Thursday, April 7, 2016

Pants on Fire

I have a recollection that at some point in my youth running around playing a game “Liar Liar Pants on Fire.” What the rules were, how the ‘truth’ was determined are a foggy notion today. It might just have been my middle child syndrome of tattling on my siblings…or being tattled on! Researching the idea to refresh my memory I was amused to find it’s a book and a board game as well as fan fiction. It’s a popular concept. It is, of course, standard fare in U.S. politics.

Ranker is a site where “U.S. politicians that have been caught lying or have been suspected of lying.” Virtually every major political figure this century is on the list – from Barack Obama to Richard Nixon. You can click on somebody and add your opinion…fun but not very scientific.

CBS News summarized it in a report in 2012: “Here are three things most Americans take as an article of faith: The sky is blue. The pope is Catholic. And politicians are liars.” 

Politifact has built an entire business around it, winning the Pulitzer Prize by putting in the time, effort and resources to quantify when somebody’s being truthful and when they’re not. The site even has an Obamameter which ranks the 500+ promises made in his 2008 & 2012 campaigns against what has been accomplished.

Candidates themselves hurl the insult at each other with directness today. A GOP ‘debate’ is akin to a World Wide Wrestling match – lots of huffing and puffing with great theatrics – but not a lot of real substance going on. The Democrats tried to restrain themselves but as time has gone by they too have devolved to the grade school name calling.

There’s different sorts of lies. There’s taking the record of an opponent and framing it around a narrative that puts them in a bad light. Hilary Clinton did that to Bernie Sanders in Michigan when she claimed that he voted against the bailout of the auto industry – a hot button issue in Detroit. On a pure factual level she was absolutely correct – the Vermont Senator voted against the first proposed bailout. What she failed to mention was why. The white haired self-described socialist didn’t think it went far enough and wanted more money to go to the unions. Did Hilary lie? Yes and no. Factcheck details the entire issue.

It is this type of nuance that many use as an example of how she can’t be trusted. When reporters drill down they find that most of the statements she makes are accurate and honest. She’s very deliberate about framing and shading those statements, though. Whether it’s personality or a lifetime in the public eye (including being married to a President who was impeached for lying) the issue of trustworthiness is one of her weakest characteristics in poll after poll. The Daily Caller found in their poll “Hillary Clinton Least Honest And Trustworthy Of All Presidential Candidates.”

Is that fair? Donald Trump is the leading fabricator of the 2016 election cycle (so far). The litany of misstatements, erroneous facts and outrageous claims have kept the fact checkers working overtime. The National Review outlined “Trump’s Yuuge Lies” in February – and they’ve only grown since then.

The leading party Presidential candidates have near opposite responses from voters when it comes to the issue of trust and honesty. Trump’s lack of filter from a though meandering through his head and popping out of his mouth has been framed that he “tells it like it is” which is somehow believable. Clinton’s measured and parsing of nearly every comment has been framed that she’s hiding something.

American’s don’t want to hear the truth. The don’t want to know that the country is $20 trillion in actual debt and continues to spend some $1.25 for every $1.00 it brings in. They don’t want to know that there are tens of thousands of U.S. troops deployed covering virtually every region of  the globe. There are intractable issues of poverty, homelessness and other issues that for half-a-century (or more)  haven’t been solved despite trillions of dollars of investment. Medical costs increase while health care coverage decreases. The social service net has gaping holes and is headed towards bankruptcy. And that doesn’t even begin to address the vast social change issues that are tearing away at the fabric of what used to unite the nation. Americans aren’t coming together to accept our differences – laws are being passed to segregate us based on race, religion and other things. It’s shameful and sad.

Candidates make passionate and absolutist statements that when they’re elected (to whatever office) they’ll make sure “_fill in the blank__” is fixed/solved/stopped. They’re all liars. American Democracy requires separate branches of government to work together. Until elected officials are willing to say and do that – there’s a lot of pants that are on fire.