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King: We need a healthy dose of truth

POSTED: March 11, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Trust me, says candidate No. 1. I will tell you the truth.

No, says the next. Trust me. I have the truth.

"Know the truth, and the truth will set you free," says the Bible, but the same words emblazon the entrance of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va.

Who should you trust? The Bible? Which chapter? Which verse? The CIA? I don’t think so. Anybody at all?

My own daughter doesn’t trust me. If I tell her something flattering, she replies, "You just think that because you’re my mother." I suppose a mother is biased, but I’ve always tried to be truthful with my children.

Does this mean trust is situational, that we must consider who is doing the telling? It is, after all, the way most of us operate, but it also means that we trust those who think like we do, and distrust those who don’t.

"Governments lie .. all governments. It’s the nature of the beast." I wrote those words in a Times column three years ago, and I stand by them today. But I also believe a certain degree of truth is not only possible, it is absolutely necessary if our nation is to survive and prosper.

This is why I’m interested in a proposal by former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn. He wants to hold a series of "truth telling" seminars and make them available on the Internet. He believes that in the heat of the present political campaign, a number of national problems are being overlooked while others have become so emotionally charged that no one is sure what to believe.

Only a truly bipartisan, middle-of-the-road effort at truth telling, says Nunn, can build the kind of consensus the country must have before any leader can govern successfully. Last week on the Oklahoma University campus, moderates from both parties met to begin the process.

Six Democrats, seven Republicans and two independents participated in a panel discussion. The auditorium was packed, and regardless of who wins in the primaries, the participants say they intend to meet again in the spring.

Is this the start of a third party? Michael Bloomberg, the wealthy mayor of New York was one of the participants, but he denies he’s planning to run. Nunn stated rather emphatically that that wasn’t the purpose of the meeting.

"Some people have already made a decision that that’s not the way they want to go," Nunn says.

The real reason for the meeting seems to be frustration on the part of the public and party loyalists alike over the way our political campaigns are being run. Money is the deciding factor in most elections these days, and the big money comes from the extremes in both parties.

Neither the far right nor the far left are looking for workable solutions; they are looking for converts. Campaign platforms are not based on truth telling. They’re shaped to tell the public what it wants to hear. Political campaigns don’t provide thoughtful analysis of the nation’s problems. They produce sound bites that bypass thinking entirely.

In the days when I traveled to D.C. as a citizen lobbyist, I was in Nunn’s office on a fairly regular basis. We didn’t see eye-to-eye very often because he was a hawk and I was a Quaker lobbying for arms control, but I had a great deal of respect for the man. He listened. His staff did the same. They were older and more experienced than the average Congressional staffers.

Since Nunn left office he’s been part of a bipartisan effort to improve the security of nuclear weapons here and in the former Soviet Union. He is one of the few men with the gravitas to conduct anything approaching a "truth-telling" seminar. He not only listens, he knows how to ask the right questions.

It will be interesting to see what these seminars produce. There is no question that the public has become cynical. It’s almost as if we didn’t believe in "truth" any more. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. We all grew up in the age of advertising when every product, every idea can be hyped to the point of silliness.

It’s time we set up some strict standards for truth telling. Can you prove it? What are the facts? Where did you get them? How much is it going to cost? Show me the data; give me the numbers.

Joan King lives in Sautee; e-mail, Her column appears biweekly and on Originally published Jan. 15, 2008.


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