The Politics of Lying

By Richard W. Crockett



If I understand Obama’s position on taxes, he has said that he would reverse Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, but he would protect tax cuts for the poor and middle class families.  The wealthy for purposes of this discussion are persons making more than $250,000 per year.   He would reduce taxes on 95% of all persons earning under $250,000 per year by $1,000.   These claims are diametrically opposed to what John McCain is saying that Obama would do.  In an ad running prominently on national television, John McCain tells us that Barak Obama will raise our taxes.  “This ad is a lie,” says the Obama campaign. 

David Wise, Washington journalist wrote in 1973, “If information is power, the ability to distort and control information will be used, more often than not, to preserve and perpetuate that power.”  (The Politics of Lying: Government Deception, Secrecy and Power: New York, 1973)  Today it is clear that Wise was right then, and that he might have added that lying would be used also to gain power.  With enough money a candidate for the presidency can buy television time and run commercials in which he can say anything he wants about his opponent.  The distortions, half truths and outright lies told through T.V. commercials in the name of free speech will go unchallenged, for after all, “truth and error will grapple” and the truth is supposed to win out.  I am not sure that it always does.  Still, these commercials also will do something else.  They reveal the character of the person doing the lying or allowing the lies to be told in their behalf.  It is in this regard that Obama has a point when he charges that McCain’s candidacy promises to be a repeat of the Bush presidency.  In his recent commercials, McCain has revealed that the truth is not necessary to his public remarks. Its own engineer is derailing the “straight talk express”, and by his actions he is telegraphing what a McCain presidency might be like.

After eight years of an administration which perfected lying and secrecy as a way of political life, and after the same administration having duped the American people into a war of aggression, it is remarkable that any candidate would try to imitate the practice and employ these tactics in order to win an election, and even more remarkable that the American electorate would uncritically fall for the deception. Yet we are witnessing such an effort in the present campaign.  You may call it spin or you may call it, distortion, half-truth, or lies.  In any case it involves the manipulation of the public through the manipulation of fiction presented as fact.  The moment that either candidate shifts in to negative campaign mode and talks more about his opponent than his own positions, it is time to go into the most suspicious and skeptical mindset.