Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Moving Lips

Johnny Carson tried to make light of it:

I've written about the motivations behind it:

Have you ever wondered why politicians and their affiliates lie? Why they betray their oaths and scamp their duties by deliberately misinforming the public? Why they strain to seduce -- often quite successfully -- the mainstream media into affirming or substantiating their deceits?

In one sense, the answer is simple. Politicians lie for the same reason anyone lies: to get something that would otherwise be unavailable to them on acceptable terms. If a lie is the lowest-cost / least-risk way of getting it, and their morals don't inhibit them from the approach, they'll lie as volubly as a teenager caught with one hand wrapped around a bottle of Jack Daniels and the other deep in his date's panties.

Bill Clinton introduced the word-mincing technique that came to be called "parsing:"

So careful were Clinton's responses, and so high were the stakes, that analysts scrutinized his remarks with rabbinical care. When Clinton initially said there "is" no sexual relationship between him and Lewinsky, reporters wondered whether that included previous sexual contact; Clinton later denied a sexual relationship in the past tense, too. It was a sign of the fevered atmosphere that some in Washington even seized on Clinton's use of the phrase "sexual relationship." On Friday, in his National Journal column, noted legal writer Stuart Taylor questioned whether Clinton chose that construction to artfully allow the possibility that he had engaged in oral sex with Lewinsky. (In similar scandals, other politicians have claimed that extramarital oral sex did not constitute adultery—a distinction that some allege Clinton has made as well.) Faced with such multiplying and embarrassing questions, White House aides held open the prospect that Clinton might present himself for a dramatic press conference or high-profile television interview to answer questions about the controversy.

...but beyond all dispute, the high-slime mark of today belongs to Barack Hussein Obama, beginning with his presidential campaign:

...and extending throughout his presidency:

...and I have no doubt that Obama's successors, assuming he has any, will do their damnedest to break his record.

How do they do it?

Evolutionary mechanisms operate in the political sphere at the very least. Intentionally or otherwise, each generation passes lessons down to its successors. Those lessons include observations about what works and what doesn't among techniques for deceiving the public. You may rest assured that aspirants to political power pay close attention to what their "ancestors" have managed to get away with -- and even closer attention to what they haven't.

Political lying has carved a deep channel into the American psyche. Contemporary political lies are more numerous and more blatant than ever before. Many of them are absolutely crude, "Baghdad Bob" style denials of facts before our eyes, verified by multiple sources. Slightly less crude are the lies of distortion, in which the clear implications of verifiable facts are rationalized away with semi-plausible excuses, dismissals of significance, or attacks on the protestor's motives. After those come the lies of misdirection, deflection of responsibility, and the pitiable last resort of the political liar, the claim that "we don't yet have all the facts."

Politicians of our day are bolder, subtler, and more adroit in their deceits than any of their predecessors. Atop that, their consciences are more completely numbed than any non-felonious offender recorded by history. Those that claim to be Christians are almost certainly lying about that as well. At any rate, they appear confident that there is no afterlife, or that the consequences of their lives on Earth can somehow be finessed or effaced.

With very few exceptions, the contemporary American politician is, by definition, a sociopath.

The mechanics of systematic deceit are well understood:

When Smith wishes to deceive Jones, he must contrive to do all the following:
  1. Misdirection: He must avert Jones's attention and credulity from any convincing contrary evidence.
  2. Confidence: He must instill in Jones an adequate degree of confidence in his (Smith's) trustworthiness.
  3. Plausibility: He must frame his deceit in a manner consistent with the applicable context.
  4. Affirmation: He must ensure that the preponderance of voices to which Jones is likely to listen will affirm, or at least not contradict, his deceit.
  5. Neutralization: He must discredit contrary voices which have access to evidence, or channels of persuasion, that are outside his control.

But that's not the whole story. Skeptics and persons with the habit of independent inquiry are very difficult to gull, even for the most skilled of deceivers. Systematic deceit works because a hefty fraction of the populace is not only deceivable, but amenable to being deceived. Indeed, quite a number of Americans actively want to be deceived. If denied the lies they expect (and in some cases, demand), they would greet the unvarnished truth with astonishment and dismay. They'd regard it as offensive, perhaps even intolerable.


There are many "whys" in politics for which no satisfactory answer can be found. This isn't one of them. It springs from Mankind's greatest natural weakness: our ability and willingness to refuse to see what's unpleasant, especially if acknowledging it would demand a costly, arduous, or perilous response.

Political deceit panders to wishful thinking. The politician who can persuade his audience to believe in the "free lunch" can get them to sit still for a fleecing beyond anything known to the world of sheep. The politician who can persuade his audience that the barbarian isn't at the gates even when the strokes of the battering ram can be clearly heard between his promises can allow them to evade:

  • The terror of anticipation;
  • The admission of cowardice;
  • The recognition of incapacity.

Examples are plentiful.

The maxim of the entertainment trades is Give the people what they want. In that regard, politics as it's practiced in America today is a form of entertainment. Sadly, since what many persons want is to be deceived, that's what they get: lies expressed gracefully and delivered fetchingly. More and worse, those of us determined to know the truth -- determined to be free -- are too few to countervail the prevalent dynamic. The electorate tends to replace liar Smith only when more skilled liar Jones arises to challenge him.

The political order has become a kind of ecological niche: a zone within which he who deceives most effectively will be the dominant organism. Nor should we be surprised about it.

The Founding Fathers held that politics and public office were unsuitable occupations for a career. Their original Constitutional design included several provisions intended to obstruct the establishment of the sort of life in public office that's common today. Their prototype statesman for the newborn Republic was a man of independent means who could leave his affairs in a steward's hands for a few weeks each summer while he busied himself with the rei publicae: i.e., with questions of state. It took several Constitutional Amendments, two World Wars, a Great Depression, and one hell of a lot of demagoguery to create the niche that makes political careerism possible.

The professional deceiver -- the politician -- emerged to occupy that niche.
The niche will exist for as long as we permit it.
How long will we permit it?


Martin McPhillips said...

Bill Clinton lied/lies as a psychopath, which he is, would: Even when he doesn't have to. Lies come so easily to him, in his extraordinary psychopathic glibness, that they slide right out even when they are not required.

Barack Obama is a Bolshevik, a man of the Revolution, mentored by a Stalinist as a teen, so he wouldn't even consider telling the truth and never does.

There's your differential diagnosis between those two.

StukaPilot said...

people are willing to be lied to because they are paid: with debt-financed .gov job, pension, contract, handout. When the debt blows up, there will be significantly fewer people willing to be lied to. Still not the majority by any means, but sufficient to liquidate the current political class and its owners.

angrymike said...

If learning from past politicians is how these criminals succeed, we are truly screwed after this administration........