In several previous articles we have noted that the political discourse has moved beyond charges and countercharges to outright lies. One particular astonishing claim was made in a recent letter-to-the-editor in the Winona Daily News. It’s astonishing because the writer has impeccable credentials as a distinguished attorney, a man who has recently served in our military overseas, and as the former mayor of a Minnesota city. It’s further surprising that the Winona Daily News would print such a letter without doing its own simple fact check.
There is a point at which limits must be set on the political rhetoric. Even though what someone says in the heat of a campaign is “protected” as political speech, a lie is still a lie, no matter how you look at it.
Yes, lies can be debunked. But last minute lies can determine the outcomes of elections. And electoral victories, even though based on lies, cannot be overturned.
Certainly, this can’t be healthy for our democracy.
Those in both major political parties who advocate “stretching the truth” for the sake of victory argue that such behavior has been commonplace since the founding of our nation. Indeed, this is at least in part true. But because something has historical precedence doesn’t mean that it’s right. The Dred Scott decision had historical precedence, but it wasn’t correct; and one could argue that had that case been decided otherwise our country might have been spared its bloody civil war.
In a democracy, laws reflect society. Laws that run contrary to the wishes of the people do not remain long in force, either de jure or de facto. Witness the 18th Amendment, which brought to this country the hypocrisy of Prohibition.
Our courts have correctly held nearly inviolate the right of free speech. Yet with that right, if we are to retain it, there must come responsibility. And if we are to retain that right we must honor not only its legal boundaries but its ethical ones as well. For if we do not, our lawmakers or courts might step in to do so. And that, most people agree, could lead at best to unintended, unwanted and unpleasant consequences, and at worst to a nation whose political process is far less free.
From the Winona Daily News, Friday, November 3, 2006:
Serving with pride for 24 years
By Tim Walz | Candidate, U.S. Congress, Minnesota First District | Mankato, Minn.
I am writing in response to Tom Hagen’s lies about my service record. My biography on my official campaign website simply states that “prior to retiring, Walz served overseas with his battalion in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.”
From this, Mr. Hagen makes the ridiculous claim that I am misleading voters that I served in combat in Iraq. After completing 20 years of service in 2001, I re-enlisted to serve our country for an additional four years following Sept. 11 and retired the year before my battalion was deployed to Iraq in order to run for Congress. I’m proud of the 24 years I served our country in the Army National Guard. There’s a code of honor among those who’ve served, and normally this type of partisan political attack comes only from one who’s never worn a uniform.
Mr. Hagen, if you were confused about my service, you could have checked my Web site, or simply had the decency to call and ask me. When you dishonor a veteran, you dishonor all soldiers and veterans. You owe an apology to all those who serve honorably.