Thursday, March 22, 2012

Liar in Waiting

Politicians stretch the truth.  They omit inconvenient truths.  They imply something they know is not true in the hopes that people will believe it while they can deny they actually said it.  They inflate the importance of something (knowing it is not that important) or minimize the importance of something they know is really serious.

None of this is admirable.  All of it interferes with the public's ability to justly judge the meaning of positions, decisions and actions.  Some of it is more forgiven when done in an election campaign, rather than by an officeholder in the performance of duties.  But out and out lying is still a little scandalous--so scandalous that mainstream media is very trepidatious about calling a lie a lie.  It was this tendency that allowed the "swiftboating" of John Kerry to proceed, when it was all based on vicious lies. 

Now Rachel Maddow has exposed Mitt Romney as a serial and unapologetic liar.  She did one segment on Wednesday, illustrating the proposition "that a man who may well take the oath of office in 10 months is choosing to get to that podium on a foundation of utterly unashamed, unprecedented deceit."

This segment started with the Etch-A-Sketch scandal (responding to a question of whether Romney could move towards the center in the general election campaign after taking such hard right positions in the primary, a Romney strategist said sure, moving from primaries to the general is like shaking an Etch-a-Sketch, you just start over) but moved quickly beyond flip-flopping and pandering to a pattern of outright lying. This ignited something of a media kerfluffle, but she made more of a case of Romney the liar on Thursday.  (Both video segments are here.) 

I've been calling Romney a liar for awhile, so I can add only this further observation to what Rachel and her staff have documented.  Beginning perhaps with the de facto lies promulgated by Lee Atwater for Bush I, but in any case for most of a generation now, using lies has been a growing part of the GOPer political playbook.  As one kind of de facto lying gets by and then becomes standard, a more baldfaced sort of lying becomes possible, and then used, and then accepted.  This has been going on for so long that a generation of GOPers--as old now as their 30s and maybe even 40s--has grown up with lying as a standard political technique. 

They may have to make some false equivalences with what Democrats do to help them justify it, but basically they see it as standard.  The Romney brand of lying is a direct product of the Karl Rove school of politics.  It also happens to have become standard during the rise of the Christian right in the Republican party.  I can't pretend to explain or understand how systematic lying comports with fundamentalist Christianity.  There's some ends versus the means going on that contradicts the Christianity I was indoctrinated with in my youth.  But I do see the effectiveness of putting the two things together, so that people can lie while sounding righteous.  (That's one of Romney's problems--he lies so blandly.)   

We aren't talking about different interpretations.  We're talking about lies, about statements of facts which Romney knows are not true.  About telling lies to audiences and reporters, which Romney routinely does.  We're talking about editing the statements of political opponents in ads or in statements by Romney's campaign or supporters that make President Obama or President Clinton say pretty much the opposite of what they in fact said.  These kinds of lies strike at the foundation of democratic government.  They make authentic dialogue about important issues impossible.  And that's probably the point.  They create a culture of ignorance, and feed it with lies.        

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