"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Thomas Jefferson

The Truth About Playing the Liar Card

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 6
Publish Date: 
Thu, 12/06/2012


Believing a free press to be a vital safeguard of liberty, Thomas Jefferson said, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Many believe the inverse of Jefferson’s maxim – the people are uninformed, therefore the government can’t be trusted.  After all, what well-informed American would knowingly allow politicians to lead us to the monumental economic and budgetary “cliffs” we face? 


Despite a proliferation of new media, it’s increasingly difficult to separate fact from narrative. Combined with rancorous political discourse in which opponents are demonized in order to delegitimize competing arguments and render unnecessary the defense of one’s own, demoralized Americans struggle to discern the truth.


When invited by the Aspen Times to help diversify their opinion page, I proposed my Think Again column as a fact-based, issue-oriented commentary that would challenge conventional wisdom and remind readers of the values that made America the freest and most prosperous nation in world history. Like “Ripley’s Believe it Or Not,” I attempt to expose readers to easily certifiable facts and perspectives they may not otherwise consider (see columns at www.thinkagainusa.com).  The goal of Think Again is not to change minds, but to open them; for civil discourse requires being informed and thoughtful, which is the essence of citizenship.


Last month, a community member targeted me in letters-to-the-editor with an unusual level of hostility and mean-spiritedness – he accused me of being an egregious, bald-faced liar and an embarrassment to Americans. Declaring me guilty without any possibility of innocence (or trial), my accuser and those who defended him from criticism believe their claims are objectively true and mine are lies.  


Calling someone a liar is the ultimate character assassination. It means truth doesn’t matter to that person and that lying is not only habitual, it’s an indelible mark of a deceitful and immoral character. According to ethicist Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal,” the most grievous violation of ethical speech is “giving another a bad name,” for words are like bullets whose damage is mortal. To fight fairly, he writes, “you have the right to state your case, express your opinion, explain why you think the other party is wrong, even make clear how passionately you feel…You do not have a moral right to undercut your adversary’s position by invalidating him personally.”


In my columns, I’ve made the case that our undisciplined, indebted and special interest-oriented government is a bipartisan problem that subverts everybody’s interests. I’ve quoted Senator Tom Coburn, member of the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, who said, “Our economy is on the brink of collapse not because politicians can’t agree, but because they have agreed for decades…to borrow and spend far beyond our means… to create or expand nearly forty entitlement programs, carve out tax advantages for special interests, build bridges to nowhere and earmark tens of thousands of other pork projects.”


I believe it is a moral travesty that we’ve mortgaged our children’s futures because we’re unable to live within our means and are more indebted than any other nation in world history. Mandatory spending on “entitlements” (like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) is the single biggest financial problem we face, consuming 60 percent of our annual budget -- up from 21 percent in 1955. As baby boomers retire and live longer, the current spending trajectory is unsustainable. Without reforms, it’s unlikely these vital programs will be available for people who need them in the future.


One fact in particular irritated my accusers: we’ve spent less cumulatively on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars plus the 2008 TARP bailouts than we spend annually on mandatory programs. In contending I’m a liar, and without citing sources, they claim the wars’ total costs will exceed $5.8 trillion and that TARP exposure exceeds $15 trillion.


It’s not my goal to disprove their claims, only certify mine. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) -- created by Congress in 1974 to “provide objective, impartial information about budgetary and economic issues” -- federal spending (excluding interest expense) totaled $3.3 trillion in FY2012, of which $2.1 trillion were mandatory expenditures for entitlements. Meanwhile, CBO reports that through October 2012, a total of $1.4 trillion was spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, while TARP has cost a net of $24 billion, after repayments. 


My accusers argue that “true” costs must project a decade’s worth of related and longer-term expenses.   Therefore, we’ll have spent $29 trillion on mandatory expenditures through 2022, according to the President’s FY2013 budget, while unfunded liabilities exceed $60 trillion, according to the Trustees of Social Security and Medicare. To put these numbers in perspective, consider that one trillion hours ago dinosaurs roamed the earth.


No doubt, fighting fairly is difficult, especially given the personal narratives that inform how we see the world. But as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”  Unfortunately, the one thing on which die-hard partisans seem to agree is that only one party is at fault - and it isn't theirs. Unable to hold competing facts simultaneously in mind, it’s not surprising that inconvenient truths are considered lies.


But embedded within our First Amendment’s right to free speech is a responsibility not merely to tolerate others’ perspectives, but to listen. Imagine if my accusers and I were to summon the mutual respect necessary to listen to each other’s concerns.  I’m confident we’d discover that despite our differences, we’re equally committed to a “more perfect union.”


Think Again – instead of playing the Liar Card, we might each learn something new, informing us enough to elect leaders who can be "trusted with our government."

Share this

isn’t it heartless and

isn’t it heartless and immoral to make Social Security and Medicare promises that are under-funded by tens of trillions of dollars, according to the programs’ actuaries?

Melanie. Yet again you

Melanie. Yet again you demonstrate the intelligence, education & temperment to treat a subject objectively & to to the vital service of opening minds, yet that can also rile up those who, having less of those attributes & confronted with solid reasoning & facts, must depend upon misinformation, innuendo & character assassination to forward their 'arguments'. We're proud to know you, & want you to remember that you have infinitely more admirers than detractors. Having the latter just keeps you on your toes.

Sensational column IMO. You

Sensational column IMO.
You handled these disgraceful accusations very well.
I thought your one paragraph listing the CBO numbers for your position and your "accusers" was exceptional....firm but smooth.

Do not let "low class" people bother you with ridiculous comments....particularly when they cannot be supported by the facts.
You obviously hit a real "nerve" which demolished their weak case.

Melanie, fortunately we have

Melanie, fortunately we have freedom of speech, but it's unfortunate that the brain-dead excercise it with no little ability to present a coherent, civil argument. They just start name calling. Maybe it's because this person voted for someone who is proudly leading the country into the crapper and he's either proud of it, or embarassed he fell for it so he lashes out at you. Either way, disregard the brain-deads in society, there are many more interesting people with whom to discuss issues without worrying about being called names

You are correct that each

You are correct that each party is responsible for the current state of the union. I have felt for decades that the ever increasing media outlets have resulted in sound-bite argument that has really little substance. The intended effect of such argument is similar to yelling fire in a crowded theater when there is none, panic or at the very least fear. Blogs and email mask a person from intimate discussion and have resulted in more and more heated discourse not meant to elucidate but to denigrate therefore precluding further discussion. The result? No result. Can there be a reconciliation for our country under these circumstances? I feel less than optimistic.

Dear Melanie, another

Dear Melanie, another excellent and thought provoking article! I was saddened but not at all surprised to read that you have received some rather vicious and ill-informed ad hominem attacks. It is a sad state of affairs in our modern culture. Yet, when one looks back to not only the last but the previous 2 centuries, the same kinds of infantile attacks (meaning no disrespect to the truly age-based babies that are ‘little’ by design) have occurred with unfortunate frequency.

The problem seems to be somehow engrained in human nature. What can be done about it? Nothing really. Those that strike out at the messenger simply because the news conveyed, is at odds with what they ‘want’ to believe, will do so and keep doing so regardless of explanation, logic, fact, rational thinking and even, this is the hardest one to swallow, self preservation. You would think as with most animals, that self-preservation would somehow be an instinctive trait. Not so with all of our fellow citizens and voters. However, when you continue to state your case and your beliefs or conclusions based on intelligent discovery of facts or ideas, you do have the hope that some readers just might be enriched and illuminated with the light of reason. That is what I hope for anyway.

Reason: Such a beautiful word and concept.

But let us not forget Socrates. If my memory of high school studies can be trusted he was executed for: “Corrupting the minds of youth”. And just what did old Socrates corrupt the precious darlings with? The Truth! Oh my, how horrible. The dastardly Truth. For some people who have made their minds up like frozen Jell-O, the heat and warmth of Reason and Truth is pure torture. Pity isn’t it? Just don’t give up Melanie. Make us “Think Again” for our minds, just like Life itself, are not static. They need to be refreshed and re-booted on a regular basis because yes, the Truth is very illusive. We lucky just to get close to it.

Our minds are constantly moving and that is why some many years ago I penned the follow statement. It is one of a list of self proscribed statements I have kept which I call my “Maxims”. Just little thoughts that I try to keep in mind as I sail thru this great adventure in the Sea of Life, even when sometimes, I very much want to chuck some of my fellow passengers out of the boat. Here it is:

“Nothing is as it appears to be. There is always so much more” (From my list of “Maxims” © 1995 rpt)

Oh yes, did you get the “pants on fire” treatment too? Have a great day and keep on keeping on. . . J

All the best,
Bob T. (aka Robert Peter Thompson)

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • No HTML tags allowed
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

Article List

Thu, 09/10/2015

Thu, 09/12/2013

Thu, 06/06/2013

Tue, 01/15/2013

Thu, 05/24/2012

Thu, 03/15/2012

Thu, 07/07/2011

Thu, 03/31/2011