Do you remember the Ree-form candidate Homer Stokes (played by Wayne Duvall) in Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? He turns out to be the KKK Grand Wizard who officiated at the attempted lynching of the boys with the wonderful, scary song Oh, Death (Won't you spare me over for another year?).
The old joke tells us
Q. How can you tell that a politician is lying?
A. His mouth is moving.
Mark Twain's observation applies equally to politicians.
Most writers regard truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use.
But how true is it that all politicians always lie? Politifact has a version of the answer, which I propose to present and then dissect below the jump. But the question is not simply whether political statements are True, Partly True, Half True, Barely True, False, or Pants-on-Fire! false. We must also consider how much of this guff the politicians believe, and how much the voters (of whichever persuasion) believe, and why.
Politifact, run by the St. Petersburg Times of Florida, records the levels of lying on the Republican side as much higher than the Democrats, particularly at the Pants on Fire! level. I don't always agree with their ratings, as I'll explain, but they get a lot of it right.
I would rate the Republicans more harshly, and the Democrats less so, than the Politifact analysts do, but I'm not trying to maintain a reputation for even-handedness. I'm a fan of Socialist writers like H. G. Wells, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw, Jack London, and Upton Sinclair, up to a point well short of nationalizing land and corporations. But what I would do to corporations is a topic for another day.
You could argue about the status of some of Obama's 500+ campaign promises compiled at Politifact. Republicans have blocked more than 300 (listed as Stalled or In the works), such as repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. You can't argue with the 123 promises Obama kept, even though you can certainly be disappointed that there aren't more, and by the ones he broke. Politifact says that the Administration has broken only 24 promises. I have a few more on my list, like investigating the Bush/Cheney crimes seriously.
Boehner, McConnell, Cantor, and especially Michelle Bachmann (13 evaluated statements, all in False or Pants on Fire!) lie and exaggerate 24/7. Most of them do, of course, say true things, but commonly in the course of misrepresenting the facts. Similarly for Republican "strategists" and "operatives", but with less truth and more spin. Karl Rove's page doesn't have anything better than Mostly True, and I would have rated those as Half True. Libertarian Ron Paul is notable for telling the truth about Republicans a fair amount of the time, especially about busting the budget. His son Rand Paul is notable for a Politifact page containing statements that are strictly true (but misleading) or false, nothing in between.
Let's take a few samples, and see what we (or at least I) think of them. You can comment on them or on me as you see fit.
Pay this bill and call me in the morning
"Hospitals, doctors, MRIs, surgeries and so forth are more extensively used and far more expensive in this country than they are in many other countries."
Correct as far as it goes, but fundamentally irrelevant to the main question. Romney also said that the industry is not the cause of increasing health care costs, and
The president is scapegoating.
My rating: Pants on Fire!
Mostly True for Politifact.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, quote, "I can't stand John McCain."
What's this doing here? So he said it. So do I. What does that tell us about her?
Pants on Fire!
"Democrats are poised now to cause this largest tax increase in U.S. history."
That's a little more like it, except that it isn't a tax increase, it's the scheduled expiration of most but not all of Bush's unconscionable tax giveaways to the rich, which comes out to a tax cut relative to 2000, even for the very richest.
Politifact can have a Mostly True on this one. We agree quite thoroughly on Palin's Pants on Fire! Death Panel quote.
Pants on Fire!
Rudy Giuliani is "probably the most underqualified man since George Bush to seek the presidency."
Rudy has run the nation's largest city
Which proves what? Bush ran an oil company (into the ground), a baseball team, and Texas, and remained totally unqualified to be President.
I agree with Biden about Mayor Noun-Verb-9/11, and rate this statement True. I also give Politifact a Pants on Fire!
Barack Obama "pays for every dime" of his spending plans.
Deficit grows under Obama's plans
No, dummies, he pays for his spending plans, not W's.
Obama gets a True, and I'll allow Politifact a Barely True.
Do you get the idea? Don't let anybody, even fact-checkers, do all of your fact-checking or any of your thinking for you.
Way back in 1965 I looked through a pleasant little book, fresh in the stores, entitled The Scientist Speculates: An Anthology of Partly-Baked Ideas, now long out of print. It began with a proposal for measuring the "bakedness" of ideas on a scale of 1 for fully baked ideas such as molecular biology, or the greenhouse effect, down to 0 for some random thought not checked out in any way, to negative values, perhaps as low as
1, for such intentionally unbaked ideas as YoungEarth Creationism or Global Warming Denial. If we adapted this scheme to politics, negative values would correspond roughly to Pants on Fire! at Politifact.
I wouldn't put much stock in such evaluations in science, where the real questions are whether the math holds together, and whether the finely-tuned experiments give sufficiently precise results, and they agree with each other with sufficient accuracy. All of that, that is. Math or observation alone is worth beans, and if they don't agree, you still only have a question. (Possibly a very good one, such as the anomalies that led to quantum mechanics and both Relativity Theories.)
I also wouldn't put much stock in such a linear rating in politics, because there is more than one dimension to truth, and because it comes in much more finely divided gradations. What can go wrong, you ask? (You do, don't you? I mean, am I doing a buck and wing with no music here?)
Well, a statement can be entirely true but irrelevant, like looking at the budget inherited from Bush and blaming Obama for it. It can be a cherry-picked statistical item, where legitimate researchers can get very different numbers using different methods, and illegitimate "researchers" in the pay of special interests can come up with almost any answer their bosses want. It can be strictly true, in context, but incomplete, and used to imply something utterly false. Shirley Sherrod confessing to racist thoughts before explaining how she rejected them, for example. It can combine truth and falsehood in any proportions, relying on whatever truth is supplied as
...mere corroborative detail, designed to give an air of verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.
Gilbert & Sullivan, The Mikado
and then, of course, doing the same with the lies.
What it comes down to is that Politifact's scale of True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True, False, Pants on Fire! is neither finely graded enough, nor sensitive to taking facts out of context or otherwise using them to mislead. But if you are aware of these faults, it remains a good starting point for checking up on people in national politics whom you never heard of, who get on TV by saying something outrageous. It is also a very decent source for use in opposition-bashing, though not by itself. You should check On The Issues, Google News, and various other sources if you are doing real opposition research (and talking to real people, too.
Belief, Hypocrisy, or Lies?
We here at dKos agree that the Right lies, and Politifact confirms it to a fair degree. But do you know why the Right lies? To win elections, of course, but how does that work? This is not merely the "promise them everything" routine so common in politics. Republicans are promising things that they clearly have no intention of doing, most notably balancing the budget. And other things that they clearly have no ability to do, such as repeal of Health Care.
Most of their supporters know this. Balancing the budget, shrinking government, repealing Health Care, all of that is code for denying social services to Blacks, to other minorities, to the poor in general, to immigrants, to GLBTs, and to women. Feminists for sure, and most other women most of the time besides. You can tell because almost no Republicans cavil at increasing military-industrial spending and cutting taxes for the super-rich.
Ron Paul was once almost the only exception. Now, of course, many Tea Partiers believe in balancing the budget even if it means cutting military-industrial spending. This gives Republicans fits.
So why such lies? Because The Base expects, no, demands it, as the natural result of the long-running Southern Strategy that drove everybody else out of the party. The real Republican platform, in the South or anywhere else, is 100% greed, racism, and bigotry, in different proportions according to the delusions of Republicans (and as many others as they can rope in) in different cities and states. For more than 40 years, they have had to express the greed and racism in code, or claim that Democrats, especially minorities, are anti-White, anti-capitalist racists. We are of course also anti-Christian Commie Nazi etc. unReal unAmericans.
But that, too, is a cluster of topics for another day. Remind me to tell you how much of it is Milton Friedman's fault, for preaching that Socialism = Communism, and that Deficits Don't Matter. And about his one good idea, replacing much of the hodgepodge of programs for the poor with a Guaranteed National Income, at least if it is above the poverty level.