Truth and Blogging

February 28, 2005 | 13 comments
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Politicians lie because they can. The complexity of the issues and the complexity of the process shelter most political actions from meaningful discourse and scrutiny. The discourse that does exist often substitutes decibels for details. As a result, many turn off entirely; others merely vote — on heaven only knows what basis. This corrosive reality undercuts democracy and, with it, freedom. To find a cure, we should look to the scriptures — the contents and the history.

Jesus instructs, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Gospel principles being universal, this instruction applies to politics and governance, where we, therefore, must find truth to be free. The historical unveiling of the scriptures suggests two principles necessary to find truth: (1) access to truth and (2) comprehension of truth.

Access to truth is illustrated by the Guttenberg press. By more-readily placing truth within the reach of the masses, religious energies were unleashed and principles of free worship were promoted. The scriptures, however, are complex. If they are not understood, they have little individual value.

Comprehension of truth is illustrated by the Church’s marvelous work of referencing and cross-referencing the Standard Works in the 1970s. Now, with an understanding of the topical guide, anyone can be a scriptorian — thereby promoting their freedom from ignorance, doubt and iniquity.

In the political arena, then, how do we access and comprehend truth, in order to be made free? It isn’t through town meetings, questionnaires, petitions or letters. It is (or will be) through open, two-way exchanges on political leaders’ blogs. This year, legislative process has been opened up to many of my constituents — and my reasoning and performance have improved through their involvement — because of interaction at www.steveu.com.

I can’t count the number of times political insiders have warned me that posting thoughts and receiving open input in such a way surely would be politicians’ downfall. What they really are saying is that many politicians could not stand public scrutiny — the people would know the truth and free themselves of those politicians. A new class of political leaders would emerge, a class that would meet the public’s way of thinking. In a representative democracy, this is political freedom. The truth — through blogging — shall make us free.

13 Responses to Truth and Blogging

  1. Adam Greenwood on February 28, 2005 at 9:38 am

    I’ve been thinking about this lately in response to an Orson Scott Card article on how we really know nothing about the politicians we elect (http://www.ornery.org/essays/warwatch/2005-02-13-1.html). No one’s fault, really, there’s just too many of us.

    Maybe blogging can get around that. Two things, I think, need to happen. First, lots more politicians need to have blogs with as much information as yours.* Go to most politician’s blogs (or websites, for that matter) and you feel like you’re wandering in a marketing wasteland. There’s lots of reasons why political folks wouldn’t want to maintain blogs but if enough folks like you and Jim Thune et al. start doing it it will become suspicious not to. The benefits will finally outweigh the costs. As of right now, though, you have to admit that your blog is mostly useful for introducing people to what kind of a person you are (which is, I admit, enormously useful, and it helps that you appear to be a very good writer, far better than I’d expect.) Until other legislators start their own blogs and start cross-linking and disputing things you talk about, the whole blogging-as-truth thing isn’t going to get off the ground.

    The other thing that needs to happen, (warning: conservative rant disguised as objective evaluation of cause and effect in our political system) is that there just needs to be a smaller government, esp. at the federal level, before you’re going to get the kind of Utahn interest in your blog that would hold you accountable and make sure that your efforts in blogging were really worthwhile. I’m kind of a political junkie, so when I surfed over to your site I felt like I was in Candyland. Yeehah! And i was appalled at how few comments you got. But there’s just so much government at so many levels that people’s political energies are pretty fractured and dissipated. But this is the pessimistic view. Some of your constituents are reading it already, and doubtless more will. Keep up the good work.

    *No doubt you’ll get plenty of carpers who complain that your site isn’t really putting a lot of information out there. I’d be interested to hear the specifics of their complaint, as I’m sure you would, but it seems to me that you do give a lot of info.

  2. Steve Evans on February 28, 2005 at 9:41 am

    “In the political arena, then, how do we access and comprehend truth, in order to be made free? It isn’t through town meetings, questionnaires, petitions or letters. ”

    Why discount these efforts?

  3. Derek on February 28, 2005 at 10:23 am

    One resource I use to read the candidates own opinions about the issues is Project Vote Smart, which tells me that a certain Representative (who shall remain nameless) has not yet revealed his positions.

  4. annegb on February 28, 2005 at 10:25 am

    I wonder how many politicians lie because they HAVE to, sometimes don’t you get caught in something you can’t get out of? I seldom lie, but sometimes I have to. Not to anybody here. Yet.

    Adam, I think that reference to Orson Scott Card’s article was messed up because it didn’t come in color.

  5. James Mainord on February 28, 2005 at 10:54 am

    I think blogging CAN be an excellent way to allow citizens to better know and understand their representatives. The only problem is that which Rep. Urquhart outlined in his first sentence, “Politicians lie because they can.” Just because a politician (or more likely his or her intern) maintains an interactive blog there is no guarantee that the politician is being honest. What may seem like a heartfelt sonnet about the difficulties in decision-making could, in reality, just be a cheap political ploy aimed at portraying the politician in a positive light. What seems to be the more likely outcome of politician blogging is that pols will begin to use the medium as just another campaign tool. Only with the added bonus that it is cheap! Perhaps the only way we can guarantee honesty in our politicians is to elect honest politicians;-)

    I’m not sure if this is an appropriate thread to say this, though I do have an idea that may allow more interested people to observe the nitty-gritty legislative process in Utah. That is for the Republicans to open their caucuses. With such a strong majority in Utah, the GOP can determine the fate of pretty much all legislation behind closed doors. I’ve always felt that this clouds the transparency which the legislative process is supposed to provide. I realize that this may be naive of me, but hey, according to Rep. Urquhart we shouldn’t let politicians get away with things “because they can.”

  6. Greg on February 28, 2005 at 10:57 am

    “A new class of political leaders would emerge, a class that would meet the public’s way of thinking. In a representative democracy, this is political freedom. The truth – through blogging – shall make us free.”

    The public’s way of thinking? Is there such a thing? Don’t you mean that increased access to public officials might better represent a select fraction of the politically interested public (not really much of a change from now or as it has always been in representative democracies)?

  7. Bryce I on February 28, 2005 at 12:20 pm

    Steve, you correctly point out that one reason that politicians lie, or that we think that they lie, is that most people simply do not have the time to research and understand the issues. I don’t see how blogging changes this. Sure, it’s great to have another means of communicating with our elected officials, but truth be told, as much as we in the blogosphere/bloggernacle like to think that everyone reads blogs, and everyone thinks they’re a great idea, the truth is, we’re a small (and probably not very representative) minority of the population.

    Call me cynical, but I can’t see how blogging by politicians could ever become a part of the mainstream political culture without becoming transformed into just another conduit for spin. Even in a civilized place like Times and Seasons, it’s difficult to have discourse on hot-button issues without having the discussion devolve into a flame war. If every elected politician kept a blog with open comments, the resulting discussions would quickly deteriorate to the point of uselessness.

  8. Kaimi on February 28, 2005 at 12:29 pm

    True, Bryce, and yet this last election season did see a number of politicians operating blogs. Larry Lessig, who runs a high-profile law blog, had several candidates as guests on his blog. Howard Dean ran a pretty high-profile blog during the primaries, and both major party candidates ran blogs.

    A danger is that the blogosphere isn’t representative. It heavily overrepresents the professional classes, and heavily underrepresents the blue-collar classes. As such, it provides a skewed view of the views of the populace (which, I think, led in part to the downfall of Howard Dean).

    This is particularly true since lawyers, students, and others in the blogosphere aren’t particularly likely to actually vote — particularly students — while senior citizens, who are very underrepresented in the blogosphere, are a high-turnout group at the polls.

  9. Matt Evans on February 28, 2005 at 12:49 pm

    I just have a minute, but I wanted to say that the blogosphere’s power lies in the diffusion of information, not any inherent affilation with truth or accuracy. The blogosphere’s check on politicians’ incentives to lie is by giving fact-checkers the ability to expose lies quickly and easily. These counter claims, if sound, eventually make it into mainstrean outlets.

  10. The Only True and Living Nathan on February 28, 2005 at 12:56 pm

    I have to comment on the use of Joihn 8:32, because as quotes (and as versified in the KJV), it’s really only the latter two parts of a three-part saying of Jesus, which begins in verse 31:

    “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, [then] are ye my disciples indeed;”

    Quoting only v. 32 thus takes out of context a three-part teaching:

    1) If ye continue in my word, [then] are ye my disciples indeed;
    2) And ye shall know the truth,
    3) and the truth shall make you free.

    Further references in the same chapter point out the specific freedom Jesus was talking about:

    v.34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
    v. 35 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: [but] the Son abideth ever.
    v. 36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

    While I have no quarrel with the idea of knowing as much as we can about political candidates, I feel that this verse is talking about something entirely different, and cannot honestly be used to support the idea of political fact-checking.

  11. Jonathan Green on February 28, 2005 at 2:24 pm

    Steve U., increased transparency and more possibilities for people to interact with their representatives sound like good things. My question: how do you ensure that the blog medium is used to provide access to your constituents, and not abused by astroturf influence outfits?

  12. Matt Evans on February 28, 2005 at 3:18 pm

    Steve is unable to comment right now and asked that I post this comment for him:

    I only have a minute to respond now. I don’t mean to discount other constituent communication methods. I just point out that they are static or too burdensome for constituents (time commitment for town meetings) or too general (deep exploration of specific issues in town meetings turns off those there for other issues). I still use those other methods, but the blog is getting great response (most of it off-line, though). A blog does not guarantee honesty. But allowing comments (I’ve only deleted one — and that was a rip on someone else) should discourage a politician from telling too many whoppers. On closed caucuses: guess how many we’ve closed this year.(?) We close them to deal with caucus issues (welfare of members) or highly sensitive issues where we need to fully explore the possibilities without inflamming or confusing the public (e.g., if we want to explore increased funding for sensitive populations, they tend to take that to the bank, and that is not fair to them). Answer: we’ve closed two caucuses the entire session.

    – Steve Urquhart

  13. Steve Urquhart on February 28, 2005 at 9:54 pm

    Correction. We’ve only closed one caucus this year.