Political Baloney Detector

In The Demon Haunted World, scientist Carl Sagan described a “baloney detection kit” that he would have liked to see taught in school, with such tools as skepticism and logical fallacies to help people keep from being suckered.  It’s a great idea, and I’ve employed something similar in my readings of current events in politics.

I won’t succumb to the pressure to declare myself “independent” or “moderate,” those new buzzwords that constitute the cool meme in the political mainstream; I’m a conservative through and through.  That being said, though, that hardly means that all people or parties calling themselves that are always correct.  As I employ my Political Baloney Detector, I can spot cheap shots and see many public statements and actions for the transparent pandering they are. 

Here’s how it works: whenever a politician criticizes someone with a differing view, I ask myself how authentic the complaint would sound if the roles were reversed.  By this method, I can almost always see the playacting, and the smoke and mirrors, and not get distracted from real issues by these silly tricks.

Don’t get me wrong–many things of substance get said in our public realm, by both sides of the aisle, but they also each spew enough manure that it’s useful to be able to discount it quickly.  If a statement addresses a legitimate issue, then it needs to be analyzed and discussed on its merits, measured against principles (and that’s what our conversations should really be about–the political principles that we give priority; that’s where our disagreements come from), and I think that such a focus is important enough and demands enough energy that we owe it to our principles, if we’re serious about them, not to let ourselves be taken by the cheap tricks along the way. 

Two examples:

In December, Democrats in Congress said they’d be willing to work on Christmas to finish their work.  Some Republicans objected, suggesting that such a thing would be disrespectful to Christmas. 

Legitimate, or baloney? 

Reverse the positions.  What if the Republicans had been in control, and had legislation they felt was important to their constituents, and wanted it finished before a new majority came in?  Would they be willing to sacrifice time to finish that work, even on a holiday?  Probably.  So, was the criticism by Republicans here legitimate? 

No, it wasn’t.  It was baloney. 

More recently, the new Republican majority started their session with a bipartisan reading aloud of the Constitution.  Some Democrats objected, calling it a posturing stunt. 

Legitimate, or baloney? 

Reverse the positions.  What if Democrats were coming into power, feeling that they had a mandate for change from citizens who wanted federalism re-enshrined?  Might they also begin their session by publicly reminding the country of our founding charter?  Maybe.  So, was the criticism genuine? 

No, it wasn’t.  It was baloney. 

Notice also that neither of these “issues” are really issues.  It bugs me to no end that we spend so much time arguing about things when no real progress can be made because our views on whatever little policy is at hand are just no more than jingoism for our sides (no more serious than our sports rivalries), or formed by larger, deeper values that cannot be completely reconciled. 

One side of our political paradigm values charitable progress as the paramount value, and uses the combined power of the people in the form of government to advance that end (if I’m being fair in this definition); the other side sees individual freedom, in terms of the least intrusive, least regulatory, least confiscatory government possible that can still protect property rights and physical safety, as the paramount value.  These aren’t absolutes, but priorities.  In general, conservatives certainly believe that charity is a good thing, and progressives believe that freedom is important, but for each, those values take a back seat to the priority. 

I’m not trying to practice relativism here: I’m a conservative because I don’t believe that these values are arbitrary choices, mere matters of personal preference.  I firmly believe that the preservation of freedom is far more important than communal charity, that the need to guard against governmental usurpation far outweighs its possible usefulness in furthering good in our communities. 

But disagreeing with that does not make someone stupid or evil.  I think it just makes them wrong

This has gone a little off topic from the baloney detector, and these thoughts are hardly fresh, but perhaps this is one of those times when we could use a reminder of such things.

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4 comments on “Political Baloney Detector

  1. And at times one doesn’t evne need a detector to smell the baloney. Z.b. the Pima sheriff blaming talk radio for the shooting.

  2. The easy part of course is sensing when others are wrong. Far more difficult to hold the fictitious ‘baloney detection kit’ up to our our thoughts and speech and effectively and correctly gauge the correctness of our own vision and direction.

  3. I love the article – spot on. I think in a more gospel sense, we could call the baloney detector, the spirit of discernment. While no political opinion or persuasion seems to be “vegetarian” (to go with this proverbial meat detector metaphor), I do find that whomever is the majority seems to speak more baloney. I could be wrong, but with all the shifting back and forth over the last few years, its hard to say whom Oscar Mayer would be more proud of.

  4. So using the detection method, if a Republican President had proposed No Child Left Behind or the Medicare Drug Plan, both huge expansions of federal power and spending, would Republicans have started talking about tyranny and socialism? Apparently not – they didn’t. But when a Democratic President proposes similarly expansive federal programs, they go bananas. I say baloney.

    If I say I am for personal freedoms and protecting my Constitutional rights but then don’t object when my government wiretaps citizens without warrant or even suspicion of a crime, or a President decides he can order the assassination of U.S. citizens, or my government tortures prisoners in violation of the law, or declares it can imprison someone indefinitely without charge, then I am full of baloney, am I not?

    There’s a lot of baloney on both sides of the political divide, and perhaps the divide itself is baloney. While we have individuals in this country who truly believe in a political ideology, neither of the parties seems to be as interested in ideology as in power. Both seem to take the position that if they do it, it’s OK but if the other side does it, it’s wrong.

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