Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Politicians lie

Feb. 13, 2015: David Harsanyi, an intelligent and articulate senior editor at The Federalist, commented in a National Review Online (NRO) article[1] about lies that politicians, President Obama's lies in particular, tell the public to achieve their goals. The asserted purpose is to allow or coax the public to arrive at beliefs that the speaker believes are desired or necessary. Whether one believes that or not will vary from speaker to speaker, comment to comment, and listener to listener. Regardless, these comments merit everyone's consideration because they are so rare and candid. They are acutely revealing about how the two-party system thinks and operates with regard to the public.

In his NRO article Mr. Harsanyi says this:
"Politicians break their promises and modify their positions all the time, of course. They BS us about their opinions and carefully craft identities that are palatable to the average voter. When a person enters this political universe, we need to accept that most of the things we hear are, at best, poetic truths."

Two obvious conclusions are direct and simple: Absent personal knowledge to the contrary, there is no reason to trust or believe anything any politician in the two-party system says about anything. They could be speaking truth, lies[2] or some unknown mix of the two.

Although the quoted comments are aimed at a conservative audience as a prelude to a partisan attack on President Obama, the comments are astounding for their candor regarding two-party politics in general. As written, those comments apply to liberals, conservatives and all other players in politics, politicians, pundits, partisans and lobbyists alike. From the context of the full article, the quoted comments are not limited to the President or the democratic party or politicians. Those comments apply to two-party politics as usual. This takes nothing out of context or puts any words into Mr. Harsanyi's mouth. But, of course, everyone can and should decide that on their own.

Maybe this insider rhetoric reflects a reason that, continuing a long-term trend, voters register as independents (43%), more often than democrats (30%) or republicans (26%). That trend arguably reflects distrust and/or disagreement with both parties and/or their way of doing business. That interpretation is not inconsistent with comments such as these from another, more prominent insider, former CIA director and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: "Members of Congress rarely legislate; they basically follow the money. . . . They're spending more and more time dialing for dollars. . . . It's all about winning, it's not about governing anymore."

1.    National Review Online is a hard core right wing website of considerable influence. Its ideological content rarely wavers. According to a conservative source, NRO ranks among the top 20 conservative websites and 4,461 in Alexa ratings as of Q2 2014. Although there may be differences, the ideology of the Federalist seems to largely overlap NRO ideology.
2.    Lies in this context is a misleading and/or incomplete term. Spin, as defined previously, is an expansive but more accurate term.

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