Survey question: Who is left in America’s national political life who holds the unreserved admiration of the majority of respondents?
Suppose that survey question (as poorly worded as it is) had been administered just 20 years ago for comparison. The smart money would bet it’s a much shorter list these days than the list of yore.
Why would the list be shorter? Part of the reason lies in individual assessment of life’s fortunes. National candidates trot out an old canard every two and four years: Are you better off today than (fill in the blank)? Two decades ago, only as far back as 1992 — before a startling increase in multi-hundred-billion-dollar, unprosecuted financial shenanigans; before more faraway wars of choice, before fears of terrorist attacks trumped the privacy of citizens; before the tech bubble and then the housing bubble popped after the greedy got theirs; before the highest court in the land declared money to be protected speech; before ideologues reframed citizen dissent as a lack of patriotism; before members of Congress spent more time dialing for dollars than legislating; before two Bushes and an Obama (and now a Romney) promised the undeliverable — could your imagination have conjured up the Grand American Fubar™ in which we now struggle to live, let alone prosper?
I wrote editorials for a living more than two decades ago. I was supposed to accurately prognosticate and predict political wind shifts. But I never saw this coming — this mass disregard of fact by extraordinarily powerful men and women. Back then, there were politicians I trusted (well, only so far; they were, after all, politicians; spin lived back then, too). But today? Nope. I assume their utterances contain a lie, not a truth. Cynicism has trumped my skepticism. Spin has been transformed into sin: Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
The modern politician with statewide or national ambitions has ushered in the post-truth era. Those who would lead us have decided that factual accuracy firmly attached to proper context no longer has political, ideological, or electoral value. In commerce, sex sells. In the new era of No Fact-Checks Needed Politics™, deceit sells. The national press, heirs to a centuries-old tradition of holding the powerful accountable for words and acts, shrugs off the deception. Everybody’s doing it. Let’s report on how effectively the politicians deceive, not identify and correct the deceptions themselves.
Truth has been evicted from national politics. That rupture with reality occurs at the confluence of the dismantling of the nation’s revenue-challenged daily print press, the invasion of politics by wealthy men and women whose opaque, multi-million-dollar purchases of political access hide behind legal skirts, and the increasing inability or lack of desire of a mass electorate to give a shit.
We should be angry. We should be outraged. We should be furious at the unabashed effrontery of candidates for national office who lie directly to our collective face. But the sheer volume of repetitions of deceit, especially through the mass-mediated, billionaire-paid-for negative ads, arrives at our collective ears as so much endless white noise.
I teach for a living. I am paid to model behaviors that lead to professional success and personal satisfaction for my students. Yet my example is an iota of Robert Fulghum in a sea of craven, cowardly deceit practiced for the achievement of power and influence. Is it any wonder that some of my students reject the practice of attention to detail, common sense, and disciplined, intelligent effort for something easier and faster?
Deceit and deception have become accepted model behaviors of the most powerful men and women in the nation. As Jon Stewart bluntly pointed out Friday, deception and deceit found a comfortable home in Tampa. (Presumably Stewart will also unearth in Charlotte the other party’s aversion to accuracy.)
Come November, I believe it’s likely that the lever you pull for a statewide or national office will be for an incumbent or challenger who lied to you — and got away with it, because no one gave a damn.