Dallas, TX – You'll be bombarded with more and more campaign messaging the closer we get to election day. Commentator William Lawrence reminds us to listen with a critical ear.
Americans have developed a high tolerance for hyperbole. We are accustomed to it from our advertisers. A detergent gets clothes the cleanest. A movie is the funniest. A frozen food entr e is the tastiest. We also get it from our preachers. They are notorious not only for exaggerating the number of persons who attend their services but also for taking liberties with the facts to give their sermon illustrations greater emotional impact.
Politicians, however, are the heavyweights of hyperbole.
Herbert Hoover campaigned for the Presidency in 1928 by promising Americans that he would provide a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. By the end of his four-year term, however, Americans had fewer cars, fewer chickens, and fewer pots as the nation was plunging into the Great Depression. The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced at the end of September 1938 that he had reached an agreement with Hitler and had achieved "peace for our time." In less than a year, though, Hitler had launched an invasion that began World War II.
Perhaps we are simply gullible and uncritically accept any exaggerated claims. Or perhaps we are sorely desperate for signs of hope and let smooth talkers sell us untested promises.
For instance, Americans are often told that we have the finest health care in the world. It's probably true that in the most complex cases requiring the most sophisticated techniques, ours is equal to the finest on the planet. But if we are referring to the most widely available health care for the largest number of persons, then ours does not even come near the top of the list. We are surpassed by nations that have some version of a single-payer health care system, where services are available to citizens and visitors on the basis of their need not on the basis of their ability to pay. People in Sweden, Canada, and nations with similar systems would never trade theirs for ours. Economists from other countries say our financial model for providing health care is not viable.
For the next fourteen months of electioneering, we will have a lot of hyperbole hurled at us. It will include exaggerated statements about taxes we pay and about threats to financial stability that high taxes carry.
Actually, our tax structure is minimal compared to other lands. To buy a car in Singapore, for example, one has to pay the cost of the vehicle plus a fee for a Certificate of Entitlement to use it for ten years, roughly doubling the cost of the car. To enter a casino, Singaporeans pay a hundred dollars before they start gambling. This revenue finds its way into continually rebuilding Singapore's infrastructure, investing in a subway system, caring for the natural environment, and funding first-rate schools. It has resulted in an unemployment rate of two percent. It has produced an educational system with students in school more hours per day, more days per year, spending more dollars to pay teachers than we seem willing to offer in America.
High tax talk is just hyperbole. Instead of being gullible about the glib who want to govern us, we should demand honesty in place of hype.
William Lawrence is Dean of SMU's Perkins School of Theology. E-mail any questions, opinions or rebuttals to this commentary to the "Contact Us" section of KERA.org.