Factual Debate? Yes Please!

2011 April 9

“I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws that I have read and understand the information contained in this application and that my responses and any accompanying attachments are true and correct.”

This is standard language that one finds at the bottom of most job applications and it is this declaration that one’s signature brings into force.

Yesterday, during the political grandstanding about the (then) pending government shutdown for lack of funding, a shutdown which apparently hinged upon certain policy riders included in the funding legislation that would cut off federal funding for organizations within the definition of Title X, including Planned Parenthood, Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), said, “Everybody goes to clinics, to hospitals, to doctors, and so on. Some people go to Planned Parenthood. But you don’t have to go to Planned Parenthood to get your cholesterol or your blood pressure checked. If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that’s well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”

That’s quite a claim made by the junior Senator from Arizona.  It also happens to be patently false.  Below is a chart of services provided by Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers for 2009:

Now, since that statement was made on the floor of the United States Senate, the media and the blogosphere have latched on and derided Sen. Kyl’s statement as false, untrue, a lie, evil, etc.  In response to questions about that statement, Sen. Kyl’s office issued the following damage control, “his remark was not intended to be a factual statement.So, his remark was not intended to be a statement of fact.  At least his defense of that statement was true, he intended to make a false statement and that is exactly what he did.  Fair enough.

As I said, the world has risen up to chastise Sen. Kyl for his lie (a deliberate false statement).  That is not why I write today.  I write today to ask the question, why is it that our elected officials are not speaking under the penalty of perjury when their speech is on the floor of their respective chamber and being accepted into the record of that chamber?  The reason is that, according to Article I, Section VI of the Constitution, “They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest … and for any Speech or Debate in either House.”  It is this language in the Constitution that allows members to avoid accountability for their statements and, essentially, allows them to lie without consequence.

I rise today to ask how that furthers the democratic ideal?  How does that “promote the general welfare?”  Why are our elected legislators not held to the same standard of someone applying for a job at McDonald’s or the Gap?  Do they not hold offices of Public Trust and Service?  Is honesty not the cornerstone of informed debate?

One might say, that to legally require honesty on the floor from our legislators would require an amendment to the Constitution because of Article I, Section VI.  Not so, I say!  Perjury is a felony, clearly excepted in the Section’s immunity language.  Therefore, I suggest we, through legislation, simply require the addition of the certification which started this post, to all statements entered into the Congressional record.  Think of it as the written equivalent of the authority lines required in political campaign advertising.  Maybe if we, at the very least, require the debate on the floor to be factually accurate, we can begin changing how we discuss things in this country.

One Response leave one →
  1. April 12, 2011

    Mike,
    Nice post but I believe that if we did this, we might only be left with Kucininch, Ron Paul, and Bernie Sanders in the whole of Congress…although that could be quite fun and enlightening.

    Roy

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