Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lies, Damn Lies, and Damned Lies

It is true that lying has been part of politics for as long as we have had organized, or at least semi-organized politics, here in the United States, but for most of that period there were at least occasional moments or outbursts of truth. But the truth in politics gradually began to disappear and under the Bush/Cheney administration vanished entirely. It is highly doubtful that either George W. Bush or Dick Cheney ever told the truth about anything, and thus was ushered in a period where the concept of truth disappeared from political discourse. This has now become so ingrained in our discourse that if anyone utters a true statement no one can recognize it as true. Lying has become so ubiquitous and so commonplace I believe we need to study it carefully. Perhaps we need something like “The New Science of Prevarication,” or perhaps “Lieology,” or for those who eschew science, perhaps “Lieosophy.”Allow me to make some rudimentary suggestions as to how to begin this analysis.

I think there are at least three distinct categories of lying that might be distinguished: Lies, Damned Lies, and Damnable Lies. I admit the lines between these three categories are not always clear and distinct, but one has to begin somewhere. Lies are easy enough, more or less everyone recognizes ordinary lies. I will concentrate here on Republican lies, not because Democrats don’t lie, but because Democratic lies are sort of puny when compared to the lies of Republicans, and there are more readily available examples from Republicans. When Willard Mitt Romney, for example, says that his first name is Mitt, we are aware this is a lie. Similarly, when he says he has been a hunter all his life, we know he is lying. When he claims to have been a job creator as Governor we might pause and wonder but suspect he is lying. These are merely small-time, ordinary, relatively innocuous lies that we can understand, lies that do not have a very important bearing on anything, somewhat more than “little white lies,” but not lies that are very important.

Damn lies are more important, more complex, more difficult to deal with, and may have more important consequences. For example, when Boehner says the House has passed 30 jobs bills that the Senate has not acted on, he is lying, and his lie may improperly influence people. When Franklin Graham implies that President Obama may be a Muslim he is probably lying (as I doubt he believes this) and may also influence people improperly. Damn lies are the most difficult kinds of lies to understand as sometimes the person saying them may actually believe them thus complicating matters. Rick Santorum says, for example, that global warming is a “hoax.” He may or may not believe that but it is a damn lie and can have very unfortunate consequences if others believe it. Most everything Santorum says can probably be subsumed under the category of Damn Lies. For further examples: Obama is trying to attack religion, he is weak on foreign policy, he is responsible for the price of gasoline, Obama promotes a different theology, or perhaps ideology, Santorum is not very clear on this point, but it apparently has something to do with Obama trying to protect the environment from humans further plundering the earth’s resources (Santorum believes humans are more important than the earth and should be able to plunder it at will). It is difficult to tell with Santorum’s lies whether or not he is lying or might actually believe what he claims. He has said something to the effect that “when you have a top down health care system run by the government, patients are just commodities…” This is an obvious lie but it is possible he might believe it. It is a lie because it is precisely the opposite of the truth, it is only in a capitalistic system (in this case a system involving insurance companies) that patients become commodities. In government run health care systems, where there is health care for all, the patients and their health are protected by the government because it is in the best interest of the government to maintain a healthy population. Insurance based systems are run for profit. All industrialized societies take responsibility for the health of their citizens, EXCEPT the United States. All claims that Obama is not a citizen, is a socialist, communist, fascist, or “other,” all fall pretty clearly under the category of Damn Lies, and potentially cause damage to our political system.

When you come to the category of Damnable Lies, things are somewhat more easy to understand. Damnable Lies are those made up, often on the spur of the moment, with no basis whatsoever in fact, for the purpose of calling attention to the speaker, shocking the listeners, and deliberately sowing dissention, and for no other purpose than that.

There is a further dimension of discourse currently involved in our politics that does not readily come under any category of lying, although it does involve lies (or sometimes hallucinations or magical thinking). LaPierre, for example, the head of the NRA, insists that Obama has a plan to take away everyone’s guns. Obama has done nothing in the way of suggesting this and has, in fact, signed into law at least one bill making it easier for people to own guns. But LaPierre continues to promote his conspiracy theory that Obama is just pretending and will do away with guns in his second term. It is a lie, but a lie based upon some kind of paranoid fantasy in the mind of LaPierre. Similarly, a Republican, Bob Morris, of the Indiana State Congress, insists that the Girl Scouts are part of a deal with Planned Parenthood to subvert our children, promote abortion, and so on. He also insists that both Michele and Barack Obama are “radical pro-abortionists.” I cannot conceive of anyone being a radical pro-abortionist but, as they say in Pidgin, “B’long all.” More importantly, along these lines, and perhaps more important, when Santorum claims the “Devil is attacking America” you know you have left the realm of reality and entered another world.

Santorum slops over into the category of Damnable Lies when he says things like global warming is a conspiracy on the part of environmentalists to consolidate power, or Obama is attacking religion. But the indisputable king of Damnable Lies is Newt (the Odious) Gingrich. Gingrich blurts out Damnable Lies at any moment one seems to enter his head. “Obama is the most dangerous President in the history of the United States,” for example. Or, “Defeating Barack Obama becomes, in fact, a duty of national security. Because the fact is, he is incapable of defending the United States.” Curiously, Damned Lies are probably not as bad or as dangerous as Damn Lies, because the former are so transparently just manufactured, obvious, and outrageous.

I do not suggest this is anything more than a primitive attempt to deal with the complex web of lies we now confront on a daily basis. We doubtless need a new Foundation, generously endowed and well furnished with the best brains available, to deal with an issue of such monumental importance. On the other hand, we can just go on disbelieving everything we hear from our politicians and news media, accepting that as “just the way it is.”

I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace.

George W. Bush

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