We live in the Age of the Big Lie.
George Orwell saw it coming, but it took a couple of decades longer than he thought. Somehow, it seems appropriate that Ronald Reagan was president in 1984, because his administration gave voice to the Orwellian view:
“To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then when it is becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed…”
In those days, it came in the form of the solemn promise that Americans could somehow have it all – and all while cutting taxes. In the end, it set in motion policies that would begin the greatest concentration of wealth and the greatest income disparity in history, all while creating more national debt that all previous U.S. presidents combined.
And yet, today, looking back, it almost looks quaintly naïve, compared to today’s default to The Big Lie. It’s never seemed as obvious as in the current presidential campaign season. Never have so many talking heads and candidates looked directly into the camera and lied – about each other, about the impact of their programs and about the ultimate beneficiaries of their policies.
It has become so blatant that both political parties have now abandoned politic-speak of the past when they talked about “untruths,” “misstatements” and “falsehoods.” Bluntness has been forced to the surface with both parties using the “l word” in responses to unsavory political ads that harken back to the tone of the campaign between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
Jefferson supporters described Adams as a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” In a counter attack, Adams’ advocates called Jefferson “mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw (and) sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”
Things did eventually calm down with Jefferson being accused of being an atheist and a coward and Adams called a fool and a criminal. In a portent of things to come, Jefferson even hired a hatchet man to slur Adams, but without admitting that he was paying him.
It all seems nostalgic compared to what voters are subjected to today, as parades of talking heads on endless news programs repeat mindless talking points with a total absence of self-consciousness. The fact that the exact same talking points can shift back and forth between political parties (in what we affectionately call the “Bay Buchanan Syndrome”), depending on who’s in power, speaks to utter lack of honesty, not to mention consistency, in contemporary political discourse.
Ads today say that Senator John McCain favors a 100-year war while his campaign suggests that Senator Barack Obama’s only achievement in education was teaching sex education to kindergartners.
Lying For A Living
Both are unmistakably lies and becoming common place. PolitiFact.com has rated 22 statements and ads from Sen. McCain as barely true, 23 as false, and 6 as “pants on fire” false. For Sen. Obama, 14 have been rated as barely true, 18 false and 1 “pants on fire” false.
We deserve better, and yet the Big Lie rolls on:
“This $700 billion buy-out is to protect Main Street, not Wall Street.”
“He (Sen. Obama) will raise middle class taxes and the taxes of small businesses.”
“It is in the national interest to cut taxes in times of economic uncertainty to jump start the economy.”
“Reasonable people can disagree about the conduct of the war, but it is irresponsible for Democrats to now claim that we misled them and the American people…Saddam Hussein was a threat.”
The degree of manipulative distortion today seems to know no bounds, and at times, the war on terrorism appears more accurately to be a war on reason. It appeals to a vein of anti-intellectualism and delivers up the kind of simplistic answers in a complex world that too many people find comfort in.
Jingoism is an American tradition, but it’s hard to think of an era when the truth has been as effectively dispatched in pursuit of political gain. In his undisclosed location, it’s likely that the vice-president is still muttering that there’s a direct link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
On the domestic front, tax cuts have fueled the bulging national debt, with some estimates that about half the debt since 2001 are for the redistribution of wealth to the richest among us. At the same time, the federal government abandoned its role as a supporter of capitalism to become its instrument.
Hopefully, America’s eight years of the “ends justify the means” national leadership will someday only be seen an aberration, but its sibling, The Big Lie, seems destined to remain.
More and more, political messaging insults America’s central virtues – honest self-assessment – and it’s likely only American voters can bring it to an end. Hopefully, regardless of who wins this election, we have reached the tipping point, and in the post-Rovean world, it is exercised in an unmistakable message by refusing to vote for any candidate whose skills include The Big Lie.