Saturday, August 15, 2009

Public Policy and "Trust"

A peculiar exchange comes at roughly the 1:10 mark of this video of Senator McCaskill's meeting with constituents:

"We don't trust you!" shouts at least one of the far-right screamers, to which McCaskill responds with a slightly plaintive repetition, "You don't trust me?"

With whatever respect is due to the senator's hurt feelings and the screamer's fake outrage, this is a deeply incongruous exchange. Both the screamer and the senator should know that their relationship is not a bond of trust. She represents each of Missouri's 5.9 million people* in the US Senate; the screamer happens to live somewhere in Missouri, or so I too-charitably assume.

The screamer, and all of us, should be extremely wary of placing trust in senators, presidents, congressional representatives, governors, mayors, state legislators, and other government officials. Indeed, I think we should place no trust whatsoever in such figures, but rather should scrutinize their words and deeds in the light of the best available information culled from multiple sources. The public vocalizations of politicians is one such source of information, but these deserve nothing more than to be clearly heard and fairly evaluated.

Senator McCaskill should have responded with words to this effect:

Of course you don't trust me, and you shouldn't. You should not trust any politician, ever. I don't even know your name, I don't recognize your face, and I am quite sure you know of me only because my image and statements have been on TV and radio. Your doubts about my public representations are fair enough, so I invite you to evaluate them by reading the relevant portions of the bill I am supporting, checking on what various reputable sources are saying about the relevant provisions of the bill, and above all, by paying more attention to what I do and how I vote, and less attention to what I say and whether you "believe" or "trust" it.
Placing air-quotes around the words trust and believe in the above would work well, but I realize that's a matter of style, and having no personal relationship with McCaskill (nor even my own two senators), I have no idea if that befits her style or not.

She also might have added a few choice words to the effect that FOXNews, Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh are not reputable sources of analysis or information, but demonstrable, serial liars. That said, I am not the one to instruct Senator McCaskill on the sharpness of her rhetoric, which varies from person to person, but only on the distinction between bullshit and reality, which is communal resource all should cherish and defend.

* Am I the last person to notice google's population data utility? Cool stuff!

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