Sometimes I wonder if Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) spends his days shackled to his desk in his Senate office so he doesn't wander around in traffic, or sit on a bench at the bus terminal telling his paranoid fantasies to invisible beings.
Maybe that sounds harsh, so let me back up a little.
After I moved to Arizona, the first thing I heard about Jon Kyl was his defense of some invasion of privacy or other. When people check into a hotel, he argued, they write their name in the ledger, which other people can then read. Isn't that a way of giving up one's own privacy?
Mind you, I moved to Arizona less than seven years ago, not back in the 1950s. What Mr. Kyl seemed unaware of, so very recently, was that for the most part hotels use magic boxes called computers, and don't require people to write their names on actual ledger books anymore. And haven't for quite some time. Either Mr. Kyl doesn't get out much...or he doesn't get out much without a keeper.
The most recent embarassment (sadly for Arizonans, virtually every time he opens his mouth, we wind up embarrassed--if someone can point out something intelligent he has ever uttered in public, I'd love to hear it) largely went unnoticed by the national media, because it happened last Friday, in the midst of the great and absurd debate about whether the Republicans would be allowed to shut down the entire government because a) they wanted to pretend to care about deficits, and b) they really, really hate the poor, and women, and especially poor women.
Here's what Kyl said: "If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that's well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does."
Of course, that statement has as much factual legitimacy as the claim, for instance, that Britney Spears is a major figure in the world's artistic landscape, or that the problem with spiders is that they don't have enough legs or eyes.
The fact is that abortion is 3% of what Planned Parenthood does. Three % is, last I checked, not even close to being "well over 90%." If you want to get closer to the truth of the matter, Planned Parenthood prevents far more abortions than it provides, by making contraception readily available to low and middle income women. Hence the "Planned" part of the name. And the "Parenthood" part.
When Kyl's office was asked about this ridiculously fantastic statistic that Kyl apparently made up on the spot, the explanation offered was that the claim was "not intended to be a factual statement."
So a sitting United States Senator goes to the floor of the Senate and makes a claim that he knows is not true.
Let's use real English. That's not "not...a factual statement." That's a lie.
You expect that sort of thing from the Glenn Becks and the Rush Limbaughs of the world. They're professional frauds. To catalog their lies would be a full-time job, and it would be a job that would drive any sane person mad in no time.
But from a sitting United States Senator? From the Minority Whip of the Senate? Is it too much to expect a person with that sort of responsibility to at least sort of pretend the truth matters? A little?
I called Jon Kyl's Tucson office today, because in spite of reading all about this, I couldn't quite believe it happened. The young man who answered the phone claimed not to have heard about the whole thing. I described it to him, and then asked him which was true--because there is, in fact, another possibility here. Is Senator Kyl a knowing liar, I asked, or is he simply grossly ill-informed?
I'm not sure which would be worse--a Senator who lies to the nation, plainly and without remorse, or one who has not the least clue what he's talking about, when the nation is on the verge of a government shutdown that could cripple our economic recovery. What do we taxpayers pay them for, if not to know a little something about the issues confronting them?
So I asked the young man at Kyl's office. Which is he, a liar, or grossly ill-informed? "Probably neither," he said.
"No," said I. "He HAS to be one or the other. There is no third choice here. So which is it?"
He couldn't answer that one. Nor could he transfer me to anyone who could. What he did do, which I appreciate, was fill out a constituent action form, guaranteeing that I'll have my question answered, in writing.
I hope Senator Kyl's office lives up to that promise. I really want to see what the answer is. Senator Kyl, liar or idiot? Or the third option, of which I denied the existence because, at that moment, I couldn't really wrap my brain around it: both at once?
If I get my answer, I'll let you know.