Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Problem With Politics is the Truth, Not the Lies

When politicians lie, it's generally for one of a handful of simple reasons. First, of course, is denying something embarrassing. "I did not have sex with that woman. Or that woman, either. Or those women over there. Or any of the women in that line stretching down the block."

The second is claiming credit for something they didn't do. Al Gore is widely ridiculed for claiming to have invented the Internet. No, he didn't, but he did as much as anyone in Congress to facilitate it. Barack Obama has been accused of lying when he said his father helped liberate Auschwitz. He didn't, but his grandfather helped liberate Buchenwald. So he got some family history muddled, but the core fact, one of his ancestors helped liberate a concentration camp, is true. On the other hand, we have Hilary Clinton's comical claim to have landed in Bosnia under fire, and we have politicians who have claimed military service but never served, claimed to have earned medals they never earned, and claimed to have college degrees that were either wholly fictitious or were from diploma mills. And a significant fraction of them are among the loudest critics of Gore and Obama.

John F. Kennedy, interestingly, did visit Costa Rica under fire. Irazu volcano, not far from the capital San Jose, erupted the day JFK arrived for a state visit.

There are two other major reasons politicians lie, but we'll discuss that later.

The problem is not so much that politicians lie, but rather that they tell the truth. Just about every negative claim that liberals make about conservatives is true.

  • A conservative is a man who is too cowardly to fight and too fat to run. --Elbert Hubbard
  • Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home–but not for housing. They are strong for labor–but they are stronger for restricting labor’s rights. They favor minimum wage–the smaller the minimum wage the better. They endorse educational opportunity for all–but they won’t spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine–for people who can afford them. They consider electrical power a great blessing–but only when the private power companies get their rake-off. They think American standard of living is a fine thing–so long as it doesn’t spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.” ~Harry S. Truman
  • “Republicans are men of narrow vision, who are afraid of the future.” ~Jimmy Carter
  • In the United States I have always believed that there was a big difference between Conservative and stupid. Boy is it getting harder to prove that one by the minute.” ~Rick Mercer
  • “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” ~John Kenneth Galbraith 
  • “Conservatives define themselves in terms of what they oppose.” ~George Will 
  • The Republicans are looking after the financial interests of the wealthiest individuals in this country.” ~Edward Kennedy 
  • Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.” ~William E. Gladstone 
  • You have to have been a Republican to know how good it is to be a Democrat.” ~ Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis 
  • Brains, you know, are suspect in the Republican Party.” ~Walter J. Lippmann 
  • Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a Republican. But I repeat myself.” ~Harry Truman 
  • Conservatives remind me of Yosemite Sam, Wile E. Coyote, and Elmer Fudd. They bring the guns, the stupidity, and of course, the failure. --Stephen D. Foster
  • Herbert Hoover once ran on the slogan, “Two cars in every garage”. Apparently, the Republican candidate this year is running on the slogan, “Two families in every garage.”~Harry Truman
  • “Social conservatism and neoconservatism have revived authoritarian conservatism, and not for the better of conservatism or American democracy. True conservatism is cautious and prudent. Authoritarianism is rash and radical. American democracy has benefited from true conservatism, but authoritarianism offers potentially serious trouble for any democracy. ”  ― John W. Dean
  • Deregulation is a transfer of power from the trodden to the treading. It is unsurprising that all conservative parties claim to hate big government.” ― George Monbiot 
  • The Right thinks that the breakdown of the family is the source of crime and poverty, and this they very insightfully blame on the homosexuals, which would be amusing were it not so tragic. Families and 'family values' are crushed by grinding poverty, which also makes violent crime and drugs attractive alternatives to desperate young men and sends young women into prostitution. Family values are no less corrupted by the corrosive effects of individualism, consumerism, and the accumulation of wealth. Instead of shouting this from the mountain tops, the get-me-to-heaven-and-the-rest-be-damned Christianity the Christian Right preaches is itself a version of selfish spiritual capitalism aimed at netting major and eternal dividends, and it fits hand in glove with American materialism and greed.” ― John D. Caputo 
And almost every harsh thing conservatives say about liberals is also true.

  • Liberals defend the guilty and impugn the innocent not only because they side with barbarians, but because a fair and just system of law challenges their hegemony as judges of the universe.--Ann Coulter
  • Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”~ Winston S. Churchill
  • Words mean nothing to liberals. They say whatever will help advance their cause at the moment, switch talking points in a heartbeat, and then act indignant if anyone uses the exact same argument they were using five minutes ago. ~ Ann Coulter
  • Inside many liberals is a totalitarian screaming to get out. They don't like to have another point of view in the room that they don't squash and the way they try to squash it is by character assassination and name calling. -- David Horowitz
  • Indiscriminateness of thought does not lead to indiscriminateness of policy. It leads the modern liberal to invariably side with evil over good, wrong over right and the behaviors that lead to failure over those that lead to success. Why? Very simply if nothing is to be recognized as better or worse than anything else then success is de facto unjust.
          There is no explanation for success if nothing is better than anything else and the greater the success the greater the injustice. Conversely and for the same reason, failure is de facto proof of victimization and the greater the failure, the greater the proof of the victim is, or the greater the victimization. ~ Evan Sayet
  • When one becomes a liberal, he or she pretends to advocate tolerance, equality and peace, but hilariously, they're doing so for purely selfish reasons. It's the human equivalent of a puppy dog's face: an evolutionary tool designed to enhance survival, reproductive value and status. In short, liberalism is based on one central desire: to look cool in front of others in order to get love. Preaching tolerance makes you look cooler than saying something like, “please lower my taxes” -- Greg Gutfeld
  • Stupidity is a luxury and you will find time and time and time and again that those who are overwhelmingly on the left are those who can afford to be. -- Evan Sayet
  • If there is ever a fascist takeover in America, it will come not in the form of storm troopers kicking down doors but with lawyers and social workers saying. "I'm from the government and I'm here to help.” ― Jonah Goldberg
  • Inside of many liberals is a fascist struggling to get out. --John McCarthy
  • Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views. --William F. Buckley, Jr.
  • There's the great line: the definition of a liberal is someone who's afraid to take their own side in a fight. And that's my problem with my fellow liberals. --Paul Begala
  • Why is there never a headline that says "Government program ends as its intended goal has been achieved? --Oleg Atbashian
  • That is one reason "feelings" and "compassion" are two of the most often used liberal terms. "Character" is no longer a liberal word because it implies self-restraint. "Good and evil" are not liberal words either as they imply a moral standard beyond one's feelings. In assessing what position to take on moral or social questions, the liberal asks him or herself, "How do I feel about it?" or "How do I show the most compassion?" -- not "What is right?" or "What is wrong?" For the liberal, right and wrong are dismissed as unknowable, and every person chooses his or her own morality. ~ Dennis Prager
  • Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. --Karl Rove 
  • If you're a liberal, anything you say is protected. If you're a conservative, anything you say is hateful.
  • Liberals, it has been said, are generous with other peoples' money, except when it comes to questions of national survival when they prefer to be generous with other people's freedom and security. --William F. Buckley, Jr.
  • Including especially the Liberals, who pretend — and often quite honestly believe — that they are hot for liberty. They never really are. Deep down in their hearts they know, as good democrats, that liberty would be fatal to democracy — that a government based upon shifting and irrational opinion must keep it within bounds or run a constant risk of disaster. They themselves, as a practical matter, advocate only certain narrow kinds of liberty — liberty, that is, for the persons they happen to favor. The rights of other persons do not seem to interest them. If a law were passed tomorrow taking away the property of a large group of presumably well-to-do persons — say, bondholders of the railroads — without compensation and without even colorable reason, they would not oppose it; they would be in favor of it. The liberty to have and hold property is not one they recognize. They believe only in the liberty to envy, hate and loot the man who has it. --H.L. Mencken
  • The New Deal began, like the Salvation Army, by promising to save humanity. It ended, again like the Salvation Army, by running flop-houses and disturbing the peace. -H.L. Mencken
And there are those who see the faults of both:
  • A liberal is a person who believes that water can be made to run uphill. A conservative is someone who believes everybody should pay for his water. I'm somewhere in between: I believe water should be free, but that water flows downhill. --Theodore White
  • I claim neither liberalism nor conservatism - one tends to be airheaded while the other tends to be brickheaded.” ~ Criss Jami 
  • To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil. -- Charles Krauthammer 
  • Indeed, Miss Manners has come to believe that the basic political division in this country is not between liberals and conservatives but between those who believe that they should have a say in the love lives of strangers and those who do not. ~Judith Martin 
  • Liberals often don't see the problems, and conservatives don't see the promise, of government. --William Weld 
  • When you practice reporting for as long as I have, you keep yourself at a distance from True Believers. Either conservatives or liberals or Democrats or Republicans. --Bob Woodward 
  • All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. ~H.L. Mencken 
  • A man who has both feet planted firmly in the air can be safely called a liberal as opposed to the conservative, who has both feet firmly planted in his mouth. ~Jacques Barzun 
Liberals are right: Conservatives care more about money than people, and favor the rich over the poor. They're anti-intellectual, authoritarian, mean spirited and selfish.

And conservatives are right: Liberals favor barbarians, criminals and terrorists over the law abiding. They're moral and physical cowards, closet authoritarians, sophists, intellectually dishonest, and dilettantes.

Both conservatives and liberals apply Eli Wallach's great line from The Magnificent Seven: "If God did not want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep." The only real difference is who should do the shearing.

But there's a third important reason politicians lie, revealed in these remarks by H.L. Mencken:
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost... All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
We have political candidates who tell the truth: that services cost money, that cuts in taxes mean cuts in services, that oil is finite, that climate is changing, and every election day, we have a name for many of them: defeated.

Politicians lie because the voters want them to. This is my principal reason for refusing to talk to political pollsters. Their sole aim is to help their candidate say what the voters want to hear. And when people complain that politicians don't tell the truth, what they principally mean is that politicians don't tell their particular pet lies. Voters want to be told that there's an infinite amount of oil and we could have gasoline for 25 cents a gallon if it weren't for "them" (bureaucrats, Big Oil, Ay-rabs, environmentalists, or all of the above). They want to be told their taxes can be cut in half with no cuts in services, that they can find teachers who will make their lazy, spoiled and undisciplined kids brilliant for $20,000 a year, and that evolution is a lie.

And so they get candidates who say those things, and they vote for the one who prostitutes himself the worst. Most of the truthful candidates get weeded out in the primaries. But when the victorious candidate gets to work, even if he really believes the pap he told the voters,  reality smacks him in the face. Contractors just won't bid cheaply enough on sewers and roads. He'll either fail to deliver the cheap services he promised (and have angry voters call him a liar) or he'll have to vote for more taxes (and have angry voters call him a liar), or he'll try to take the money from some other program and get smacked down by supporters of that program. He'll discover there just isn't enough money to buy all the things everyone wants, and nobody has enough power to dismantle the programs they'd like to.

And so the disgruntled voters conclude they've been lied to yet again. Well of course they have. They voted against anyone who hinted at the truth. They voted for liars at every turn. They selected liars in the primaries and then select the grandest liars in the elections. So now they find their candidate can't deliver on his promises because he never had any intention of delivering on them, or they were unrealistic to begin with, or he goes back on his promises because he's between a rock and a hard place. If he votes to raise taxes, people will be angry. If he holds the line on taxes and the roads don't get fixed, the voters will be angry. Or, possibly most karmic of all, he actually gets what he promises and illustrates the adage "Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.". He taxes the wealthy and they retire and liquidate their businesses. He dismantles the Department of Education and college tuition climbs even faster. He dismantles farm subsidies and farmers go bankrupt and the cost of food skyrockets. He privatizes roads and prisons and the costs go up. He legalizes drugs and cities are overrun with drug users. He abolishes the FDA and counterfeit or contaminated medications are everywhere. And the voters call him a liar because they didn't expect all those bad side effects. My karma just ran over your dogma.

Finally, the fourth and most fundamental reason politicians lie: the public and the media lie.

My favorite example is the way NASA tightly managed media access to the Mercury astronauts in the early 1960's. Many critics have said that NASA "deceived" the public by portraying the Mercury astronauts as saints and heroes.

From fifty years in the future, it's incredible that we sent people into space on primitive rockets in craft that had less computing power than today's average cell phone. Hell, Mission Control had less computing power than today's average cell phone. Against that backdrop, who cares if some of the astronauts slept around or partied too hard? Who, really, was out to lie to the public: NASA, who kept the focus on the missions, or the news media hungry to sell gossip?

Here's another one. Currently there's a raging debate over opening a series of huge iron mines in Northern Wisconsin. I recently talked to an activist who shows a video on coal mining in the Appalachians to citizens' groups. There is no similarity whatsoever between coal and iron mining. The rocks are different, the methods are different, the environmental issues are different. Showing that video in this context is flagrantly dishonest.. It's lying and there is no nice way to say it.

So if someone transporting equipment at a nuclear power plant clips a doorway and chips the concrete, was there an "accident at a nuclear power plant?" Yes, if you define accident to include every mishap, No if you interpret the phrase "accident at a nuclear power plant" to mean something that might endanger public health and safety. Is the plant justified in concealing the incident from the media? Absolutely. They, and not the sensationalizers, are telling the truth.

But shouldn't the public decide that? If the public showed anything remotely like honesty and competence, yes. But in a society where people believe in creationism and deny climate change, the public has forfeited its right to complain about lying. You will get honest politicians when you can accept the truth. You will get honest information when you can accept and admit that information may not support your pet ideology. Both the public and the media wrench comments and incidents out of context to justify their preconceptions.

As long as we have a delusional electorate, we will get the government we deserve. Good and hard.