Viewpoint: Hold your political leaders accountable

Didi Martinez

Words have meaning. In fact, we rely on words quite heavily as a medium through which we interact with others in our daily lives.

But consider the other element of verbal communication that appears to be an invisible companion to words: choice. I find that as we progress into a more globally connected society of authors, thinkers and critics, we are constantly seeing the massive effects that word choices can have on shaping public perception, especially when it comes to politics.

Columnist Cal Thomas once said, “One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician’s objective.” While I wouldn’t say that people hate politics so much as they are skeptical of the way it operates, there is some truth to this quote.

Time and time again professional fact-checkers have caught politicians in a lie. Lies that are given out like free candy to those who will listen.
These lies, however, do not always come in the most obvious ways. They are often disguised as insightful rhetoric that seeks to discredit an opposing party.

For example, on Oct. 19, 2014, Sen. Ted Cruz said we did not have a surgeon general because President Barack Obama “nominated someone who is an anti-gun activist” instead of “nominating someone who is a health professional.” In this message, Cruz is referring to Dr. Vivek Murthy, who was nominated by Obama for the position at the time.

While Cruz did go on to acknowledge that Murphy was indeed a health professional (I mean, Murthy got his doctorate of medicine from Yale), the damage had already been done. Cruz’s choice of words, which were phrased in such a way that made it seem that the only credentials Murthy had was being an anti-gun activist, were aimed to discredit.
Furthermore, Cruz’s words sought to point a finger at Obama for the nation’s struggle to replace a surgeon general.

Sadly, comments such as these are not uncommon among politicians.

What’s more, no particular party is less guilty of these infractions than others. Politicians who represent Democrats, independents and Republicans have all been caught lying.

While it might seem that this is just the way politics work, I find tactics like this especially concerning. When comments that have no factual basis are made to the public, we are consuming the equivalent of junk food. Sure, there might be some truth to what a politician says, but not enough to constitute as valid information.

We become a malnourished electorate that is easy to manipulate and sensationalize when a government official decides to play the blame-game with the opposing party. When this happens, we learn nothing and neither do politicians who will spend more time fighting than working to resolve our nation’s issues.

We cannot let accuracy take a backseat, and more importantly, we cannot let ourselves be polarized by lies. Politicians should practice responsible rhetoric, or at least be held accountable for what they say.

By definition, they are public servants, and as such, should be expected to tell us the truth, not lies disguised as truths. Although this might make me seem like an idealist, why should we devalue ourselves as constituents by expecting any less?

When it comes to politics, I believe that more often than not, we get what we allow to happen.

Didi Martinez is a freshman political science and journalism double major from Katy. She is the copy editor and a regular columnist for the Lariat.