I’m not a religious person, but I do believe there is sanctity in truth. With that in mind, I find little sanctity among politicians whose careers are, more often than not, built of lies. But politicians are no different in this than most of us who go through life tailoring truth to suit the personal desires that frame our world views (myself included). Cutting through our own thicket of desire and deceit with a truth machete is not something we tend to make our life’s work. Why?… because it goes against our wish for comfort, safety, or (most crudely) acquisition. This is why most “holy” books, in their best moments, warn against lies, as in passages like this:
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world…” (Colossians 2:8 —which is not to be confused with the Kardashians, a very different, entirely worldly enterprise).
As an example of the utter rejection of that principle in Colossians take the political elevation of mendacity to the level of legitimacy. To do so we don’t have to look further than the recent Republican “debate” on CNBC. The CNBC moderators were vilified by Republicans for being unfair, but there’s nothing unfair about calling a spade a spade. The fact is, in state and national politics especially, we are where we are because so much of the media is bound wallet to wallet with the corporations who now run things. Far from asking hard questions, the trend is to ask softball questions. When it happens (very unusually) that hard questions are asked, it’s a remarkable anomaly —so unsportsmanlike that it’s branded an insult or attack, no matter what the truth quotient of the question might have been.
Techniques for handling hard questions have been developed and honed by politicians and their handlers to sidestep what used to be called shame or dishonor. Unfortunately, the ignorance, gullibility and collusion of voters is essential for politicians to effectively pull off their ruses. So, with the backing of corporate media, the two-party mendacity machine chugs along like a well-oiled gizmo.
But there are chinks in every system. In the aftermath of the CNBC debate one media writer actually owned up to media’s abetment in the deluge of lies:
“We in the media suck because we have rewarded . . .rampant dishonesty and buffoonery with nonstop news coverage, which . . .has encouraged more dishonesty and buffoonery. Hence. . .candidates doubled down on dishonesty during the debate, based on lessons that we in the media taught them. To wit: Lesson 1: Lie, but lie confidently; Lesson 2: Invent your own math; Lesson 3: If you can’t think of something better to say, just bash the media.”
Another writer, Ruby Mellen, of The Huffington Post noted, “Candidates made a number of misleading statements and even told some outright lies during the GOP debate . . . Sometimes they even got caught by the CNBC moderators. But what happened next was pretty weird. Instead of explaining themselves or clarifying their previous statements, the candidates stubbornly insisted they were right and the moderators were wrong. Given the crowd’s positive reaction to any point made against the media, perhaps it’s not actually so weird that candidates chose this route.”
If the lies themselves were not bad enough, the crowd’s reaction seals the deal as to how little the truth is now esteemed. This is especially diabolical in a country that pays lip service to the man of truth they and their politicians claim to faithfully worship (another lie).
For instance, here’s Chris Christie: “Sanders’s plan is to raise your taxes to 90 percent.”
“But on the whole,” said Mellon, “(Sanders’) tax proposals so far do not envision raising ‘your taxes’ — that is, those of ordinary Americans — to anything approaching 90 percent.”
Christie as usual was being as hyperbolic as his physical presence. But the crowd following Christie ate it up.
Then there’s Ben Carson, who was asked about his involvement with Mannatech (a nutritional supplements company that makes outlandish claims about its products and has been forced to pay $7 million to settle a deceptive-practices lawsuit) —here the audience boos and Carson denies it —but Carson lied. He has indeed been deeply involved with Mannatech and has done a lot to help promote its merchandise. PolitiFact quickly rated his claim false, without qualification. Again, pay special attention to “the audience boos” part — it’s another testament to the general disregard by the blind for truth (blind as in: “the blind who are led by the blind.”).
Further, as Paul Krugman points out, “ . . .this doesn’t just go for outsider candidates like Mr. Carson and Donald Trump. Insider politicians like Marco Rubio are simply engaged in a different, classier kind of scam — and they are empowered in part by the way the professional grifters have defined respectability down.”
This defining-down of respectability is the social catalyst of moral decline. When politicians can effectively sell snake oil to gullible buyers without blush, without the need for credibility, without the inconvenience of fact, and when audiences boo legitimate inquiry and cheer the audacity of lies, when they raise liars to seats of power without sufficient scrutiny —then what?
Well, as Robbie Robertson wrote and The Band sang: Where do we go from here? I asked my woman / La la la la la la la la la, she said, nowhere.