Politicians: They May All Lie, But We Don't Have To Join Them
There's a trend I've noticed -- an "out" we give ourselves in political arguments. It's easy these days -- given the abundance of information available -- to know when a candidate is being dishonest. And yet it is staggering to me to observe the lengths to which we will go to defend our candidate. We stick up for someone when we know that they are, in fact, not telling the truth.
Of course, this drives us crazy when we see other people doing this. We may wonder, for example, how Hillary Clinton supporters could not see how she is obviously being less than truthful about the whole Benghazi thing. Or how Trump supporters can stand there and let him say that Eisenhower deported 1.5 million Mexicans. How can anyone believe these ridiculous statements?
And I get it. Hillary's candidacy means more than just upholding traditionally Democratic policies. Trump's candidacy speaks to the pent up anger in much of the electorate.
But...I mean...come on...Hillary said that ISIS is showing Donald Trump videos as a recruiting tool. Yes, I realize that such a video has now been produced, but there hadn't been one until Ms. Clinton said what she said -- which makes what she said an untruth. Or -- to use the vernacular -- a lie. She told a lie.
Mr. Trump called her a liar and recounted a few other times when Ms. Clinton stretched the truth. Of course, this was coming from a man who claims that the real unemployment rate is 42%.
So, what is your reaction when you hear these things?
Do you say, "Hillary is right in spirit"? Do you say, "Donald Trump is speaking about something bigger than just one thing"? Do you claim that, while the specifics may be off, the principle is valid generally speaking? Do you say, "Oh...they're going to talk about telling the truth? That's rich! Have you heard the lies they've spouted?"
There may be some validity to these reactions, but they're also exercises in self-deception. There was no video of Donald Trump being used by ISIS to recruit people. That's not true. Eisenhower did oversee "Operation Wetback" -- but the number Trump uses is inflated. No reputable historian would agree that 1.5 million Mexicans were deported. It's not true.
You could say there's a kernel of truth in these statements. You could say they're pointing in the right direction. You could say the statements are not literally true, but they're true in spirit. You could say they get the gist of the story correct. You could say a lot of things, but, in the end, you also have to admit: They're not telling the truth.
You could also say, "C'mon, John, you're not trying to tell us that this is the most important piece of news we could be debating in this election cycle, are you? Is it fair for you to be parsing their words like this? Would you want people to do that with your statements?"
And I might say, "That's a great point to make...if you're looking for ways to be less than completely honest with yourself about what your candidate is saying."
We give ourselves so many outs -- so many excuses -- all because we don't want to confront the idea that our candidate may not be a truthful person. We congratulate our friends for advancing the cause -- not for adhering rigidly to the facts.
Every President in history has called for Congress to give him a simple up-or-down vote. That's the only right thing to do here. But when it's their party who loses control of Congress, the call for a straight up-or-down vote goes out the window. Conservatives look at issues like abortion and voter ID rights and call for states rights -- the states need to make these determinations. But when it comes to marriage equality they want a constitutional amendment banning the states from determining who can and who cannot get married. And what about gun restrictions or marijuana legalization? Where are the states rights advocates then?
“Let me be clear,” Attorney General Eric Holder emphatically declared in a 2012 speech to the NAACP, “we will not allow political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious rights.” Holder’s remarks were a call to arms against efforts by Republicans to require that voters show identification when they go to vote.
This prompted then Senator Bob Barr from my home state of Georgia to write a response defending concealed carry permits. He wrote, "The fact that this President and his Attorney General remain deaf, dumb and indifferent to the blatantly discriminatory anti-Second Amendment actions by liberal state and local governments, even as they rail against voter ID laws, is testimony to the constitutional hypocrisy that is at the very core of this presidency."
Yes, constitutional hypocrisy. Presidential overreach.
One could make the argument that those were words that could have described President George W. Bush's "Patriot Act" or his unilateral decision to use T.A.R.P. funds to bail out the auto industry. Of course, I've just finished reading an article that says, basically, "Sure, Bush was bad, but Obama (with his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act) is WAY worse."
It's never as bad when it's our guy; it's always WAY worse when it's the other guy. And, okay, it's no shock to say that hypocrisy abounds in politics. But I'm not just talking about hypocrisy; I'm saying that when we recognize that our team is veering in the direction of potential hypocrisy, something short-circuits the normal thought process of evaluating a statement to see if it honors our deepest values.
If you're one of the folks who were bothered when W. expanded the powers of the Presidency, did you have a momentary pause when you heard what Obama did with immigrants or with gun laws? Or do you simply say, "I can't believe the other guys are questioning my guy after what their guy did -- those hypocrites"?
It's true. The other guy did it, too. But when we jump to the charge of hypocrisy, we fail to hold ourselves to our own standards and ideals.
Is it wrong to filibuster to thwart democracy? I guess it depends on whether or not I like the guy who's doing the filibustering.
Is it wrong to rule by executive order? I guess it depends on who is in the White House.
Is it wrong to gerrymander one party into office? I guess it depends on which party we're talking about.
There are so few examples these days of people who actually engage in political dialogue. I'm not talking about politicians right now; I'm talking about you and me -- regular folks -- halfway engaged citizens who actually evaluate their own claims, their own principles, the claims the politicians we support make. How many of us are willing to say, "Wait a minute -- this flat tax plan advocated by the Republicans sounds an awful lot like the crazy idea that California liberal Jerry Brown had back in 1992"?
Republicans hated it back then, calling it preposterous and dangerously naive. And then four years later Steve Forbes suggested it and Republicans have been in love with it ever since. Why can't we admit that?
Maybe because we're too busy saying, "Yeah but...their side is worse. Yeah but...their side would have screwed it up. Yeah but...their side was saying it for all the wrong reasons."
You can make an argument that the other side is full of hypocrites, but is that the fundamental issue? That the other side does it, too?
I'm not naive enough to believe that, when confronted with the facts, a candidate will take something back and say, "Oh, I was mistaken. I apologize. I take it back." No, if anything, the polls show that doubling down on your half-truths or blatant falsehoods pays off.
But I'm not really talking about them. I'm talking about us. I'm talking about you. I'm talking about me. We all fall into this trap of supporting our guy -- even when he lies -- because their guy's lies are worse. And that's a terrible kind of support.
I wish we had the courage when confronted with a misstatement made by our guy to just say, "Okay. Yes. That was a lie, and it's wrong to tell lies." Maybe then we could recapture some kind of moral high ground from which we could call our leaders to account.