Throw the Truthiness Bums Out

In November 2006 the New York Times ran a prescient
opinion piece entitled, “Throw the Truthiness Bums Out.” At least it was
prescient for Canada; for the US it was four years too late. In the article, Times’ writer, Frank Rich, drew up a shopping list of Republican truthy statements on everything from Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, to Rush Limbaugh’s assertion that Michael Fox was exaggerating his Parkinson’s, to Mrs Lynne Cheney attacking a Democratic candidate for the actions of characters in a novel.

Why was the wife of then Vice President Dick Cheney doing literary criticism on CNN during the 2006 midterms? Well it would take too long to explain here and you need to understand the role the religious right plays in American politics, but it had
something to do with steamy sex scenes written by the Democratic candidate and
a novel about lesbian love written by Mrs Cheney. Believe me, it’s worth the
hunt for Frank Rich’s article and, if you find it, be sure to follow the link
to Sisters. But before you shake your head at those silly Americans, consider the following evidence that truthiness has come to Canadian politics.

On August 3rd, the Conservative government’s Treasury Board President, Stockwell Day, told a reporter at a press conference that the reason Canada needed $9 billion worth of new prisons was because “we’re very concerned about the increase in the amount of unreported crimes that surveys clearly show.” Another reporter pointed out that it’s difficult (so far, anyway) to lock someone up when he or she hasn’t even been
reported committing a crime. Even then the person has to be charged, tried and
convicted, although some people would just as soon skip the second two steps.

Allow me to make a short diversion here to prove my point about “some people.” I received my first fan-letter the other day. It was in response to an article I wrote on the G20 protests in Toronto in June 2010. I made the point that most of the 1,000 people
arrested were not even charged. I said that, from what I saw, police made too
aggressive use of their powers, to the point of violating people’s constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and protection from unreasonable search and arbitrary detainment.

My correspondent didn’t make any actual arguments, but I have to assume he disagreed with me and thought I was too soft on crime when he said I was an “idiot” and a “stupid left-wing, hug-a-thug wacko” and that I should send “that dung” (ie, my
article) to “the Criminal Friendly Toronto Star.” I did, but they didn’t print
it. I put his letter down to an extreme case of truthiness. Treasury Board
President Day is not as soft on crime as my fan thinks I am. Undeterred by the
reporter’s logic, Day offered to direct him to a Statistics Canada report. That
report, done in 2004, said that unreported crime was up a whopping 2% since
1999. Wow, no wonder we need more jails.

But wait, the same report states that the 2% increase was for “theft of personal property, theft of household property, and vandalism,” none of which would pull the two-year minimum sentence you’d need to send someone off to the prisons the Tories want to build. Most of the kinds of crime that would send criminals to federal
prisons have not increased, and some have decreased. Remember, these are
statistics for unreported crimes. Real crime, committed by real criminals (as
opposed to, say, characters in a novel) is down 17% from 1999.

Just so no one is unclear about what the Conservatives really mean by all this, Stephen Harper’s people sent around an email to party loyalists railing against the opposition’s “soft on crime policies.” That’s not the Tories’ policy: “Let’s be clear,” the email said, “we do not use statistics as an excuse to ignore Canadians’ concerns
about crime.”

“Book ‘im Danno.” “But Inspector McGarret, there’s no report that he did anything.” “Book ‘im anyway before he does.”

That’s what is so endearing about some folks on the right: they just never quit. No facts for your argument? No problem, just make some up. Logic starting to fall apart? Never mind, just say it louder and more often. Message still not getting across? Smear
the hug-a-thug wackos on the other side. Here’s a footnote for those who do not yet know what “truthiness” is. It is an existing word adopted by Stephen Cobert of the Cobert Report (the ‘t’s’ are silent, the tease is not) to refer to proclaiming something you might wish to be true but that is, in fact, not true: that there were WMD’s in Iraq for example, or that Michael J Fox is faking his symptoms, or that there is so much crime in Canada that we need to build $9 billion worth of prisons when we’re running a $54 billion deficit. (Deficit? What deficit? Let’s buy some American fighter jets.)

“Truthiness” became such an important concept for understanding US politics in 2004-08, that the Webster Dictionary named it Word of the Year in 2006.

In 2010, it’s truthiness that binds Harper’s Conservatives to Bush-league Republicans. If we, the voting public, or the media, give it even an inch of credibility, we’ll
find ourselves governed not by fact and reason, but by wishful thinking and stubborn
ideology.

David McLaren is a writer of fiction and fact, and can
usually tell the difference.
(6 August 2010)

Links for further reading:

Frank Rich’s column in the New York Times: http://select.nytimes.com/2006/11/05/opinion/05rich.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Throw+the+truthiness+bums+out&st=nyt

Statistics Can report on unreported crime:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-notebook/what-stockwell-day-meant-to-say/article1660585/

Definitions of “truthiness’: http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/truthiness

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About David McLaren

David McLaren is an award-winning writer. He has worked in government and the private sector, with NGOs and First Nations in Ontario. He is currently writing from Neyaashiinigamiing on the shore of Georgian Bay and can be reached at david.mclaren@utoronto.ca. In February 2015, he won the nomination for the NDP to represent the riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in the 2015 federal election. See that page for writings during the campaign.
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