Vail Daily columnist Jack Van Ens: Political prisms can filter out plain truth
Ryan Summerlin December 8, 2012
“If a man is a fool, the best thing is to encourage him to advertise the fact by speaking,” declared President Woodrow Wilson to French academics after World War I’s armistice in 1918.
Wilson’s adage proved true when Fox News allowed Republican strategist Karl Rove on presidential election night to repeatedly assert that Mitt Romney would win Ohio. Fox’s forecasters threw in the towel, conceding an Obama win. After Rove with pit-bull tenacity asserted again Romney’s Ohio victory, Fox’s newscaster Megyn Kelly became incredulous. She blurted out to Rove, “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?”
How’s it that Rove made a bad call on Ohio? He’s blinded because mental light is refracted through a prism Rove favors. He and radio’s right-wing shock jocks focus only on what they already know to be true, even if it’s false, like the errant call on Ohio.
Rush Limbaugh habitually peers through a crimped mental filter. After the election, he ballyhooed about no longer watching the Sunday morning political shows. Rush said he already knew what broadcast adversaries would say. Isn’t it true, however, we often learn the most after assuming we know everything about a subject?
Rush is blind to what historian Jon Meacham lauds Thomas Jefferson for. “(He) understood a timeless truth: that politics is kaleidoscopic, constantly shifting, and the morning’s foe may well be the afternoon’s friend” (Thomas Jefferson: “The Art of Power,” p. 112).
In the summer of 1976, Jefferson and John Adams were at loggerheads over whether to declare a wartime day of prayer. Jefferson had suspicions of orthodox religion dictating public policy. Adams favored the motion. When he barked loudly against Jefferson, Adams assumed his opponent would keep his distance. But Jefferson crossed the room and sat next to his acerbic-tongued colleague.
King Herod in Matthew’s Christmas narrative shares the mental disability of incivility that afflicts Rush and Rove. After greeting wise men, Herod feared an omen that occurred under a burning star. A messiah was born. A star shone where the child lived. The star in this infant’s halo made him a competitor to Herod’s throne, so the king fantasized.
Slithering like a snake in the grass, the king requested the magi, “When you have found the child, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him” (Matthew 2:8). Herod read the signs of the times by his own dim lights. Like Rove making a bad election call, he assumed the Jewish savior would be bristling with hubris. He’d steal Herod’s throne.
Herod, along with Rove and Limbaugh, jam complex issues into simple molds to justify skewed interpretations. Such judgments are often abrasive and imperious – qualities that detract from the power and veracity of one’s message.
Guilt by association is a favorite tactic that mars reputations. Rush and Rove used this ploy when labeling President Barack Obama a socialist. The cracked prism through which their light shines on Obama creates distortions. The president, they charge, ducks hard work, wants to create a free-loader society, and allows big government to provide cradle to grave security for those on the dole.
The light Rove and Rush share about Obama’s beliefs is eclipsed. Wall Street Journal fact checker Rex Nutting throws new light on the president’s track record. “He (President Obama) has never advocated an entitlement society, in which ‘everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risks,’ as Mr. Romney said in a speech last December.”
Nutting treats the president’s naysayers like petulant children crying in rage at Obama’s imaginary wrongs. “In reality, Mr. Obama talks constantly about hard work and taking personal responsibility,” concludes Nutting. “He talks about the dream of an equal opportunity society, not an equal-outcomes society. He says we need to ‘restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules,'” (Denver Post, Nov. 4, 2012, p. 13J).
Such shafts of truth don’t shine on grumpy old white guys whose minds are made up behind gated mentalities. The stars they spy are of their own fearful making. Like King Herod, they blunder, conjuring threats that aren’t real.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, under klieg lights serving as stars of sorts, Romney and Obama sang campaign songs. Romney’s was an individualistic anthem, “(I Was) Born Free.” President Obama sang a different tune, “We Take Care of Our Own,” in which the government helps orchestrate a nation in which “we are all in this together.”
Romney’s shooting star fizzled. Obama’s star appeared like the sun breaking through clouds. It reflected a community Bethlehem’s child beamed – shining with grace, humility and compassion.
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.