Straight answers can be hard to come by these days. Conjecture, bullish commentary and spin appear in spades, but unadorned facts? Not so much.
Take the maddeningly slow investigation of state Sen. Greg Barkus' Aug. 27 motorboat crash on Flathead Lake. The incident—which sent Barkus, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg and three other passengers to the hospital—has yet to be fully explained by authorities. Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan said he has reason to believe Barkus was drinking before operating the boat, but didn't elaborate. Rehberg said he never saw Barkus take a sip of alcohol, but he wasn't exactly eyeing Barkus' every move. Just this week, Flathead County District Judge Katherine Curtis said records of the investigation must remain sealed, meaning rampant speculation will only continue.
Other examples abound. Sen. Max Baucus' long slog through health care reform has included so many conflicting messages about what would and wouldn't be included—and why or why not—that hardly anyone knows what's even being reformed. When Baucus finally revealed his plan Wednesday morning, the White House could only muster a lukewarm response, calling the 223-page proposal "positive."
Even Sen. Jon Tester's recent Forest Jobs and Recreation Act has opened itself to criticism following a lack of clear answers. In the back and forth between those who are proud of its long-awaited wilderness designations and commitment to forest jobs, and those angered by its unprecedented provisions and lack of public input, little actual constructive dialogue has occurred. One side only hears whiney complaints, while the other tires of echoed talking points.
It'd be easy to sit back and call this politics as usual. Perhaps we should expect such nebulous arguments and doublespeak. But that fallback becomes harder to lean on when better examples emerge.
Last week we were introduced to a new website created by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for the sole purpose of dispelling untruths about life on the reservation. TheRezWeLiveOn.com doesn't just refute common misperceptions, but does so with plainspoken, concise and often entertaining animated video responses. Do American Indians receive free health care? Do the federal and state government hand each tribal member a huge check every month? The answers couldn't be clearer.
"Things are so casually repeated and people hear them often enough that they start to believe that these mistruths must be true," says Communications Director Rob McDonald, who hatched the idea for the site. "I figured all we needed was a way to present the facts and engage everyone in a dialogue."
Those are two simple lessons that today's politicians should learn to follow.This story was updated Saturday, Sept. 19.