Now more than ever, it’s important that we look beyond the obvious and question everything we see and hear.

If asked to pinpoint the exact time I learned to be circumspect about politicians, I’d have to say it was 30 years ago today — on May 8, 1987.

I was living in Amherst, Massachusetts, and watching a live news broadcast of Gary Hart’s announcement that he was withdrawing from the U.S. Democratic presidential race over an alleged affair with model Donna Rice.

In many ways, I think that era represents the onset of my becoming a critical thinker, though like most people, I learned some of that in school, reading books such as “1984.”

I thought Hart would make a good president and for the first time in my life, mailed a check to support a political campaign. When the Rice scandal broke, I was knocked off balance. My image of his character was shattered, and I think not so much because of what had occurred as that he did not come clean about it afterward.

Back in those days, such scandals were somewhat rare in politics, or at least rarer than they are today. When I was a child in the 1960s I was too young to imagine political leaders could be deceptive. We were taught to respect and admire them and I guess we expected that, if confronted with issues questioning their character, they would acknowledge wrongdoing, explain, apologize and move on.

Many years and political scandals later, we find ourselves in 2017 when dishonesty doesn’t seem to matter to a lot of people. We have become more tolerant of lying, obfuscation and disinformation as long as they produce the results we want.

We live in a confusing world where truth and falsehood is sometimes indistinguishable. We must scrutinize, weigh and analyze what people tell us, to discern whether it is true. We no longer can believe, up front, that a promise made by someone we trust will be fulfilled.

It is critical we teach kids to look beyond the surface — to consider not only whether something is true or false, but also to trust their gut in the process.

In the 30 years since Gary Hart exited the presidential race, many scandals have surfaced involving famous and influential people, both before and after elections. In some cases, politicians have survived scandals; in others, they have not.

Lately, some politicians talk about the need to listen to those with whom we disagree, to try to reach across the aisle, find common ground and come to consensus in this unprecedented, polarized political arena.

That’s an honorable idea and one worth pursuing, with eyes wide open.

Today, we tread in dangerous territory if we, without skepticism, follow those who promise us the world — and have the power to make disastrous choices.

We Americans have always prided ourselves on our ability to think independently. Never has that skill been more necessary than now.

I think of former U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, a no-nonsense politician from Skowhegan who, keenly discerning fact from fiction, stood up to Joe McCarthy in 1950.

She was a role model, back when we were kids in elementary school. She’d visit our classrooms, talk about things that mattered and generally, make us want to emulate her.

In later years, I admired her for her integrity, candor and interest in doing the right thing.

Most of all, I was proud that she was our senator, one who fearlessly took on the guy who spread untruths toward an evil end.

As we fumble about in the reckless realm of 2017, we do well to remember her legacy.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 29 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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