A term used by people in politics when they feel the need to cloud an issue is to “turn on the fog machine.”
Make no mistake about it; much of the messaging in the political world (as with many other human endeavors) is aimed at achieving the opposite of clarity.
One of the toughest aspects of political analysis is to find different questions to contemplate — the kind that almost no one else seems to be asking. It often is only after sorting through complexities, legitimate and otherwise, as well as willfully invented misdirection (lies) that such possibly worthwhile questions come to mind.
The following might be some examples.
Situation: First, the leaders of a nation adopt a new national health care law in spite of polls showing that less than 50 percent of voters support it. Next, the lawmakers exempt themselves from being covered by it and also exempt those who will be administering and overseeing it. Then many of the groups that supported and pushed for the law attempt to become exempted from it also.
Question No. 1: Was the passage of Obamacare something that was done for American citizens or something done to them?
Question No. 2: What will happen when, a few years down the road, members of the mainstream news media have gained personal experience with Obamacare’s impact on their own heath care?
Situation: Ask voters — conservative, liberal and all shades in between — if they tend to distrust the promises of politicians. The overwhelming response you'll get, across the spectrum, will be a resounding “yes.”
Yet often in elections, more than 50 percent of voters support politicians who make the most promises about what government will do for them.
Question: Why don't more voters adopt an attitude that politicians who promise the least are the ones more likely to be telling the truth?
Situation: For four and a half billion years the Earth has undergone constant climate change. A recent example of this was the poorly named “Little Ice Age” between the late 1300s and early 1800s. During this relatively colder 430-year period of history growing seasons were shorter, crops failed, diseases ran rampant and people adapted by spending more time indoors.
Without having the advantage of historical, archaeological and geological sciences to put the climate change into perspective, religious leaders of the time blamed the rotten weather on sin. They said God was punishing humans for their unholy ways. After the climate failed to improve, they started singling out certain people to blame, accusing them of witchcraft and of making deals with the devil.
About 150 years ago, the climate began gradually warming. Growing seasons and weather patterns generally began to resemble the way they had been before the “Little Ice Age.” Meanwhile, humans experienced the industrial revolution and the sciences of history, archeology and geology demonstrated that the Earth's climate has always been in a state of flux.
However, even with facts on hand, millions of people still blame climate change on the supposed misdeeds of other people rather than on natural causes.
Question: On planet Earth what changes more — the climate or human behavior?
Situation: Many, perhaps even most, Americans identify corporate welfare as an ugly aspect of capitalism. In believing this they are mistaken. Special tax breaks and credits for corporations and other businesses are not examples of capitalism, they are perversions of it. If we had a purer form of capitalism we would have simple and relatively low tax rates that would be applied equally and evenly, and there would be no inside dealing or cozying up to government officials to get special deals.
Question: How can a capitalist economy be defended when government has contorted it so much that many people are confused about what capitalism actually is?
Situation: Michigan has supposedly had a perpetual education spending crisis for at least 30 years. Those who make this claim argue that we just don't spend enough on schools. In raw numbers, however, Michigan ranks 23rd among the states in per-pupil spending. When adjusted for per-capita income, Michigan ranks 8th in per-pupil spending. That means most other states spend less on education than Michigan spends.
Question No. 1: If Michigan's education system is really in such a dire condition, what is happening in all of those other states that spend less? Are they teaching in classrooms with dirt floors?
Question No. 2: If spending more money really equates to providing a better education, why do some states that spend less per pupil produce better academic results than Michigan's system produces?
Situation: In 2008, Michigan adopted a renewable energy mandate requiring that 10 percent of the state's energy be produced from in-state renewable sources. Supposedly, this mandate would reduce emissions and improve the environment. The law did not, however, require that emissions be monitored to determine whether or not it really worked.
Question: What was the renewable energy mandate really all about?
Answering some of these questions will help clear up the political fog.
(Editor’s Note: Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Michigan Capitol Confidential. He is a veteran Lansing-based journalist. His columns do not represent viewpoints of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy or Michigan Capitol Confidential.)