Why be honest?

The polls suggest that dishonesty is just as effective as a good idea, at least when it comes to convincing the American public of your qualifications for the office of President of the United States.

The McCain campaign has been lying with reckless abandon recently, and all they have to show for it is a virtual dead heat in the polls. These lies are easy to knock down — McCain has lied about the Obama tax plan, saying that Obama is planning to raise taxes on the middle class. He’s lied about a bill that Obama supported that relates to optional sex education to be taught in public schools, saying that Obama wanted children to learn about sex before they learned to read. McCain and Sarah Palin continue to lie about her support for the famous Alaskan “bridge to nowhere.” These are flat out, boldfaced lies. Not just spin or a nuanced take on a policy or position.

The reason the Republican nominees are able to lie with reckless abaondon is that many voters are uncertain about who to believe. McCain and Palin are using Rovian logic — if no one knows for sure who is telling the truth, and you are going to lie about your opponent, you might as well tell a whopper as opposed to a little white lie. Eventually the truth may come out, but in some cases it won’t be as convincing as the big lie. It’s a flat out lie that Obama put forward legislation that proposed teaching children about sex before they learn to read. But even when the story gets debunked and the record gets straight, how many concerned parents are left with comingled images of a black man, sex, and small children? Those images form a symbol, a racist symbol — cynically created by the POW and the Hockey Mom — intended to make parents uncomfortable.

The right wingers have spent years establishing a false perception of the media as a tool of the left. Their goal was to create an environment where people on the right can complain that they’re being unfairly treated in the media when the media tries — ever so timidly — to set the record straight. So in the portion of the electorate McCain and Palin are trying to reach, it’s possible that media clarification of the lies they tell is not even convincing enough to change the minds of the voter. If the media is reporting that the lie is a lie, then the lie must be true, since the media is not to be trusted.

I have a friend, whom I’ll not name, but for the sake of discussion, let’s call him Dexter. Dexter seems to be a person of normal intelligence. He goes to church. He prays with the rest of our congregation for world peace. He’s charming and friendly, and he sings in the choir. He’s a likable guy. But he has a major blind spot in the realm of politics. I like the guy, so I was a little surprised when I found out that his political views are a little to the right of the John Birch society. Frankly, he holds the most radical right wing fringe views of anyone I’ve ever met. I know he’s not alone. Like Dexter, there are still about 30% of the American public that think George W. Bush is doing a good job.

Dexter believes that everything printed in the New York Times is a lie. You and I may watch Fox News just to get a taste of what the wingnut fringe is saying, but Dexter watches Fox because he’s convinced — even though Fox is a little too liberal for his taste — that it’s the network with the most accurate reporting. Dexter is part of the echo chamber that repeated and amplified the swift boat campaign against John Kerry. And he, and millions of others like him, will gladly repeat the McCain/Palin lies long after the media has debunked them, because the lies represent what Dexter wants to believe. Karl Rove and John McCain know there are millions of people like Dexter, and they figure that the extra votes they can squeeze out of those voters by giving them a reason to be passionate is worth the risk of telling the big lies. They know that I will never be convinced by their tactics anyway, but Rove and McCain are figuring that they can neutralize my informed choice by getting a wingnut voter like Dexter to cast a ballot against my candidate. They know Dexter won’t be turned off by their lies — he’s been immunized to distrust the media. Their only concern for Dexter is giving him sufficient material to keep him outraged about their opponent and stirred up enough to vote. Hence, the lies.

Elections may be won in the middle, but the key to doing effective battle in the middle is to be sure that your base voters — the people who are either going to vote for you or not vote at all — come out to vote. The lies are designed to motivate the base. And possibly to sow some seeds of doubt in your opponents base.

So why not just lie? In a world where we measure morality on a sliding scale, where polling has replaced a candidate’s moral compass as a means of determining what positions to take, why not just do the expedient thing and paint your opponent as the devil incarnate? The other guys are doing it, why shouldn’t we?

Because the world is watching. And posterity. Our next president needs to have the ability to reach out to the rest of the world and say that The United States is back. We realize we veered off course during the past eight years, but we’re back and we are ready to lead. We are committed to the common good, to the ideals on which our nation was founded — that all people are created equal, and that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are once again the hallmarks of this nation.

What kind of world leader will have any credibility if he/she comes into office by spouting vicious lies? The world is watching, and we should be doing a better job of demonstrating our fitness to lead. John McCain is petty, shrill, and uninspiring. What kind of world leader would he be? He’s a guy who lies when it serves him politically. Do we really believe that his lies will convince the rest of the world that he deserves a leadership role? Barack Obama knows this. He realizes he is being elected by the American public, but that his responsibilities will extend far beyond our nation’s boundaries.

Barack Obama cannot afford to lie. He realizes that the stakes are too high. He knows that the lies John McCain is telling come at a price. McCain is striking a deal with the devil just to get elected. If elected, McCain will be a pawn of the Karl Rove machine. Like George W. Bush, he will be powerless to follow an agenda that leads America back to its place as a world leader. When Barack Obama says that electing John McCain is like extending the Bush presidency, he’s not just making a rhetorical case. He’s pointing out the fact that the same foundation on which Bush came into power — a foundation built on lies and deception — will be the foundation of a McCain presidency.

We cannot afford the loss of dignity, honor, and moral standing that we would suffer if we bow to the lies of a presidential candidate. Barack Obama knows this. Let’s hope the rest of us, and especially Dexter, figure it out before November 4.

Posted 11 September 2008 by Mark ·