Advice from history’s best

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

I hope we are in the waning days of loud-voiced liars. The end is within sight: midterm election day is less than two weeks away. The bombast will increase the closer we get. There will be a brief hiatus for a while after that.

Political ads in whatever form – TV and radio, snail mail, phone, social media – are enough to send us around the bend, especially because it’s likely we’ve decided by now. All who don’t vote must be even more crazed by the constant harangue. [I wish they would vote – all the votes of all the people might eliminate our political quagmire.]

Because of the oft-repeated phrase “fake news” by political leaders and wanna-be leaders, many of us followers don’t have a clue what’s true and what’s not. It’s quite the sad situation when anyone can lie about anything and not be called on it. Even if politicians are outed for lying, half of us believe that whatever was named fake news really is fake, or we believe the nastiest message, or we believe whatever we heard last.

It’s no way to run a country…well, a free country. Many non-democracies don’t have the privilege of facts ever. The frightening part is that we seem to be headed in that direction.

I’m not sure what to do in this situation in which we have to edit everything anyone running for office has to say. Because of the confusion between information and opinion, few of us are informed enough to be able choose with certainty. Most of us vote party – whatever the Dems say, whatever the Rs say. This is not the best way for a democracy to work, for it means we’re led rather than being discerning in our own right. What we all need is a course on how to ferret out lies.

A few of our founding fathers of 200 years ago, either more far-seeing or more altruistic than we are now, were full of wisdom. Their bent was to advise that we educate everyone, repeatedly insisting on universal public education to maintain a free and democratic republic.

George Washington: “The best means of forming a manly (!), virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth.” [Despite the sexist use of language in that age, George knew that education was the essence of the freedom for which he fought a war.]

Thomas Jefferson: “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people – they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” [I think we’ve never achieved universal public education – that “whole mass of the people.” In this country we are not educated equally, the wealthy having the advantage over the poor in goods as well as in education; it ain’t right, especially the education part.]

James Madison: “Learned institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.” [I’m particularly happy with his phraseology, “crafty and dangerous.” We live with the crafty and dangerous spouting off all the time or being dangerously secretive as they maneuver behind the “light.” Over the couple of centuries of our existence, the dangerous have derided intellectualism, their subtle use of a word that disguises their refusal to fund equally the education of all our citizenry…to read, to think, to spot a phony. This is what many of our so-called leaders have always been afraid of, a well-educated electorate able to spot subterfuge.]

Benjamin Franklin: “Genius without education is like silver in the mine.” [Such a clear metaphor, Ben.]

John Jay: “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and the wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at a cheap and easy rate.” [Jay, too, was leery of “the weak and the wicked” and the propensity of the wicked influencing the weak. I also like his “all ranks of people” and “at a cheap and easy rate.” If education in this country were spread with integrity across all economic levels, we would not be the feebly educated people that we are today when a mere third of adults are capable of passing a simple civics test.]

I have little help for our present predicament, but I do this: Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax. Picture a pleasant place devoid of liars and full of people educated to think.

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