Sunday, December 18, 2011

go to the source

We live in a technologically advanced, but informationally stunted world. We seemingly have all the information we need at our fingertips, but often lack the will, or curiosity, to use it to our advantage. We all too frequently fall back on letting someone else tell us what to do and what is true when we should be investigating for ourselves and making better decisions.

Politics is just one of those areas, but it gets a great amount of attention every four years at least, as is the case now. We are blessed in this country to be free to elect our leaders. In much of the world this is not the case and we should not take lightly the responsibility to make wise decisions as to who to support. The GOP debates may seem tedious and simply forums for talking point reiteration, but they can serve to help us identify what is really important to us, even for those who aren't planning to vote GOP.

It is more than just "fact-checking" that we need to do. We also need to check quotes and context. People tend to view speakers as "scholarly" or "expert" when they cite history and quote historical documents. But how often do these same people check the sources of the citations and quotes to see if they are accurate? Not very often in my opinion. And that can lead people to make very unsound decisions.

Case in point: during the latest debate Newt Gingrich was ranting about the judiciary and how it was damaging America with bad rulings...that it was out of control and needed to be reined in. He made a couple of really outlandish suggestions - getting rid of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (conservatives "favorite" court) and summoning justices before Congress to "explain" their "controversial" rulings. That was bad enough, but his rational was worse...and that (again) got overlooked in the analysis.

Gingrich is certainly no friend of the courts, but he covers his blatant animosity with a 'scholarly" sheen, by using quotes and making historical references to his advantage. Unfortunately, he often misquotes and takes things out of context. As a preacher I once heard said " a text out of context becomes a pretext". This describes Newt very well. I won't belabor the point or overwhelm you with examples, but let me just cite a couple examples.

He stated that the founders intended for the judiciary to be the weakest branch of government. He was referencing the discussion of the judiciary in the Federalist Papers, the collection of letters written by Hamilton, Madison, and John Jay, to persuade New York state to ratify the Constitution. They talked about the relative weakness of the judicial branch, but in a matter advocating protecting it's independence from the other two branches (executive and legislative), not subordinating it to them.

To quote Federalist #78 : the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power ...it can never attack with success either of the other two..all possible care is requisite to enable it to defend itself against their attacks". They were not saying that the judiciary should be the weakest. They were saying that it was in the most vulnerable position and needed protection (like with lifetime appointments and a prohibition on cutting a justice's salary during their time of service).

Newt also said that the courts were not the final arbiter of the law. But, to quote the same Federalist paper "The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts" and "the courts of justice..whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the constitution void. Without this, the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing".

For a supposed "scholar" of the Constitution to be this wrong is not accidental, it is purposeful. It is an attack upon the part of government designed to be the protector of our rights and should not be viewed as merely "crackpot". As a former history/poli sci major myself this makes my blood boil!

I would urge anyone to avail themselves of three resources which can be invaluable in combating, personally and collectively, the misinformation that is spewed out regularly by those who seek to influence our political decisions. Three links:

1. The Federalist Papers, if you don't have a hard copy (as I do)

2. The Constitution (you really should have a hard copy...and read it often)

3. Thomas.gov...where you can look up the history, sponsors, and full text of any congressional legislation...to find out what it "really" says.


With these three you can combat much of the disinformation being thrown out there during this political season. Don't let anyone (not even me) make your decisions for you. As the saying goes "God gave you a brain, now use it"

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