Rex Murphy makes the point in the first issue of Convivium magazine that we should all breath deep and turn down the rhetorical heat way down.
Murphy, famous for his acerbic commentaries on CBC Radio and TV as well as in the National Post, doesn't suggest for a moment that we become a nation of muffle-mouths.
But in the Convivium interview that rolls off the press tomorrow (get yours at www.cardus.ca/convivium, cue the flashing lights and sirens), he says it's time we all set ourselves the simple, personal limit of saying only those things we honestly believe.
So, no more comparing advocates of gun control to Hitler. No more comparing anyone alive today to Hitler. Full stop.
No more referring to Prime Minister Harper as Canada's latter-day Richard Nixon, either. Stephen Harper has no more in common with Richard Nixon than Pierre Trudeau did with Chairman Mao. Neither Canadian, history will show, was responsible for the slaughter of millions in Southeast Asia.
No more asserting the false dichotomy that people must favour either State monitoring of the Internet or child pornographers.
No more posturing that Quebecers uniformly share the same progressive values, that those values are ineluctably opposed by Western Canadians, and that it is worth wrecking the country rather than letting the twain meet.
All of the above have been uttered by sound bite-seeking politicians in recent days. All of them meet Rex Murphy's test of being grossly unbelievable even to those from whose mouths they fly forth.
Or as Murphy expresses it in his inimitable style: "Are you so committed to this ludicrous rhetoric that you're unwilling—in the privacy of your own head—to realize that you're being a fool?"
In the privacy of your own head. What a wonderful formulation. What a wonderful place to begin. For surely it is only from that ultimate private place that public truth or falsehood can emerge.
Of course in our thoughts we can misunderstand, misinterpret, misjudge. We can honestly misspeak as a result. The one thing we cannot do is lie to ourselves. We can only fool ourselves into justifying what we know to be a lie. As George Orwell shows in his magnificent essay Politics and the English Language (which should, by the way, be re-read annually by anyone who ever ventures opinions in public) this is the start of an effect becoming a cause.
"A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks," Orwell writes. "It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."
So, too, the private justification of public lies produces not only the articulation of absurd political untruths but also the inability over time to recognize the corruption of that interior place where falsehood must first be challenged.
The consequences for our actions are obvious. Yet in instances such as the current so-called robo-calling scandal, where the very foundations of democracy were violated by automated phone calls designed to confuse voters on Election Day, we blame 1) individual culprits and 2) the technology that made their actions possible.
Blameworthy both may be. But that's not where the violation starts. Where it begins and ends is in the commitment to ludicrous, lying private justifications that we are unwilling to admit makes us all look like fools.