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Gwen’s Take: The Perils of the Absolute

I want to own a pair of glasses that will allow me to more accurately see shades of gray.

That way, when bridges fall down, the urgency to find out why — right away — will fade. I will more easily understand that it could be poor maintenance as well as outdated design as well as the fact that it got hit by a speeding truck.

When the economy suddenly surges, fueled by a steadily rising stock market and a spike in home prices, I will be able to see the people still standing in line for jobs, many of them minority teenagers. Check out this depressing post from the PBS NewsHour’s great Paul Solman.

(I will also remember what happened the last time the housing market took off. The glasses we wore were rose-colored that time.)

And when the Attorney General signs off on an order that allows the Department of Justice to investigate who is leaking information to reporters, I will be able to detect the difference between investigation and prosecution. Perhaps.

I will also remember that his job is not mine.

But politics does not lend itself to the grays.

But we seem to be living for now in a world of absolutes. How else to explain why Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who announced this week that she won’t seek reelection, is so wildly popular in tea party circles and so derided among liberals?

How else to listen every day to former journalist and White House spokesman Jay Carney parse words and phrases so carefully that they become impossible to understand?

And how better to get some kind of grasp on the choices world governments face when they decide whether to intervene in intractable civil wars in places like Syria? Not only have tens of thousands died, but hundreds of thousands more remain huddled in misery in refugee camps that have sprung up along the border in Jordan and Turkey.

My shades-of-gray eyeglasses would really help when the Supreme Court weighs in on affirmative action and same-sex marriage some time in the next month. And maybe they would finally bring Benghazi into focus.

We often make a mistake when we leap too quickly toward certainty. But politics does not lend itself to the grays. Every scandal is Watergate. Every dispute is scandal. We are forced instead to distinguish between self-interest and ignorance and disinformation.

The glasses would help. Somebody get on that, would you?

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