The Stories We Tell

The Stories We Tell

Dear readers in America: this fall has been a long slog through the morass to arrive at this singular announcement: We are now officially less than one-year away from next year’s Presidential election!!

You are encouraged to take a moment and do a brief dance of relief. Then sit down and prepare yourself for another 363-days of this crap.

These past months of election run-up have felt a lot like getting lost in a garden whose fruit is largely rotten: despite the profuse offerings we’re unfortunately little better nourished today than we were months ago (though we are missing a couple flavorful personalities: find me someone who rides a Harley with more swagger than Scott Walker!).

There have been a lot of words.

If you’ve watched even several minutes of one of the Republican debates you will call that sentence the understatement of the year. Seriously—who’s organizing these things?! They go on and on and on and the only thing I remember from the last one is the terribly vital detail that Jeb(!) Bush’s fantasy football team is doing well.

(My step-dad is fond of noting, in regards to NASCAR, that horses circle a track only once to determine a winner; the longer these debacles debates continue I’m forced to wonder how many are required to determine which of these candidates is the biggest douche-canoe. I will note that I’m impressed that nearly every candidate has put forth his or her best efforts to win this illustrious title.)

To guide me through these dark times I’ve tried consulting newspapers and other media outlets, but where I’ve searched for reasonableness and clarity instead I’ve mostly found nonsense and muck, the latter lately coming in the form of certain Republicans getting tripped up on their own narratives.

Dr. Ben Carson’s story of rising from poverty in Detroit to prominence as a neurosurgeon is truly inspirational—it really is a good story and one that should be told. Unfortunately, lately he’s been having difficulties substantiating certain “facts” about this “story.” This may or may not be different from the difficulties he’s had substantiating certain “facts” about history, say, how more firearms in Jewish hands would have prevented the Holocaust or the comparisons he likes to draw between The Affordable Care Act and institutional slavery. Comparable problems have recently arisen for Ted Cruz’s family fable of Cuban resistance; Carly Fiorina has continued performing her Lady MacBeth impression, still hoping to whitewash away her time at the head of HP; and I honestly don’t know another human that expects a measurable amount of meaningful truth ever to exit Donald Trump’s face-holes.

The Democrats are little better off, that is if you believe the story that The Democrats are already codified in the form of Hillary Clinton. I think it’s worth noting that there’s still a crunchy dude with bad hair and an impeccable history of being honest competing for the nomination, but to Hillary’s credit she doesn’t seem inclined to lie about her life-story. Hillary’s shortcoming has consistently been that she feels like the future of used-car sales, when those positions will be filled by robots in bad suits with oil-slick comb-overs and breath that smells too strongly of recently gargled 10W-40. Hillary has always struck me as a true capitalist, one who’s always on the lookout for how you can benefit her; she is calculating, a trait that is likely a boon for an entrepreneur, a politician and certain species of sharks, though it’s doubtful you’d want to be friends with such a person.

[Without defending her problematic handling of computer servers during her time as Secretary of State, we would do well to pause and ask ourselves the following: If Ben Carson (or Ted Cruz or Carly Fiorina or any other Republican with truthiness-problems…) were running as a Democrat, how many House subcommittees would the current Congress call to tease out the awkward “facts” behind their many tall tales??]

The question I’m driving at, dear readers, is this: What are we to do with all this potential and conflicting non-truth we find in our newspapers?

Does it matter if Ben Carson fudged details of his life story? Some will argue that he is guilty of simply doing something we all do: re-writing the past to make sense of our lives while simultaneously casting ourselves in a positive light. Others will insist that the devil is in the details and Carson’s slippery grip on the truth indicates greater mis-steps to come.

When I consider these options I think the following: I’m 25-years younger than Ben Carson and there’s no way I could accurately remember details of many episodes from my past. If you asked me to tell you a story about my experiences in ninth-grade English class, experiences that were truly quite formative for me, anything I said likely wouldn’t match up perfectly with my classmates’ memories. This isn’t because I’d be lying; it’s simply because a) it was a long time ago, and b) I’ve told and re-told that story until it’s become a point-to-able moment in my life; the reason I tell it it isn’t to relay an objective truth about that time, but to indicate how subjectively significant it was for me.

That might sound like a lot of gray, as if telling the truth were not important, so let’s see if we can find a clearer guide. Given the circumstances, I think the only way forward on this is to ask ourselves how pertinent those specific fudgings are to any candidate’s ability to serve as President.

Let’s take Carson’s tale about turning down a scholarship to West Point: does it matter that he wasn’t officially offered acceptance to this school? To my mind, No, it does not. He still went to Yale and then Michigan, both of which clearly prepared him to become an excellent neurosurgeon. He’s not banking his purported qualifications for President on the fact that he turned down a never-officially-offered position; to me, this seems like the sort of overstatement any of us might make, and about this story I have to think—Meh, who really cares…

Let’s consider another tale, say, Carly Fiorina’s story about her years at the head of HP, years that she points to as proof that she can successfully guide a large institution to success (like Carson, Fiorina has no experience in politics, so she has to point to her experiences in the private sector to demonstrate her abilities). The undeniable reality, supported by every reputable news source available, is that Fiorina’s tale is unmitigated horsefeathers—she sank that company faster than a Looney Tunes anvil. And since this story is foundational to her argument for being President, I think it’s worthwhile to point to this cornerstone and evaluate her campaign for what it is—a structure built on crap.

Candidates’ missteps and misspeaks and fudgings are important—they can tell us a lot about a person (think of GW going off-script, then wince). But rarely are these mistakes THE WHOLE STORY!, and to attribute to them that power is to be diverted from what’s important. Now, it’s true that folks argue a lot about how to measure what’s important, but it’s also true that what’s being measured is fairly simple: Is this person the best qualified candidate to lead our country?

In the case of Carly, I would say the fabrications in her story are tremendously relevant (among many qualities she’s undeniably a malicious fibber who has a demonstrated track record of destruction, which likely means she should never be in charge of organizing the local Girl Scouts field trips). In the case of Carson v. West Point, I’d say this is about as trivial as who Jeb(!) starts at tight end on his fantasy football team (obviously, you go with Gronk).

We have 363 more dark days of this dismal disarray remaining. The odds are good you’re going to encounter a lot more partial-truths in that time. They’ll grab headlines and pundits will attempt to convince you they’re important, but it’s likely that only a handful will be essentials. The best way through is to ignore the drivel and focus on the real important question, which is electing the best person we can to lead out country. If he or she also happens to have a great fantasy football team…, well, so much the better for us.

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