Truth is the first casualty of politics. Politicians warp it, distort it, and spin it like Whirling Dervishes. When all else fails, they simply lie their way around it, all the while claiming a fantasy moral high ground where it is perpetually Orwell’s 1984 – truth is fiction and fiction is truth.
A sentient person should expect a certain amount of this. After all, it is a candidate’s job to present themselves in the best possible light. But, there is a huge difference between good lighting and whispering lies from the shadows.
Sometimes facts are both truthful and verifiable. You can argue 1+1=9422, but that doesn’t make it true or a fact. When the fact is so immutable as to render it above challenge, some simply lie. “But it does equal 9422! Most leading mathematicians say so.” No they didn’t.
Pulling Saturn from its Orbit
Perhaps the most time-tested, hardest-to-clarify, and in some ways least honest lie is a spin so powerful it pulls Saturn from its orbit. People usually call this “interpretation”. No doubt almost everything has some degree of real interpretation, but quoting words without also quoting lines before and after that show an opposite meaning is not interpretation. Cherry picking only the facts that agree with your position while vigorously denying an opponent’s isn’t interpretation either – though it is depressingly frequent. Stephen Colbert calls these “facts” truthiness.
Barack Obama acknowledged in a recent 60 Minutes interview that his campaign sometimes goes over the top. You have to give him props for that. It is a limb most candidates avoid like dangling from it with a drunken lumberjack and sharp chainsaw. But, acknowledgement isn’t an apology or a pledge to give up on cooking the books of truth.
“Do we see sometimes, us going overboard in our campaign, the mistakes that are made or the, you know, areas where there’s no doubt someone could dispute how we are presenting things? That happens in politics,” Obama said. Ironically, that was a totally indisputable truth, but one that doesn’t excuse his participation.
Sadly, the President went on to tell another untruth. “The truth is of the matter is most of the time we’re having a vigorous debate about the vision of the country.” However, if lies and distortion constitute having a “vigorous debate about a vision of the country” we’re having it with cheap, dime store, non-prescription bifocals.
Michele Bachmann comparing the use of census data to throw Japanese into concentration camps during WWII is “factual” as it goes, but……
“If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt, and that’s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps,” she said about one of the most unfair and egregious acts in American history.
Would I Lie to You?
So far, so good, but then Bachmann implies there is a plot without actually saying the words, “There is a plot.” (NOTE: Some reports claim she explicitly talked of a plot in other interviews, but I can’t completely verify they are true). But carefully read Bachmann’s language and you see some heavy handed dervishing. So heavy handed that even Fox’s Megyn Kelly, not exactly a hostile interviewer, doesn’t ask to clarify what she means.
“I’m not saying that that’s what the administration is planning to do,” she said as she outlined a plan. “But I am saying that private personal information that was given to the Census Bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up, in a violation of their constitutional rights, and put the Japanese in internment camps.” Strictly factual? Yes. Sublime truthiness? Um, decide for yourself.
There isn’t a person in the species that hasn’t lied, even Mother Theresa. It is as human a trait as opposable thumbs. At the risk of being accused of moral relativism, not all lies are bad. However, they are still lies and a fully true answer might be hurtful, but a more morally correct one. But, we don’t live in utopia where everything is orderly, clean, and unambiguous. Haters gonna hate, actual human beings gonna lie.
Dishonesty and its morality are at the crossroads of every society. Sometimes, as in modern-day America, the lies get too big. The lies come too easy, we believe them too easily, and we all enable them. Lies also have consequences.
Recognizing there will be lies until cockroaches exclusively reclaim the planet is a first step toward making things better. So are thinking carefully, investigating fully, admitting mistakes and obfuscations, and holding the feet of at least the biggest, baddest liars to the fire are big steps too.
Would I lie to you?
- Cognitive researchers find truth in Colbert’s ‘truthiness’ (rawstory.com)
- Neta C. Crawford: ‘Targeted’ Drones Strikes and Magical Thinking (huffingtonpost.com)
- Associated Press Had Michele Bachmann Fact-Checking ‘Quota’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- Obama’s Biggest Opponent Is the Truth (tarpon.wordpress.com)
- Paul Ryan and Allies Dance on Grave of Slain U.S. Diplomat at Right-Wing Confab | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- The U.S. Census Bureau claims you are required by law to reveal your race on their (coercive) questionnaire. (investmentwatchblog.com)