will tell you whether a claim is true or not, but how do you know you can trust them? 

It’s not easy, is it?  We want to sometimes throw up our hands and quit the whole thing.  And in part that’s what the parties want.  Both sides would rather that their own bases determine the election, and so if they can confuse and obfuscate the issues, then the person without a partisan agenda may just stay home. 

So, what’s my advice?  First, go to the candidates’ websites to see what they say about themselves, not about their opponents.  See if they’re changing positions to catch the prevailing winds, or are they sticking with positions they’ve previously held (changing one’s mind isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s just a question of why the change is being made).   Check trusted news sources, and newspapers are likely the most reliable even if their editorial boards move in one direction or another, and finally, check out what sites like “FactCheck.Org” or “PolitiFact”are saying.  If they say that something is a half-truth then you’ll have to decide if you want to trust the position, but if they say it’s false (or a “pants on fire” lie), then take that into consideration.  From my own experience these sites are pretty accurate, and worth attending to.

Most of all don’t let the rancor and bravado keep you from voting.  It’s not a perfect system, but opting out doesn’t improve the situation.  Better to vote for a third party than do nothing.  Finally – seek the truth, so that you might be set free!    

To see how others on the Round Table are answering see the sites of:  Allan BevereElgin HushbeckJoel Watts, and Arthur Sido.  

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