You'll be happy to know that this is my last political post for awhile except that tomorrow I will post the political essay I wish I had written. Stay tuned . . .
Political pet peeve #4: dishonesty
Dishonesty is the catch-all category for a whole range of actions and attitudes that pervade our political process, from Facebook to the national campaigns. There is a reason that the Bible (and in fact, just about every religious system) tells us to avoid "lying lips," "bearing false witness," and deceit in every form. Jesus called the devil the "father of lies" and warned us to avoid hypocrisy. It kills our souls.
Of course, there's just blatant lying--knowingly or unknowingly (let's be honest, though--it's mostly knowingly)--saying things that are just not true or have no evidence to back them up. Creating videos in which a person is made to sound like he said something that he did not say or was attributing to someone else: that's a lie. Creating videos that blame the death of a woman from cancer on the business decisions of a candidate: a lie. Perpetuating the myth that the president is a Muslim or is not a citizen: lying. Attributing something to a president that happened during another president's term: lying. We need to stop it.
Then there's the frenzy of intentional distortion that happens every time there is a gaffe. Anyone who does a lot of public speaking knows that it's impossible to talk about big ideas without an occasional gaffe. Occasionally, we say something we really believe but didn't mean to say out loud. When that happens, it's appropriate for people to call us on it. More often, though, we are processing verbally and we say things we didn't mean to say or don't say them in the way we intended. The feeding frenzy that happens after one of these missteps is entertaining but it doesn't help us get any closer to the truth of what a candidate really believes.
No one really believes that President Obama was saying that business owners didn't build their businesses; in context it's really clear that the "that" in "You didn't build that" refers to infrastructure and in fact, later he even comes back and clearly restates his position to correct the possibility of misunderstanding. But we like to misunderstand, don't we? No one really believes that Governor Romney "likes to fire people." It was perfectly clear from the context of his remarks that he was referring to his hope of "firing" the current administration. But we like to misunderstand when it supports our cause.
One of the more sophisticated ways that we like to misrepresent the truth is by manipulating the numbers, whether we're talking about poll numbers or science numbers or numbers that measure things. You know the saying that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Because so many of the issues we are discussing--national debt, budgets, health care, Wall street--are so complicated, it's possible to make the numbers say almost anything. And of course, we do. And then we believe the numbers that seem to support our own conclusions and rage against the numbers that don't.
I received an email one day that contained blatantly false information about a politician. I don't usually do this, but this was a from a friend and so I replied, citing the clear evidence that the information in the email was simply not true. The reply from my friend: "It doesn't matter if it's factually true because it's the kind of thing [he] would do." A campaign aide has said that her candidate would not be "bound by fact checkers," as if that were a bad thing. I once didn't vote for a candidate I had grown to like because it became clear that lying came far too easy (and seriously, lies that can be easily refuted on the internet? That's just stupid.) Likewise, I grew in respect for another candidate when he stopped to chastise his own supporters for propagating untruths.
Pundits say that politicians lie to us because we want to be lied to. There's probably some truth to that. But what if we had a moratorium on lying during campaigns? Or better still, what if candidates were rewarded for telling the truth? What if we stopped believing that the ends justify the means when it comes to deception? I guess politics wouldn't be as fun but we'd be a lot less cynical too, so that seems like a fair trade-off. It's worth a try anyway.