Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Barack Obama on facts

There's a wonderful, perhaps apocryphal story that people tell about Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the brilliant, prickly, and iconoclastic late senator from New York. Apparently, Moynihan was in a heated argument with one of his colleagues over an issue, and the other senator, sensing he was on the losing side of the argument, blurted out, "Well, you may disagree with me, Pat, but I'm entitled to my own opinion." To which Moynihan frostily replied, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts."

Moynihan's assertion no longer holds. We have no authoritative figure, no Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow whom we all listen to and trust to sort out contradictory claims. Instead, the media is splintered into a thousand fragments, each with its own version of reality, each claiming the loyalty of a splintered nation. Depending on your viewing preferences, global climate change is or is not dangerously accelerating; the budget deficit is going down or going up. . . .

But sometimes there are more accurate or less accurate answers; sometimes there are facts that cannot be spun, just as an argument about whether it's raining can usually be settled by stepping outside. The absence of even rough agreement on the facts puts every opinion on equal footing and therefore eliminates the basis for thoughtful compromise. It rewards not those who are right, but those -- like the White House press office -- who can make their arguments most loudly, most frequently, most obstinately, and with the best backdrop.

Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (New York: Crown, 2006), 126-27

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Ideology v. values

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