by 99 Seats
I was thinking about posting a comment to Isaac's post here about believability and lies, but I decided to just do a separate post, because the issue of truth and lies is, well, important, especially in politics right now.
I have a few "libertarian" or "independent" or "apolitical"* friends in my FB and Twitter worlds (and I know we have a reader or two here from the right end of the spectrum) and I've noticed in recent weeks a common thread popping up. When the discussion about honesty in politics comes up, usually one of them chimes in with a dismissive post about how ALL politicians lie, so you can't trust anything any of them say at any time. This response usually comes up like this: a liberal or left-leaning person points out an outright un-truth that someone on the right has said, the "libertarian" says Obama lied about something, too and then it's pointed out that that "lie" isn't really a lie, then we get, "Well, everyone lies, so it doesn't really matter." Except it does. I think it matters a lot.
Isaac ends his post with this:
I guess the real question I have here amidst all of this is... how are we to determine what candidate statements we take seriously and which we don't? Obviously, I like Obama so I'm inclined to believe him. I don't like Romney so I'm inclined not to. But that seems a very poor way to go about judging this whole thing.
Here's the thing: it isn't really a matter of personal like or dislike. I'm a big ol' leftie, so I find Obama's arguments persuasive. I understand how someone who is right-leaning can find Romney's arguments persuasive. Those are things open to personal feelings. Facts, though, are not. When we're talking about whether or not something is true, it's pretty simple: it's either true or it's not. And that is often fairly apparent, if you take more than one second and do the minimum amount of research. Just Google it. And then (and this is actually key) read the things that come up.
The "independents" I'm talking about, as far as I can see, don't seem to want to do that. They make a statement, hear an alternate statement, then throw their hands up and walk away. That's also how our press acts. We're reaching a point, as many, many people have noted, where our political pundit class is helpless to confront outright lies. The push to remain "neutral" and "cordial" means not actually calling someone a liar when they are. But it also means that the very idea of lies has changed.
I'm not a Pollyanna. All of my life, politicians have bent, altered, sweetened, curved facts to fit the narrative they're selling. You couldn't quite trust what they said. In the most famous example ever, it depended on what meaning of the word is. They promised the moon, possibly knowing they can't deliver it. Okay, fine. Not exactly honest, but not lying. Not really. When people say Obama lied, they point to the claim that he created 4.5 million jobs, repeated regularly at the DNC. It's, at best, truthy. This is often paired with the Romney "claim"** that Obama has sought to waive work requirements for welfare recipients. By all objective measure, there is no truth to that "claim." It's an actual lie. Can we really say that both politicians are "lying?"
And yet...we do. Obama promised a number of things, particularly in the realm of indefinite detentions, Gitmo, Bush-era anti-terrorism policies and didn't follow through. Disappointing, yes. But not lies. Paul Ryan's RNC speech was full of statements that are objectively not true. Those are lies. There is a difference between those two. If we let liars continue to determine what is true, we do so at our peril.
*I use the quotes here because, in general, these people parrot right-wing memes and ideas, hold right-wing values, and yet claim not to be right-wing. I'm unconvinced.
**For obvious reasons, I refuse to honor that lie by using the weasel word "claim."