By Robert Becker
Fancy Liar’s Poker? Why not Liar’s Politics? This week, faint-hearted journalists crept from quasi-permanent stupor to broadcast Paul Ryan’s astonishing duplicity. That spectacle raises this shocking question: is Romney’s truth-averse mission to lie himself into the White House, or did corporate media draw a clear line separating consensual truth from compulsive fibbing? Wasn’t it Oscar Wilde’s jest that few journalists could distinguish a bicycle accident from the end of civilization?
Can you recall an emptier, worse run, more cringe-worthy convention, where fatuous speechifying simply interrupted low-class sniping, low-class even for Repuglicans? Fortunately, neither nominee is better at lying than proposing improvements for 95% of domestic inhabitants. Instead of Mitt’s bizarre PR “job tour” to stimulate growth, why not a small feint towards a “truth tour”? Who figured truthiness would outshine this nonsense?
Beware: Ryan is smoother, slicker and more treacherous than the Palin Ninny, the miscast starlet who never overcame (or realizes to this day) her appearance in the wrong movie. Fortunately, V.P. candidates don’t win elections, even when seemingly more genuine than his ticket mate (how could he seem less?). The mystery remains why an unpopular, distrusted campaign, with the base in tow and desperate to reach the information-averse undecideds, fired blank cartridges at party fanatics, not substance at decisive November voters.
Having fleetingly redeemed themselves, will media worthies take on any national ticket whose arrogance (read: Romney team) openly scorns independent fact checking? Obama abuses civil and legal rights but not reportage, not yet declaring “this isn’t intended to be factual.” Isn’t there an obscure democratic statute that outlaws revving up crude propaganda into barefaced mendacity? Apparently not, as the right turns its faith-alone folly into self-referential fixations: “you’re either with us or criminal, subversive, a minority, or aligned with the devil.” Talk about taking exception(alism) to new heights.
Misrepresentation extends beyond frothy Neo-Extremists for Democrats are hardly models of truthtelling; they are, however, smarter at fudging, lying more by omission than commission. Ideologues on the right are now so extreme, one doubts their awareness of their own chronic duplicity. A favorite line of mine is when a dissembling diplomat in Lawrence of Arabia scolds the flawed hero: “If we’ve been telling lies, you’ve been telling half-lies. A man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But a man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he put it.”
No such distinction lets Ryan, his party’s sole “intellectual” since Ayn Rand’s demise, off the hook when serving up counter-factual red meat. CNN’s David Gergen, not yet dumb as a post, had to concede some (!) “mis-statements,” but “let’s not forget that this was a speech about big ideas.” Right, as if big enough ideas automatically enhance a weak argument.
Bigger the idea, harder they fall
In fact, the magnitude of some political pretension, whether big brother or big government, reflects big britches rather than big brains. Audacity of hope, systemic change, even progress – alas, big ideas that fell hard. Plus, bad politicians with loads of bad, big ideas, like Bush-Cheney, produce fiascos. Whenever the right defends some creep’s “big ideas,” what pops up is their cousin, “Big Lie.” And the irony now couldn’t be richer: what’s “big” about GOP ideas since Reagan is the scale of the shambles. Rightwing consistency, that hobgoblin of little minds, remains addicted to “ideas” forever shrinking in front of our eyes, spewing conspiracy and paranoia.
Yes, “a lie told often enough becomes the truth.” Or, because thugs push discredited myths, JFK’s warning applies: “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” Indeed, “an unexciting truth may be eclipsed by a thrilling lie” (Aldous Huxley) but not by the likes of Ryan, per Jerome K. Jerome: “It is always the best policy to speak the truth, unless of course you are an exceptionally good liar.” What draws me finally to aphorism fresh off the presses: “the best liars always think they’re telling the truth — and always for the best of reasons.”
Does anyone doubt that Romney-Ryan, looking desperate around the gills, would defy even the fabled Führer: “It is not truth that matters, but victory.” Today’s glut of fraud recalls Adlai Stevenson’s bulls-eye, “If [Republicans] will stop telling lies about Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.” Ouch. When, if ever, will Obama unzip such zingers — or unearth the audacity of sharply-pointed repartee?
Stuffed by a lawn sprinkler?
For a context beyond elections, look to Malcolm Muggeridge’s observation, what “we’ve developed to a very high level is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.” Adds Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein, “The lowest form of popular culture — lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives — has overrun real journalism. Today, ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage.”
The best salvage for the disengaged dimwits in the center is take Albert Einstein’s caution seriously: “Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.” I revere Henry David Thoreau but not this unfashionable call to virtue, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” Whither our most prominent quarter-billionaire, if not driven by love (of power), money, and fame? Robert J. Ringer captures our cynical, though nostalgic age, “People say they love truth, but in reality they want to believe that which they love is true.” And no one is immune.
As fast-draw bloggers remind us, telling your truth goes beyond hunting up wit in the shadows. Yet for pundits hoping to entertain, director Billy Wilder nailed it, “If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.” To shake up the polls, President Obama should work not on soaring rhetoric, with its untidy residue of undeliverable promises, but his stand-up comedy routine. Not just “likeable,” be entertaining while informing — and how hard will that be after Todd Akin, Clint Eastwood or Romney, dullness incarnate.
If this president doesn’t quickly rev up his road act, we’ll confront a double whammy: not just pummeled by a fistful of bad, shrinking ideas (replays worse than Bush’s originals), but bored stiff by the great GOP Stiffness. With the style reminiscent of a lawn sprinkler, as one wit depreciated Mitt’s oratory, should disqualify anyone from four years at the helm. What country sustains the myth of its own exceptionalism when the winner’s inauguration delivers all the excitement of a small, rotating machine going “spritz, spritz.” And bereft of awareness when he’s speaking the truth.
Image Credit: Mario Piperni.com