armchair cultural observation since 1995

Gleeful Co-Conspirators

“When candidates indulge in serial dishonesty, we too often exonerate those who create the habitable climate for political lies: the voter. Indeed, Americans aren’t victims of the supposed ‘post-truth’ era, but gleeful co-conspirators. And unctuous politicians and their surrogates understand that the benefits of lying about your opponent are high (see the wholly dishonest attacks on John Kerry in 2004 by the ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’), while voters ensure that the risks remain relatively low.

Why do we possess a unique tolerance for political lies? For a researcher or journalist, a reliance on bowdlerized quotes, cherry-picked data, and demonstrable falsehoods—like Mitt Romney’s campaign ad claiming Jeep was moving all its production facilities to China—would result in the loss not only of an individual job, but of an entire vocation. Despite the divisions of combat-ready fact-checkers, opposition researchers, and social-media partisans, candidates nevertheless fear no consequences of lying.

There exists a growing body of scientific evidence suggesting that ideologically committed voters almost encourage dishonesty. A study by Duke University behavioral economist Dan Ariely found that ‘participants who were planning to vote Democratic indicated that Romney should be held to a fairly high ethical standard [while] Republican participants held a similar standard for Obama.’ In this miasma of misinformation, Americans throw open their arms, embracing their own party’s political deceptions as the best route towards toward policies they think will benefit them. Take a look at the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of politically engaged friends. You’ll likely come across dozens of links highlighting an egregious political lie, but good luck finding a friend who highlights whoppers from both parties. And even if political lying is unevenly distributed by ideology, as is often claimed, we could expect examples of outrageous dishonesty from their own side, just far fewer.”

-Michael Moynihan, in an article “2012 Presidential Campaign Said to Hit Unprecedented Level of Lying

I’ve heard a lot of people lamenting the tenor of this campaign and how awful this or that side was to the other with the campaign ads and the liberal stretching of truth. Personally, I think it was actually better than the last election cycle with the absence of a certain divisive vice presidential candidate who brought out not only the worst in her own party but the worst in her opposition.

It was certainly a hard-fought campaign where fact checkers were kept busy, but as Moynihan points out, we have largely ourselves to blame. In fact, we can’t really claim too much moral high ground considering some of the awful stuff we’ve written or seen written on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.

What I love about this Late Night With Jimmy Fallon video is how it captures the theatrical show of it all and how all the lies and the stretching of truth, successful as it is, conceals how generally likable the two candidates might be if they weren’t running for the highest office in the land in a fractured two-party political system where the voting public excels at believing half-truths, distortions and spin to suit their own political leanings.

via The Dish

Leave a Reply