One of the words Pope Benedict repeated the most during his sermons and speeches while visiting America was truth, although when Benedict uses the word, my mind’s eye sees it with an upper-case T as Truth. The phrase "dictatorship of relativism" from his sermon to the cardinals before the conclave that elected him is clearly one of the central concerns of his pontificate. Nowhere is this concern more necessary than in America, and the Democrats would do well to examine why this is so. A recent article in the Washington Post catalogued the variety of ways in which American culture posits that truth is up for grabs. For starters, when researchers entered some 100 terms drawn from U.S. history texts into the Google search engine, 87 times, the first hit was for Wikipedia, the on-line, consumer generated encyclopedia that is, well, not exactly authoritative. The article also noted that 11,000 different websites credit Abraham Lincoln with a quote he never said. The quote itself speaks to the phenomenon in question: "How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg." The religious consequences of this view of truth as something humans manufacture are obvious enough. But, the political consequences are also troubling and worthy of examination. N.B. The Washington Post ran its story about truth in the Style section. Barack Obama especially needs to help Truth make a comeback. Polls consistently show that 10% of Americans think he is a Muslim. His former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has given voice to the absurd proposition that the U.S. government created the AIDS virus to extinguish minorities. And, this week’s cover of the National Enquirer blares the headline "Obama Marriage Explodes" with the promise of photos and love notes inside. For years, Democrats have been winking at the idea that truth is a relative notion. Men were not supposed to have an opinion about abortion because they could not get pregnant. A white man could not speak on racism because he was not black. But there are no privileged hermeneutics in a democracy. One man’s opinion has as much value as another’s and everyone casts a secret ballot where they can mark their preferences without having to give an account of their motives to anyone. Only if the culture itself puts a premium on truth v. opinion, on knowledge v. information, only then can our democracy function and flourish. As he comes to terms with the various slanders hurled against him, Obama could do worse than to quote Pope Benedict. Freedom divorced from truth can become a form of slavery that is especially pernicious because it is not without its allure. "Pushing the envelope" and "being edgy" are seen as good things in the market-driven culture of the 21st century. Obama, and the Democrats more generally, need to reassure Americans whose sense of security has been shaken by the economic downturn, that they understand that they, too, are responsible to truths that are greater than their own self-advancement. This is an opportunity for the Democrats. They should seize it. Michael Sean Winters

Comments

Anonymous | 4/30/2008 - 4:59pm
The first Truth the Democratic Party needs to address is that the unborn child is a human being made in the image and likeness of God and that a just society must protect his/her rights. Until that fundamental Truth is acknowledged, anything else the party tells is a bunch of lies!