Political Lies?

There’s always been a perception of politician as liars. As an example, Mark Twain declared, “There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”

Yet in my nearly twenty years in politics, on a percentage basis, I saw very little criminal behavior, and certainly less than one would see among a similar number of such individuals in the private sector. I knew a number of politicians who were scrupulously honest, and a few whose basic honesty I seriously doubted. I never saw the wholesale lying by all politicians that has always seemed to a wide-spread perception, although I definitely did see a few politicians who engaged in it, in both parties. I’ll admit that I also saw a great deal of “spin” and tailored speeches and presentations, and I suspect that spin and half-truths fuel the idea that politicians always lie.

But how many Americans spin the truth in ways large and small? Why should we expect politicians to be any different?

Yet today, when we have a President who engages in so many falsehoods that go well beyond spin and half-truths that it’s a full-time job to keep track of them, the reaction of a great many Americans, if not most Americans, is that all politicians lie.

But there’s a significant difference between shading the truth and out and the out-and-out bald-faced lies that are Trump’s stock in trade. And to top it off, Trump and his associates claim that comparatively minor misstatements on the part of those who oppose Trump and his policies are total lies? Why don’t people make a distinction?

Could it just be that they really believe he’s telling the truth, that mainstream media is fake news, that climate change is just a Chinese hoax, that more coal-fired power plants are good for us, that environmental laws have gone too far, despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary?

I’d submit that when people accept such statements as truth, their belief comes from basic perceptual conflicts. Recent research has shown that people have different outlooks and value sets [what a great surprise] that are formed on a highly emotional bases that often may have little or no foundation in observed facts.

For example, people with certain perceptions wanted to believe that Barrack Obama couldn’t be a “real” American, and so they accepted any idea that supported that belief, despite the fact that he had to be a citizen on two counts: his mother was definitely a white American citizen from Kansas, and he was born in Hawaii, which has been American territory for well over a century. Yet the “birthers” still insist on believing the contrary.

Politicians are faced with a basic conflict. Given the nature of the country and their job, even with gerrymandering, at least a third and sometimes more than half of their constituents don’t see the world in the way they do. Therefore, when that politician asserts something he believes to be true that conflicts with what people believe, those people would rather believe that he’s lying, even if what he says is confirmed by factual evidence.

Statistically and practically, it can be proven that immigrants don’t take away high paying jobs from Americans – except in the cases where the immigrants have more education and expertise, and those instances are comparatively few. Yet tens of millions of Americans believe that immigrants are the problem rather than the economics of the current American marketplace, and nothing is likely to convince them otherwise. So any politician who says immigrants aren’t the problem must be a liar to such believers.

We’ve all seen extreme cases of this – people who won’t believe the Nazi genocide or the moon landing, for example, or even that the earth is flat.

What it all boils down to is that, for most people, “emotional truth” trumps contrary observed and proven facts any day, and that means any politician who doesn’t agree with your emotional truths is at the least suspect and at worst lying – whether he is or not.

7 thoughts on “Political Lies?”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    It took lots of fracking to replace coal with natural gas, which is at any rate much lower CO2 output for a give amount used (neglecting leaks, given that natural gas is an even stronger greenhouse gas). But ooh, some people are afraid it might contaminate groundwater, or worse, cause earthquakes. And it’s still dino juice, and the extremists are allergic to that even if it’s an improvement on other fossil fuels.

    But IMO the bottom line is that the extreme versions of climate change are alarmism, not reality, or we’d already have an ice-free planet (give or take some of Antarctica). Presuming a rate of change more like what’s actually observed, boosting the economy is IMO much more important than interventionist methods of advancing green/renewable/”carbon neutral” alternatives. Those will get here when the technology is ready, not before; and crippling the economy with severe controls, mandates, corruptible carbon markets, or massive redistribution will NOT enable the technology to be developed or deployed more quickly, quite the contrary. Tesla is kicking the tail of most of the luxury sedans…because unlike some other electrics, it has enough range for most people’s needs, and unlike one other electric, doesn’t have unreasonable battery lifespan issues (due to lack of cooling, I think it was). Batteries will keep getting better. Most biofuels are not really (yet) an improvement in emissions once all the collecting and processing is included, and as with solar or wind, would threaten to use vast areas of land better used for other purposes or left alone. (IMO, algae is interesting as a source of biofuel, although there are issues keeping it from getting contaminated even in a nearly sealed system; and that can pretty much mean it’s dead or useless, the whole system needs to be purged and sterilized, etc).

    There are various other developments that a mostly free market approach will greatly favor over an authoritarian approach. If that’s lying, I want more lies like that. By contrast, most of the really ardent green advocates want power for themselves and massive socialism, which is the really big lie, because it ALWAYS fails and ALWAYS takes liberty away (which is more important than life, IMO).

    1. Daze says:

      Sigh. You really don’t understand science at all, do you? To take the most simple bit: if you put a big block of ice in a warm room, it takes a while to melt. If the block of ice is three miles thick and 836,330 square miles, it takes a bit longer than that. Just because we’re not yet knee-deep in water in coastal cities (Florida excepted) doesn’t mean that what we’re doing isn’t going to get us there in due course.

      1. R. Hamilton says:

        The info I’ve seen suggests that by far the worst consequences of global warming, _if_ it indeed will have dire consequences, will be in Asia…where the greenhouse emissions per unit productivity are likely the highest.

        While their emissions are rising (as they strive to rise out of poverty and into a technological lifestyle, I suppose), ours are already well below historical peaks. So let the ones who are dirtiest, bear the burden, either of the cost or the consequences. I don’t want to cut my lifestyle to subsidize their survival.

        Besides, as you say, massive changes don’t happen instantly…and what we experience in the next few years will be because of what we did maybe a decade or more ago; so accelerating the reduction by liberty-destroying authoritarian means and/or massive redistribution won’t help, if letting tech get there on its own produces a good enough result.

        The problem is socialists, authoritarians, and developing countries. Liberty is NEVER the problem, except for the contradiction that it prevents us from simply ridding ourselves of those that are the problem.

        1. Antoinette Frates says:

          Besides, as you say, massive changes don’t happen instantly…and what we experience in the next few years will be because of what we did maybe a decade or more ago; so accelerating the reduction by liberty-destroying authoritarian means and/or massive redistribution won’t help, if letting tech get there on its own produces a good enough result.
          This is why we choose not to have kids. Did you? From this post it seems you only care for the now. Will your offspring love or hate you? Not my problem, so move along and no need to respond.

  2. Daze says:

    Climate science 102: almost all of the last 25 years have highest temperatures on average than any previous records. Science not being ever 100% sure, there is a very small chance that this is not caused by human action. If that were to be true, then it is even more important that we take action to reduce carbon, because it is long-established that carbon dioxide passes UV and absorbs IR, thus making the planet hotter.

  3. Wine Guy says:

    Stay on topic, gents: the post is about lies, damn lies, and politics (to paraphrase Clemens).
    There are plenty of other columns here on the environment.

    If Trump actually believes what he says then he isn’t a necessarily a liar, he’s a narcissistic sociopath and worthy of even less trust than the starry-eyed masses who support him think. A generous reading of the Mueller Report (yes, some of us actually spent the time) supports the idea that the only reason he isn’t being impeached is that many on his staff went through extraordinary contortions to keep him out of trouble. If you want to get down to brass tacks, the only reason there was not more of an investigation is that the FBI Director was in his back pocket – a reverse Hoover, if you will.

    It was inevitable that when ‘shading the truth’ and ‘spin’ have become the norm, that outright lies would become acceptable.

    Go back to middle school and re-read “Animal Farm” and “1984.” It took 30 years longer than he predicted, but Orwell’s prophecies have arrived.

  4. Gerald Fnord says:

    I believe that there is a concerted attempt to make politicians look more corrupt than they are on the part of 0.) persons who consider themselves unfairly impeded by government, for example when they wish to pollute or discriminate, and 1.) actually corrupt politicians.

    The first is an attempt to smear the referee because they don’t want rules to apply to them. The second is more subtle: when ‘they all do it’ is believed, and usually believed without nuance, then the corrupt will be judged using other criteria, e.g. (as was the case of a co-worker’s support of James Traficant) ‘he puts on a good show’.

    Nuance is important here: without it, a cop who accepts a free coffee from a shop-owner becomes the same as one who does hits for the Mob.

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