I’m thinking particularly about this new (I think it’s new) phenomenon of not caring about the line between truth and falsehood in American politics. Partisanship is one thing. Lying is another. We seem to have agreed to let political liars like Mitt Romney say anything and just shrug. He’s a politician. Politicians say whatever they have to say to get elected. He lied, you say? What are you, naïve? Of course he lied. It’s his job.
Not it’s not. That’s bullshit. It’s not his job to lie. It’s not OK that he lies. What the hell is wrong with people that they would accept lying as routine? And when did we cross over the line between allowing deceit to slip in here and there and embracing it enthusiastically?
Charles Blow has an article in today’s New York Times illustrating how Romney does it. Romney recently claimed that under Obama GE and Chrysler were sending thousands of jobs to China.
T’aint so. Read the true story, the growth of the automobile industry in the U.S., and you wonder how it is possible for a man who can read and write to get facts so totally wrong.
The lies are clearly deliberate. And that raises several questions. Why lie? Didn’t you learn in kindergarden that lies come back and bite you? Why believe lies? Fact checkers are working 24/7 to expose these lies. Any American following the news hears what the fact checkers have to say. Why are they ignoring them?
The answer can only be that people have committed to an ideology, and are determined to stick with it. Ideology rules with the leadership of the Republican Party – the Grover Norquist plan, for example, to raise no taxes, no matter if the lights go out, grandma loses her home or the ship of state goes down. 236 out of 242 Republicans have signed on, and only two democrats.
Also ideological is the Mitch McConnell declaration that his top priority is to get Obama out of office. Top priority means ahead of all else. Like keeping the country running. Like supporting the president when there are issues that cry out for bi-partisanship, like Hurricane Sandy.
And apparently also ideological is the commitment by nearly half of all Americans to vote for the Republicans despite the fact that they have taken to lying as a campaign strategy. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t have adopted it.
There is only one reason one would commit oneself to a liar. If the alternative were worse. People have decided that Obama is so bad that going with a liar is the lesser of two evils.
But why is he so bad? It can’t be his religion. He's a Christian, and until recently most religious Americans considered Mormonism a cult – and a Mormon somebody to vote against. It can’t be because he has an apparently model intact family – so does Obama. Those are trivial side issues. The real issue is economics. Romney supporters say it's because they believe he will be a better financial manager. But they know he lies about that, too, lies about facts and figures and where he will get money from to pay for more tax cuts for the rich. They don't care, so strong is their faith that Romney is a better candidate. How can this be?
I read the gay press and am amazed at the amount of lingering paranoia. “They hate us” is a never-ending mantra. “They will never vote for anybody who supports us.” Obama has clearly come down on the side of gay rights. Is that the reason? Surely not. The numbers don’t match. Besides, Obama came down on the side of gay rights because the tide has turned and most Americans are now coming down on the side of gay rights. That’s not the reason.
By process of elimination, one nagging thought remains, and that is the culture war notion that the Republicans are the party of traditional white male dominance, and Obama represents both plurality, and race plain and simple. Is it deep seated racism that lies behind our willingness as a people to accept open, in-your-face, blatant lying as par for the course? I’ve always pooh-poohed that notion. It’s too simple, although I'm hardly alone in reaching this conclusion. But I'm damned if I can come up with a better explanation.
If this is racism raising its ugly head one more time, we’ve got a problem. But that’s speculation. I have no social science research to back this up and it's entirely possibly my reasoning is faulty. What’s fact is that we have an even worse problem. A ready acceptance of untruth signals a serious moral breakdown in American public life. Face it, all moral codes, whatever they disagree on, agree on the importance of two things: we must avoid violence, and we must avoid deceit. Shunning violence is self-evident. Deceit, you have to think about, maybe. But if you do, you realize that without honesty there is no trust. Without trust there is no foundation for living with others in society.
Brushing off lies told by politicians allows us to pat ourselves on the back and call ourselves sophisticated. We’re in the know. Not naïve. Realists.
It’s like giving a loaded gun to a baby.