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Have disagreeing opinions all you want, but shouldn’t we be able to at least agree on facts?

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I’ll always be haunted by the words of Spokane’s own Jimmy Marks, barked at me in his staccato Gypsy accent: “Dere is no troot!” He was railing about his family’s troubles, and his words are, to me, an epitaph on his life. But the phrase bounces around in my head from time to time, popping up most recently as I’ve experienced the whirlwind of political TV ads bookending the evening news.

There’s the one about how Dino Rossi only loves himself, usually followed by the one about how Patty Murray loves big deficits. That other guy supports illegal aliens, another ad suggests with shadowy figures creeping around what looks like your backyard. In one West Virginia race, actors hired to portray everyday folks were told to act hickey and wear beat-up trucker hats.

There is no truth. Of course there is truth — and fact and even reality — but it benefits some to confuse things to the point where it’s impossible to find the truth, much less be able to agree on it. The worst part is there’s not even a referee anymore. The cuts at daily newspapers have curtailed the fact-checking, and TV stations have pretty much given up policing specious claims in the ads they run. It’s a free for all.

The sad thing for our civic life is that all the money, subterfuge and truth-avoiding manifests itself in ever-nastier ways. Politics should be tough, but with the goal being clarity, not confusion.

At the Rotary 21 debate between Chris Marr and Michael Baumgartner a couple weeks ago, it was interesting to note the differences in tone between a campaign waged on TV and one argued when the candidates were standing just a few feet from each other. Baumgartner had a couple attack lines that landed with a thud. People really do prefer a little more decorum. Baumgartner dropped the tactic and we went on to be treated to a spirited, informative debate that illuminated their honest differences. It was a tempting glimpse at what a cleaned-up election system might look like.

The good news is voters have gotten wiser; we’ve all seen enough behind the wizard’s curtain to know they’re out to confuse us with their fake truckers and scary immigrants. Jimmy Marks would laugh his world-weary, fatalistic laugh at it all. Let’s not allow his chilling words — “Dere is no troot” — to be the epitaph for our democracy, too.

Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.

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