Saturday, November 2, 2013

Nuance and Truth

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent article on what aides knew and debated about Obama's repeated, "If you like your coverage, you can keep it" promises.  Two quotes stuck out to me [gated]:
"You try to talk about health care in broad, intelligible points that cut through, and you inevitably lose some accuracy when you do that," the former [anonymous] official said. 
"Simplification and ease of explanation were a premium, and that was true throughout the process," he [Jon Favreau] said.
In other words, the demand for a simple message was what led to the falsehood.

To me, this is distressing and fascinating at the same time.  On one hand, I would love it if politicians (both Democrats and Republicans) gave the American people more credit.  Simplicity at the expense of truth is something that both parties practice.  This is what leads to diametrically opposed fact checks during political campaigns, and it might just contribute to the increased polarization that we see in our political landscape.

On the other hand, I can appreciate the difficulty in communicating the essence of an argument to a group of people who just want things to be simple.  This is the art of teaching a complicated concept.  You simplify and simplify and simplify until what you teach is just barely true.  Then, once something is just barely true, you can reintroduce the nuances of the subject.  Unfortunately, the reintroduction of nuance doesn't always happen in time or effectively, and part of the message gets lost.

The analogy to teaching is no excuse.  Communicating a nuanced policy position is not the same as teaching a tough concept, especially when nuances have real economic consequences.

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