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September 26, 2004

Comments

Oh, come on, tell us....

I think you ignore the media's responsibility here. It has often been pointed out elsewhere that much newspaper reporting has descended to reporting statements made, with little or no effort to evaluate their truth. The point bears repeating. Politicians would lie less if they were called on it more often. Isn't that that job of the press?

There seem to be a number of factors causing this. One is simple laziness, or ignorance. Another is the attitude that everything is simply a matter of opinion - "Opinions on Shape of Earth Differ." This leads to "evenhandedness" being seen as a universal ideal, rather than an attitude appropriate to situations where opposing points of view each actually have some legitimacy. Too often, it seems, the reporter simply consults his rolodex for "regular source of opposing opinion on this topic," without bothering to go any further.

Unfortunately, the rise of cable news has in some ways made the problem worse also. "Crossfire" type shows put a premium on loud and insistent repetition of sound bites. Their guests are selected not for expertise, but for strong vocal chords, and their hosts are selected for partisanship. What could be more useless than having a couple of journalists trade blows with a couple of political operatives over Social Security, say? This extends even to the milder political shows. It is interesting that there is no topic that these talking heads shy away from. Are TV "pundits" really experts on foreign policy, macroeconomics, taxes, trade, military strategy, etc.?

I suspect, though I don't really know, that the "pundit system" encourages partisan idiocy, rather than real debate. I assume that it helps a lot in getting on these shows to have good political contacts. This is no doubt easier if you are a reliable conduit for talking points rather than an objective analyst.

So yes, hilzoy, citizens should try harder to inform themselves. But it would be helpful if the most readily available sources of information were a little more careful about the facts.

Bernard: I completely agree with you about the media. I didn't stress it more because my main point was (supposed to be): we cannot tolerate it when they lie, and we should never allow ourselves to accept it as inevitable.

Kevin: if I tell all, I will lose my aura of mystery, and then where would I be?

Kevin: if I tell all, I will lose my aura of mystery, and then where would I be?

Untenured?

Nah, I have tenure. Heh heh. -- Though perhaps your point is that tenure provides my aura of mystery (as in, why on earth did they tenure her? ;) )

Nah, I have tenure.

Then the following exchange from Futurama seems apropos:

Poopenmeyer: Dr Wernstrom, can you save my city?

Wernstrom: Of course. But it'll cost you. First I'll need tenure.

Poopenmeyer: Done.

Wernstrom: And a big research grant.

Poopenmeyer: You got it.

Wernstrom: Also, access to a lab and five graduate students, at least three of them Chinese.

Poopenmeyer: Um, alright done. What's your plan?

Wernstrom: What plan? I'm set for life! Au revoir suckers!

[He walks out.]

Sorry, cut the end off the transcript there:

Leela: That rat! Do something!

Poopenmeyer: I wish I could but, he's got tenure!

While some people seem to think that it's inevitable that politicians lie, it is not

Of course it is. The truth can be painful, people prefer to avoid it. This is the basis for religion as well as for prolonged deficit spending.

"Optimism", they call it.

The candidate that tells the best story and has the nicest smile wins.

It's not so easy to use your vote to punnish liars, when both viable candidates for some office lie whenever it's convenient.

--John

Well, I agree with the post entirely, but the solution sounds a little like an episode of How to Do It -- all we have to do is to get everyone to be a smart voter and spend lots of time thinking about stuff they're not interested in and choose the spinach isntead of the cake. Somehow I don't see the political lie losing its effectiveness anytime soon.

And Anarch, thanks for the laugh (although as soon as I saw that you were quoting a Futurama script, I should've stopped reading until the boss left the general area -- I had a hard time convincing him that my belly laugh was motivated by the pure joy of working so hard at something I love so much).

I remember discussions about the electorate becoming more informed since Watergate. What I have seen change though is the dumbing down of the press since the ubiquitousness of cable.
The old "top three" had a sense of pride and responsibilty added to their competetiveness with each other. No longer. Newspapers are losing annual readership and to stem the flow push closer to USA Today more than the old NYT or even the WSJ or the CS Monitor.
What has happened to the shame associated with being caught in a lie?
If "lies" are just considered "political spin" by the press then the only folks being "caught" are the press.
It would be nice if journalism became a fact finding industry again but then again...I have to go now, Entertainment Tonight is on and I don't want to miss it.

There are lies and there are lies.

I'm a bit unsettled by some of Hilzoy's examples; fr'instance, Eisenhower lying about the U-2 overflights should be considered justifiable given the historical context. Of course, it was Ike's bad luck the Soviets had not just wreckage but a live pilot. BTW, one could go back to FDR's 'lend-lease program' for a similar instance where a lie had a noble purpose.

Bill Clinton lying about Monica Lewinsky was hardly admirable but the overreaction that followed was truly the real story.

Better examples certainly include LBJ as the Peace candidate or the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Or Nixon's 'secret plan' or the Watergate coverup. Certainly, Bush's lies to rationalize attacking Iraq rank right up there.

But let's get to what I think was the true thrust of Hilzoy's post; that is, certain lies have serious ramifications for the nation. Such lies render this country weaker and more divided. And that the media generally does a poor job of educating the public about the issues--allowing politicians to exploit the issues and lie quite brazenly without fear of penalty.

Are we talking out and out lies easily recognized as obvious whoppers, slanderous and despicable claims and accusations that no one can dispute? Or pusillanimous pussyfooting on the critical issues from nattering nabobs of negativism. Lies may be the smallest percentage of the discretions. We live in an ocean of political distortion. We talk about the gullibility of the electorate. These folks that work hard all day, try to raise their kids to adulthood and grasp a simple pleasure or two from daily life. They come home at night read the local newspaper and catch an hour of the evening news. And what they're exposed to is the most shameless ration of BS imaginable. These are truly the disenfranchised. Politicians stretch the truth, the media stretches the truth, elite representative of the down and out du jour stretch the truth, poll questioning stretches the truth. And we wonder why people from far off foreign lands think Americans are a bunch of hypocrites. If we're not stretching the truth, we're accusing others of lying. And to prove that we as individuals are the only ones not stretching the truth we baffle them with a five point circle argument in ten parts making much adieu about nothing. Sometimes I think we just crack ourselves up.


You express an admirable sentiment; however, I place the burden on the voter here. If voters really valued truth, they would behave differently.

There are many issues on which voters basically demand to be lied to; taxes and our various entitlement programs being prominent examples. It is nearly impossible for politicians to win re-election by explaining tradeoffs and costs associated with the things that voters claim to want. It is rare for a politician to win esteem by shooting straight--John McCain is just about the closest thing we have to an honest one, and George Bush beat him handily in the 2000 Republican primary.

Now, I may be biased against voters due to the fact them I consider the vast majority of them to be ignoramuses. I suppose that makes me an elitist bastard.

So be it.

I suppose that makes me an elitist bastard.

I say "Elitist Bastards Unite!"

Really, I'm finally growing angry about this country's love affair with stupdity. If you have a good argument against something, let's hear it, but to dismiss something because it's too "intellectual" or too "cultural," as if those things were not gifts from God, is beyond ignorant...it's heretical.

Now, I may be biased against voters due to the fact them I consider the vast majority of them to be ignoramuses.

The quintessential problem with democracy. Anyone who thinks it's a good idea to put "the people" in charge hasn't met a wide range.

Oh, sorry to be all "off-topic," but really I'm astounded that nobody here has noticed that flying cars are the future.

Oh, sorry to be all "off-topic," but really I'm astounded that nobody here has noticed that flying cars are the future.

I wrote about this ages ago...

Yeah, I know -- that's why I thought you might have blogged this Times piece. Alas.

Are we talking out and out lies easily recognized as obvious whoppers, slanderous and despicable claims and accusations that no one can dispute?

Unfortunately, Blogbuds, we've discovered over the course of the Bush attack campaign that even when Bush or Cheney tell obvious whoppers or indulge in slanderous and despicable claims, there are always going to be Republicans who claim that they're really true or it's really not slanderous - for example, the recent thread on the slanderous and despicable claims by Republican leadership that because Kerry is criticising Bush's conduct of the Iraq war, Kerry is a traitor. I do recall at least one Republican defending that, don't you?

First of all, Kerry's not a traitor. Second, we can always count on the bell curve to support our arguments. Third, and probably not final, and we beat this up faily well in previous threads, if you can criticize, you can criticize the criticism. And downward and downward. If you follow my posts, I don't hold politics on a very high level on the whole. Right down there along side network television. When elections are lost, it usually reflects a poor campaign or a poor campaigner.

First of all, Kerry's not a traitor.

Of course not. But Bush and Cheney and other samples of GOP leadership are campaigning saying that he is.

if you can criticize, you can criticize the criticism.

Certainly. And you can (and you should) call slanderous and despicable claims - such as Kerry "giving aid and comfort to the enemy" - by their right name. Not criticism, but vile calumny.

When elections are lost, it usually reflects a poor campaign or a poor campaigner.

Bush lost the 2000 election... ;-) I'm just sayin'.

Uhh ... take a closer look. Real "lies" from politicians are quite rare. (Cheney's continuing insistance on a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein is an example of a real lie.) What you have is "spin" -- take the facts and wrap a story around them that makes your side look as good as possible.

If somebody wanted to pass a bill that would provide an underfunded mandate for expensive school tests, whose results would be gimmicked to cut as much Federal funding as possible from as many schools as possible, they'd never call it the "Unfunded Test Act" or the "School Fund Denial Act". They'd call it the "No Child Left Behind Act". No lie here, but enough spin that mostfolls (including political reporters) can't see beyond the packaging.

We need reporters who can and will look inside the package and report on what's there.

"Are we talking out and out lies easily recognized as obvious whoppers, slanderous and despicable claims and accusations that no one can dispute?"

I, at least, was talking about anything you can recognize as a lie, though of course some are worse than others. And my point was basically what praktike said: "If voters really valued truth, they would behave differently." But with two additional bits: first, since we are voters, let's do it. And second, these lies are not just divisive; they are threats to democracy.

I mean: whenever I lie in order to get someone to do something she wouldn't do if she knew the truth, I am basically arrogating to myself the right to decide not just what I will do, but what she will do. (I am saying, like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, "I'll do the thinking for both of us.") This is wrong in general. But it is especially wrong when a candidate for office in a democracy does this to voters. For it is completely and totally undemocratic to try to mislead voters into voting for you when you think you can't make the case on the merits.

There are only three ways in which we, the voters, can make informed choices. First, by doing all the research required to understand what each candidate might do. Second, by being able to trust the candidates to tell us what they are actually planning to do. Third, by having really good media who actually inform us about the issues at hand. I agree with kenb that the first is a bit unrealistic; but I think it's important to ask: what, exactly, is the alternative, if we don't want our democracy to degenerate? We have to be able to trust either the candidates or the media. Now: some politicians might tell the truth out of conviction and decency. But if we want to avoid relying on this, then we have to make it in their interest not to lie. And this means punishing them at the ballot box.

Some lies are worse than others, and when both candidates lie, I think it matters to ask whose lies are worse, if only because the existence of some lines that candidates cannot cross without serious consequences is really important.

hilzoy - " I think it matters to ask whose lies are worse,..."

Me to, and I've decide yours does. Besides, most supporters of emotional issues proclaim the end justifies the means. So now what, it's back to the grim reaper - the election.

...and Jesurgislac, thank goodness for the wisdom of our founding fathers and the Electoral College. The big city proletariat almost stole that election away from mainstream America. I still think the liberal fringe is intellectually numbed by Gore's stunningly poor campaign, truthfully revealing an extremely poor candidate.

News flash: our democracy is degenerate.

Exhibit A is the fact that only around 30 House seats are actually up for grabs in a given election year, due to the nefarious legacy of Elbridge Gerry.

I never realized just how pernicious this system was until I was reading the foreign press recently, from which vantagepoint the system looks like something one would see in one of those places we like to invade.

blogbudsman: "hilzoy - " I think it matters to ask whose lies are worse,..."

Me to, and I've decide yours does."

Which lie would that be, exactly? Absent a good answer, this seems to me to violate posting rules, though I'll let someone else make that call since you're saying it about me.

"The big city proletariat almost stole that election away from mainstream America."

Excuse me?

First of all, I'm not sure you know what "proletariat" means:

Main Entry: pro·le·tar·i·at
Pronunciation: "prO-l&-'ter-E-&t, -'tar-, -E-"at
Function: noun
Etymology: French prolétariat, from Latin proletarius
1 : the lowest social or economic class of a community
2 : the laboring class; especially : the class of industrial workers who lack their own means of production and hence sell their labor to live

Second of all, get it through your head that Manhattan is as much of a part of America as Nebraska, Georgia, or anywhere else. And a plurality of American voters cannot, by definition, be out of the mainstream.

Third, since when does "outvoting" translate to "stealing"? And don't tell me you meant the various recounts etc.*; you said that if not for the electoral college the "big city proletariat" would have stolen the election from "mainstream America".

*those charges of Gore trying to steal the election are also crap, but it's not quite as egregious as arguing that it's theft for people who live in cities to outvote people who don't.

Further to Marguerite's point, Matthew Yglesias notes

nothing pisses me off more than the implication that some parts of the country are more "really" America than others...we're none of us masquerading pseudoamericans here. Indeed, it's bizarre that the Northeastern part of the country -- the part that was settled first, the part that led the Revolution, the part that led the nation to victory in the Civil War -- has somehow acquired a reputation as less authentically American than a lot of Johnny-come-lately squarish ersatz states and a big swathe of the southeast that decided one time to launch a violent, treasonous effort to maintain the institution of chattel slavery and turn North America into a British sphere of influence.

I totally agree with that...even the tone.

"Absent a good answer, this seems to me to violate posting rules, though I'll let someone else make that call since you're saying it about me."

Yup, that's a violation; looks like "Too Broad a Brush" type. This is your one warning: the Posting Rules are here. Please read them before commenting here again.

Moe

hilzoy, then I made my point poorly. If it matters who's lies are worse, then a determination has to be made. Your arguments, though painstakenly presented, haven't swayed me from my arguments however weak you consider them. So, then, therefore, I think your candidate's are worse (not you hilzoy, would never intentionally imply that - although by not agreeing with your arguement I can only assume you're misinformed or have somehow misconstrued certain elements of the facts or have emotionally overlooked some fine points somewhere along the line - whatever) And I must be able to accept you think the same about me, or that I am just lying, and due to posting protocal have chosen not to say so.

blogbudsman: The big city proletariat almost stole that election away from mainstream America.

Marguerite already pointed out how foolish that kind of comment is: I don't think there's really much left to say.

Except: I still think the liberal fringe is intellectually numbed by Gore's stunningly poor campaign, truthfully revealing an extremely poor candidate.

And yet, that "extremely poor candidate" (your judgement) won the popular vote. More Americans who voted wanted Gore to be President than wanted Bush. So if Gore was running a stunningly poor campaign, and was an extremely poor candidate, it can only mean that Bush's campaign was worse, and so was Bush. ;-)

Honestly and truthfully, I think the 2000 election was one in which most voters voted by party, not because they were especially drawn to either candidate: we can agree to disagree on why that was. What it really proved was that Democrats have a slight majority in the US...

...and reading on, I can see that I'm in further hot water. When you are in essentially a verbal argument by means of written postings, danger abounds. All I've heard is how Gore got the popular vote and the election was stolen. So when you try to defend the Electorial College without having to reconstruct history line by line, and flip the stealing argument that's been ringing in my ears, you get righteous indignation. Well, I'm sensitive too. And all I hear is our country is being lead by an administration of liars. I read the arguments and mull the accusations and I don't buy them. And a lot of other people don't buy them either. Although I support the conservative candidate, most of my thought process is moderate. And I know when I type a rant, I can be flip and sarcastic, but I really enjoy the exchanges. I yam, what I yam. Ask me to leave, and I'll go quietly. I need to get more work done anyhow.

blogbudsman, the major problem is that we're facing here what is probably an impossible task; to wit, trying to keep a large number of people with wildly divergent political views from ripping into each other a la Usenet. This is, as you might have seen, an issue.

I don't like banning people - well, except for spambots, but that's different - but we need to keep the criticisms of what goes on out there apart from what goe on in here, or it all goes downhill fast. I've been part of blog comment boards where this rule wasn't in effect, and it ain't pretty. That means, among other things, that I have to be kind of finger-shaking when it comes to imprecise language.

That being said, I'll be initiating tonight a round-robin with the cobloggers to address this and work out a consensus (if they want to jump the gun, that's cool). You folks deserve a consistent policy.

I say Ban the Bastards...the lot of 'em...NO...wait...Burn the bastards...no wait, flay the bastards and feed their entrails to the subway rats...

We are talking about the Baltimore Ravens, no?

:P

Perhaps a spin on the St, Catherine's Wheel? (You know how you spend your time in one part of the web and suddenly, quite by accident, you find whole other realms you never really thought about? I googled medieval torture devices just now, and all I have to say is, there sure are a lot of deeply peculiar erotic sites out there.)

blogbudsman, I suspect part of the problem is a flip comment I made in response to your claim that Gore ran a poor campaign and was a poor candidate. Even if that were so, Bush still lost the popular vote. It would be easier if you would just acknowledge that this is a fact*, rather that trying to dive off into defending the Electoral College system or claiming that the 2000 election was stolen (okay, "almost stolen").

*I mean, we can disagree all you like on the interpretation of that fact. But it's so.

there sure are a lot of deeply peculiar erotic sites out there

How dare you make such a statement and not provide links, so that we can, um, research your claim. ;-)

KenB, on the Internet, a statement such as "there sure are a lot of deeply peculiar erotic sites out there" requires intensive personal research. You can't just take someone's word for it, not even Goddess Hilzoy's.

Just go to Google, type in medieval torture devices, and, um...

Yes. Peculiar.

Jes, I don't think it's true that Dems have a majority.

I think the Elephants have a larger base, and Democrats tend to soak up more unaffiliated voters based on the issues.

Traditionally more people self-identify themselves as democrats than the republicans.
Neither is a majority though. High 30's/low 40's if I remember correctly.

Jesurgislac - "But it's so."

'Tis

Hilzoy,

Are you sure that's from Casablanca? It may be, but I don't think so.

Bernard: It is from Casablanca, but it's not exact.
"Rick Blaine: Last night we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I've done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing: you're getting on that plane with Victor where you belong."
(Google is wonderful.)

Praktike - Possibly.
Blogbuds - Thank you.
Hilzoy - It is!

Hilzoy,

Sorry.

I was misinformed.

does anybody have any better solutions to the lies during elections than to just say the public should be so agreeable about it.it could be helpfuk to me cause im doing a paper on it and a qoute from someone would invaluable

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