THE BLOG

Truth and Politics

02/04/2008 05:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.... might be what we expect, or at least hope to come close to, when a witness takes the stand in a trial, but when have we ever thought of those words in relation to political candidates?

The realists/cynics among us are convinced that in order to work efficiently through the sludge and red tape of the "democratic process," some fudging here and there is an absolute political necessity. While Senator Edward Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy, the now 50-year-old daughter of JFK, came out for Barack Obama, other Kennedy relatives--Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Kerry Kennedy endorsed Hillary Clinton. They praised her "measured rhetoric, political savvy and pragmatism..." On the other hand, Ted Kennedy spoke about wanting a president "who can lift our spirits and make us believe again."

Did these opposing endorsements change your perception of the candidates?

Perception is the process through which we collect the "facts" and information on which we base our opinions. We fall into disagreement because our different perceptions create different truths: The person I see as a viable candidate because he or she seems to agree with my way of thinking may look to you like someone ready to lead us into sheer madness. We may watch a debate on TV between the candidates and think, okay, there's not much real difference here, I can go with either of these people, or Oh-oh, the country will be headed for wrack and ruin if one of these bozos becomes president.

We see the same people, but we differ on whether we like or dislike one or the other and on what that person may eventually do for our country. We may argue about whether or not we belong in Iraq or the best way to fix the economy, using "facts" and "statistics" to prove our points. But is any of it "the truth?"

It reminds me of the elephant parable. Six blind men all touch a different part of the elephant. The one who feels the elephant's massive leg thinks the elephant is like a tree trunk, while the one who touches the elephant's trunk thinks the elephant is indeed very much like a snake.

Every person we meet will have different perceptions about life, about love, about political candidates. In this age of "reality" shows on TV (what? Reality is partially scripted?), we seem to have a desire for more than fantasy. Yet no matter how many newspapers we read, TV debates we watch, or blogs and website we visit, do we know the truth about anything?

In an election year, we are asked to sit in judgment of the candidates and then take our decision into the voting booth. How can we ever know who these people are and what they are capable of?

The perception of Obama is that his passion and oratory skills are firing up the young, the idealists, those who feel uplifted by his aura of running an honest campaign. Obama feels lighter than Clinton, less likely to have compromised his heartfelt ideals for political expediency. He is seen as the future, Clinton as the past--a member of the two dynasties that have ruled America for the last 20 years.

The perception is that Clinton is weighted down by a lot of heavy baggage, which we all know too well from the many years of public scrutiny she has had to endure. How much of a damper does that put on her mastery of domestic and foreign policy, as well as her knowledge of military and security issues? She may have the backing of those who feel her pragmatic experience and political savvy qualify her for the highest office in the land, but can she summon up Camelot?

How can we make a decision when we know that our perceptions can be false? Do we really believe Obama is incapable of doing whatever's necessary to win? Or that Clinton doesn't hold the same values and principles in her heart that he does?

Our "truth"--the one we will take into the voting booths on Super Tuesday and again in November--stems from what we have gathered through the filter of our life's experiences and incorporated into our emotional/physical/spiritual make-up. In other words, what is true for us actually comes from our intuitive process. Intuition is the direct perception of truth, independent of any reasoning process. It's the immediate reaction in our gut when we hear and see the different candidates.

After all, no one but the individual candidates knows the reasons they do what they do, say what they say. We can observe their actions, but not their intentions, even when their intentions are stated publicly. We may never know what is true, no matter how many "facts" we gather. Our conclusions come from what we perceive to be an individual's credibility.

We are inherently repelled by lies and attracted to the truth. The truth makes us feel emotionally safe and secure. We can breathe a little easier, stand a little taller. We resonate with the truth at deep levels of the psyche.

Harold Pinter, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 2005, said: "Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions [e.g. lies about Iraq], but as things stand they are not a coherent political force - yet." It's 2008 now. The time may have come when we feel that we have been lied to long enough. As Pinter said in his speech: "The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it."

We will cast our votes for those we believe embody the truth we want to present to the world, based on what rings most true for us, not only in our heads, but also in our hearts and guts.