Friday, February 5, 2010

Behind the Mask

How can you know who to trust?

My impression of other peoples’ impressions of John Edwards was that, generally, people thought he was a fairly decent guy, regardless of whether they agreed with his politics. His favorability rating peaked at 59% back in 2004 (when he was running as Kerry’s VP candidate) and remained in the 50s right up until his scandal broke in late 2008 (when it dropped like a rock, obviously). I never voted for the guy, but I might have had he been a politician in my state. He sure seemed like a genuinely decent guy.

Now, former Edwards aide Andrew Young has published a tell-all book that cracks Edwards public persona wide open, revealing a rotten core inside. Now, it may be that some (or all) of Young’s seamier allegations are false (as Edwards claims), but just based on Edwards own admissions of marital infidelity, denying his love-child, and then later admitting to fathering the little girl born to his lust, the man’s a scumbag. In fact, he’s the complete opposite of everything he spent years convincing the public was his real persona.

Which raises a question I’ve been struggling with for a while – who do you trust? The media is heavily compromised, to the point where you have to view everything MSNBC says through the lens of their blatant liberalism and everything Fox News says through the lens of their ravening conservatism (and CNN frankly just come off as a bunch of morons most of the time). You’ve got pundits (most of the worst of whom seem to be conservatives) who serve only to stir public opinion with the most vitriolic rhetoric they can think of, even if much of the time it comes off as utter fantasy with no basis in reality. You’ve got lobbyists shamelessly influencing legislation, regulation and public policy to serve their very narrow-minded ends (regardless of the true public weal) and you’ve got public officials who are so adept at manufacturing their images that they can actually convince a majority of Americans that their values and morals are the complete opposite of their true natures.

So you can’t believe what you are told by the “experts,” because they all slant the news toward their particular ethos. You can’t trust the politicians, because there’s no way to know which ones are willing to say the opposite of what they believe. Based on the more public revelations, it seems likely to me that many of them probably are.

So who do you trust? How do you know the truth? How do you separate questionable claims from outright, bald-faced lies? I don’t know, but it all makes me seriously question the long-term viability of our political system. Sadly, the only ones who can enact sweeping reforms to everything from campaign finance to the influence of lobbyists are the same people who stand to benefit most from blocking those reforms. And now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations can exercise their “right” to free speech as if they were actual people, the flood-gates are open for massive amounts of money to swamp any virtuous candidate who might be an actual crusader for positive change. I still believe that America is a great place to live and has the capacity to be the leader of the free world, but not if our leaders are corrupt. The great experiment in democracy is teetering on a precipice – and that’s not an age I’d ever dreamed I’d live to see. I’d be just as happy if I hadn’t.

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