In today's politics of red-hot debate, of charge and counter charge, facts are fleeting things. They don't stand a chance in our wind tunnel of politics and media where noise and negativity, finger wagging, and focus-group tested accusation rule the day. It's a mess. And it's not worthy of a great nation. We deserve better.
Let's start with the facts.
Fact. Americans are angry, disillusioned and deeply worried about the country. According to a recent CBS-New York Times poll, 64 percent think we're headed in the wrong direction. A Pew study earlier this summer found the country more polarized that at any time in 25 years.
Fact. The campaigns are raising more money, using more media to get more outrageous. Boil it all down and here's what you get: One candidate would gleefully export jobs, the other would secretly march us off a socialist cliff. Really?
Fact. The great miracle of digital media has become the peculiar curse of civic discourse. Amid 955 million Facebook pages, half a billion active websites and endless TV talk, complexity and context get compressed to sound bites, tweets and texts. Quick -- tell us how we can put people to work or solve global warming in 16 seconds, in 140 characters, while you're going up the escalator.
Day after day. On TV. On the stump. Online.
We deserve serious debate driven by real information. Persistent long-term unemployment, debt and deficits, income inequality, education, infrastructure, challenges from abroad and from planet earth -- all of these things are made more urgent by the global moment we're in.
Maybe we could actually put our arms and our brains around some of these -- and compliment instead of insult the intelligence of the American public -- if we started with the facts.
So we're going to give it the college try. Literally.
We've launched Face the Facts USA. One hundred clear, clean, unimpeachable facts leading up to the election.
FACT. The percentage of unemployed workers who were jobless for six months or more was 43.8 percent in 2011, higher than any time since the government started keeping records.
FACT. The biggest holder of federal government debt -- which now exceeds total U.S. economic output -- is not China or Saudi Arabia. It's the U.S. government itself.
FACT. More than 67,000 bridges in America are considered "structurally deficient"-- metaphor for our crumbling infrastructure.
With every fact, we'll link to primary source information, varying perspectives and ideas for solutions. We'll connect to related content, videos and documentaries. We'll provide user 'tools' if you want to get involved or sit around and talk about these issues with your kids (or your parents), find out what's happening in your community or see what the candidates would actually do.
So, 100 FACTS, thoroughly researched and vetted, one per day. From debt and deficits to taxes, jobs, energy, education, infrastructure, health care and national security.
We'll make it engaging, creative and memorable. Don't be surprised if you see a fact animated, treated as a detailed infographic -- or as a spoof of a Hollywood hit.
Led by veteran journalists, supported by a prestigious, bipartisan group of committed Americans, based at The George Washington University, assisted by a dedicated group of graduate and undergraduate students, Face the Facts USA has no agenda other than putting facts first. Providing context. Enabling a fact-driven conversation that is transparent and inclusive. Philanthropically funded, we are sharing our content at no charge to media organizations, civic groups and others.
Our challenges are complex and global. They won't be addressed by campaign ads or fixed by ignorance. And our competiveness, our standing as a superpower, is on the line. If we blow it, well, Greece was a superpower once, too.
So check us out. Learn. Engage. E-mail, tweet or post it on Facebook. Help drive the conversation and engage the debate. Take charge.
But start with the facts.
Frank Sesno is Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University and chief executive of Face the Facts USA.