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Truth and Trust in Political Discourse

August 13, 2009

In a recent blog entry, Paul Krugman proposed that identity politics has played a role in the various right-wing conspiracy theories of late. Just as Bernie Madoff managed to convince affluent Jews to trust an affluent Jew (Madoff, that is), so too, argues Krugman, do Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh depend on a white, conservative demographic who will believe just about any slander against progressives (“Those People”).

Krugman is, of course, right, but I’m not where his remarks get us. Surely, truth – whether political or otherwise – is commonly established on the basis of trust. I cannot independently verify the science of global warming, but I regard the IPCC as reliable. I have done no more research into Obama’s nation of origin than the birthers, yet I regard them as crackpots. In short, progressives such as myself rely on trust — sometimes in the form of identity politics — every bit as much as conservatives.

I don’t mean to take a relativistic position here. Rather, it seems to me that educating ourselves and others on the issues has greater value than engaging in sociological speculation. “Is Obama a natural-born citizen of the US?” is a much easier and more productive question to tackle than “why is it some people quite mistakenly believe that Obama is not a natural-born citizen?” which raises all kinds of questions.

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