Monday, March 22, 2010

When Bad Information Happens to Good People

Sunday night on C-Span between the first and second health care votes, the House opened phone lines so people could weigh in on the bill.

The yeses and noes were pretty much what you'd expect. Yeses had personal stories to relate of relatives or friends whose lives would be materially changed by reform. Noes cited Fox talking points.

Mixed into this group, one undecided caller stood out.

He spoke softly, hesitantly. Perhaps he hadn't expected to be on live TV. He admitted he wasn't very knowledgeable about the details of the bill. He thought it was a good idea and important to extend health care to all Americans. He only wondered if it really had to cost ten trillion dollars to do it.

Ten trillion dollars.

I wanted to hug this caller. His highest priority was to do right by his fellow Americans, even though he had somehow gotten the idea it would cost nearly the entire national debt to do it. Perhaps he had no idea what the numbers meant except that it was a lot. Either way, he understood it as a sacrifice, and one he was willing to make.

The caller said he was from Bakersfield, California, the repressive buckle in the central valley farm Bible Belt whose state congressional representative, Roy Ashburn, the conservative, "family values" homophobe, was recently outed as gay when he was arrested for DUI leaving a gay bar with a young male passenger. A few years ago, Bakersfield coughed up a teen-girl band called Prussian Blue who openly sang white supremacy songs.

It is easy for someone in an environment of hate, whether it's racial, religious, gangs or something else, to simply absorb and parrot the hate. This caller heard the misinformation, but he didn't absorb the negativity that came with it. He is a flower that broke through the concrete sidewalk. People like this deserve to get the right information.

There are many more of these good-hearted Americans than the hatemongering horde that attract cameras. These other Americans are shy, hesitant. They are not highly educated. They don't think they have anything important to say. They don't want to "waste time" asking "silly questions."

They want to do the right thing. But they are susceptible to bad information. They don't have the time or the means to sort the facts from the faux when each sounds plausible. This, of course, is what misinformationists count on. Misinformationists don't have to convert people to win; they just have to confuse people.

I have noticed that a lot of liberal discourse tends to be at a college level. It is technical, precise, and eloquent, but it can also be intimidating. We need this policy-level discussion, but we need to do a better job of reaching the Americans who want to know the truth but don't want to wade through Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, or even Keith Olbermann.

Stanford honors graduate Gretchen Carlson, for all her playacting at ignorance, creates a safe environment for asking and answering "dumb questions."

We need to write bullet-point articles for Reader's Digest, Parade, People, US, Cosmopolitan, and USA Today. For financial reform, we also need articles in Money. We need to appear on the morning network news shows.

Over and over until misinformation is beaten back.

These articles should focus on how proposals help people right now. Obama's speech for the signing of the health care bill did a good job of ticking off the benefits in plain language. Instead of saving this for the signing, we need to lead with it.

Instead of going through the whole sad history of deregulation or try to explain what derivatives are, explain that "too big to fail" will no longer exist. Explain that there will be a new agency whose sole job will be to prevent investment products and schemes that prey on individual investors.

We need to make it easier for good people to get the good information they need to do the right thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment