(cross-posted at The Smirking Chimp)
Yesterday, I went for my long-overdue hair appointment with the Prince of Peroxide, my friend Eddy James (who is a miracle-worker, I must say - he did not ask me for a plug but I'm giving it anyway!) He asked me how my book was coming and I told him it was in the process of being edited, and then he and I got talking about politics, as we usually do at that point. He's Canadian and his wife is American, but he's a pretty progressive guy for a 'normie' (i.e. someone who isn't up to his tits in the interwebs about politics.)
In public, I don't launch into my tirades unless someone asks me enough times that I can't help myself. We started by talking about the possible SAG/AFTRA strike, and the acrimony between the two unions - disheartening because I belong to both and they've been seeking rapproachment for a while, but it's falling apart at this time. The subject went to unions in general, then the economy. Next came the state of the media, and I started talking about news programming and the fact that since news is now expected to draw ratings like a sitcom or game show, we get more flash and spin and less substance, and how we're losing out as citizens because the people entrusted by the protection of the Constitution to keep us informed have abandoned their responsibility to the public interest. We pretty much concurred that you can't trust the media to tell us the truth.
When we got around to the primary races, the girl who was assisting Eddy, and who up to this point had not made a peep, piped up and said, "Well, Obama wants to take the Pledge of Allegiance out of public schools!"
My jaw dropped.
I had just finished talking about Bush's Rovian dirty campaigning tricks that had been used against both Ann Richards in the race for the Texas governorship and John McCain in 2000 - the 'push-polling' where operatives would call up people and ask them if they would vote for so-and-so if they knew that they had a gay agenda (Richards) or had an illegitimate black child (McCain).
I asked her where she had heard that. She said that someone forwarded her an e-mail.
After explaining where it had come from - that someone took a picture of Obama standing with other candidates without his hand over his heart during the National Anthem, which is not the Pledge of Allegiance ("I was taught by my grandfather that you put your hand over your heart during the pledge, but during the Star Spangled Banner, you sing!" Obama said) - I was struck by the fact that this is how the majority of people in the United States get their information about politics, and about politicians. Since I don't spend a lot of time talking to regular people about the things that I rant about as a blogger and writer, it was a bit of a shock to hear something that to me is a well-known fabrication unworthy of the least bit of consideration regarded as gospel truth by someone else. This girl who works in the salon looks like somewhat of an 'arty' type, as do many people in the hair business. She certainly did not come off as overly conservative. She didn't seem especially interested in politics at all.
But she 'knew' about Obama wanting to take the Pledge of Allegiance out of schools.
This is what we're up against, folks.
This is why I'm going to take opportunties as they come up - not to harangue or harass people with my political worldview, but to try and do my part to put correct information out there whenever I can. It's not the dyed-in-the-wool conservatives I'm trying to reach. Their minds are already made up, and a pesky and unwelcome fact is not going to intrude upon their worldview unless it already fits into their frame of reference. It's the people who have progressive values but not the information to back it up; people who don't understand that what they're hearing isn't necessarily always true, that I want to connect with. And I do believe that most Americans have progressive values. That's why I write this blog; that's why I wrote my book. If I can compete, even in my own limited way, with the misinformation - both deliberate and unintentional - I feel that I have a duty to do that.
When I talk to people like this young girl, what I tell them is check for yourself. Don't take my word for it any more than you would take the word of a forwarded e-mail. But I do tell them that it's important to understand that what you hear from the media and from 'other sources' may be inaccurate, incomplete, or just plain-out lies, and since the media no longer feel any obligation to the public interest, but only to the interests of their shareholders and advertisers, it is now necessary to check and double-check your sources. Otherwise you will be making decisions and casting your vote from an uninformed standpoint - and that has already proved to be deadly.
The idea that we can take everything we hear on faith has come and gone. We must be responsible for our own knowledge as information consumers. If this girl had taken even a minute to Google some different sources, she might not have taken that ridiculous and mendacious e-mail as the basis for her opinion of a candidate - an opinion that could very well influence her vote. And that's what the people who propagate these falsehoods are counting on.
I don't expect anyone to take what I have to say on faith. Please, look up anything you hear me say. And consider the source.
An informed society is a free society. An uninformed society?
Not so much.