Election 2012 – Lying Is The New Truth

Isn’t it so quaint to think back on that old legend about George Washington? You know, the one by Parson Weems where young George confesses to his father that he cut down the cherry tree, unburdening his soul because, “I cannot tell a lie.” Whether the story is poetry or prose, its meaning is admirable, a morality tale used often to illustrate the nobility of truth.

What a concept, Truth. “The quality of being true, genuine, actual, or factual.” I’ve made that a link to Dictionary.com because there are a few people out there who are deeply confused about the concept of truth. Those people — the confused ones — come in all shapes, sizes, genders, colors, and political parties, but for the sake of argument, and in a nod to the political climate of this waning Presidential campaign, let’s focus on politicians, shall we?

I’m not naïve; I know factual perversion has been going on since the dawn of man, but it seems now — with so many media outlets, so many ways for so many people to say so much — the tsunami of lies, manipulations, spin, and propaganda has become an unstoppable torrent with no moral compass to keep it in check. Or, as Mitt Romney pollster, Neil Newhouse, said earlier in the process, “We will not be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Of course not. Why let truth get in the way of a presidential campaign?

In the year 2012, at a time when we need clear, cogent, elevated thinking to continue to pull our country towards a better economy, the end of war, a more fair tax system, reformed education and healthcare, and social policies that embrace compassion, we’re not even going to try to rely on that magical, mystical, Camelot-like fantasy called “truth”? Not even when it’s about shepherding a candidate toward the highest position in the land?

Apparently not. Lying is the new Truth.

I’m an opinion writer, therefore I make no bones of my predilections, what side I’m on, who I believe in politically, or what I think about any given thing. However, I’ve never knowingly misreported (I swear, God did tell me He/She isn’t a Republican!), I’ve never plagiarized, and I did finally tell my mother I was the one who ate the box of Salerno Butternut Cookies way back when. Truth is important to me. I have a son to whom I’ve made the point clear many times: “You can lie and get away with it. Truth is not about getting — or not getting — caught. It’s about honor. It’s about who you choose to be as a person. And you are required to be an honorable person.” This is one of many versions of a speech I made throughout his life. You can ask him; he’s probably got it memorized.

But as a parent, an American, a sentient being on this Earth, it’s getting pretty damn hard rattling off that speech at a time when honor is arbitrary and truth is dismissed as so much inconvenient fact, particularly if it gets in the way of a good campaign ad or party talking points. We have become a culture rife with blatant misrepresentations for the sake of pandering, gross misinformation for the sake of destroying an opponent, and repetitive revisionism in the hope of misleading an electorate. It is not only a shameful way to live, it’s a shameful way to choose the person we want running the country.

This issue of Truth and our hazy relationship with it came to head for me after the last debate. With all the facts thrown around, all the revamping and revising of previous policies and positions (that would be Mitt), glaring and fake smiling (yeah…both), talking over and interrupting (I heard Obama interrupted more and to that I say “bravo,” particularly after Mitt’s Gish Gallup of the previous debate!), one of the biggest and most mind-boggling take-aways was the GOP’s reaction to Candy Crowley’s “moment of truth” – that moment in which she inserted a dash of accuracy into a Romney barrage of misinformation. You know the one: “He — he did call it an act of terror.” 

And this quiet comment was met with a level of GOP screeching and hysteria that would suggest severe hormonal problems (and that’s the guys!) or, at the very least, emotional imbalance akin to paranoid schizophrenia, with Tucker Carlson calling for her firing and Rush Limbaugh, he of the flapping arms, flying spittle, and shirt-tugging jitters, declaring:

“She committed an act of journalistic terror or malpractice last night. If there were any journalist standards, what she did last night would have been the equivalent of blowing up her career like a suicide bomber.

She committed an act of journalistic terror or malpractice last night.”

Her act of journalistic terror? Injecting truth: “He…he did call it an act of terror.” CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? The gall; the sheer, unmitigated gall of that damn Candy Crowley!! Because they weren’t horrified by Mitt’s misinformation; they were horrified by the timing of the truth counteracting it. It seems there’s a time for truth and there’s a time for lies, and during a debate, apparently, we’re supposed to accept lies.

Dear God.

When campaigns are reduced to arguing about when truth should be inserted, when daily parsing by fact checkers is required to weigh the “truthiness” of statements made, when a candidate will blatantly dismiss previous statements, lie about current ones, then point the finger at his opponent (yeah, that would be Mitt), we are truly dancing with the Devil.

Certainly life is subjective. We all have opinions, emotions, filters, experiences, etc., that color our particular interpretation of the truth. But not everything in life — or politics — is ripe for the Rashomon effect. Some facts are just facts. When you state you are pro-choice at one point (and that’s documented), that’s fact. When you supported a healthcare policy you’re now denouncing, that’s fact. What the President said in the Rose Garden is a fact. All documented, all known; not open to timing, manipulation, politics, campaign propaganda, cheap-shot articles, or Fox News.

So how about this? How about we acknowledge our political differences, we debate those differences, but we hold to a mandate of TRUTH in any discussion about them. We denounce all lies, manipulations, falsehoods, parsing, purposeful misinterpretations, lies (did I already say that??) and leave all that truth on the table for voters to decide. All of us. Both sides. Every side. Everyone. Each candidate. Their pollsters, campaign managers, wives, pundits, financiers, barbers, even Fox News. That would be refreshing.

But we won’t do that, will we? We could (well, maybe not Fox), but we won’t. Because it’s campaign season. It’s politics. And just as CNN’s David Gergen wrote off the misstatements (aka “lies”) of Paul Ryan’s convention speech with “But let’s not forget that this was a speech about big ideas,” big ideas, professional pandering, cynical historical revisionism all, apparently, trump truth.

Truth just isn’t hot anymore. Lying is the new truth.

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on TwitterFacebook and Rock+Paper+Music; for details and links to her other work, visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com