Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

Why Do Political Lies Work?

Found this little bit of wisdom on Deepak Chopra's blog today and thought it worthy of sharing. I'm sure people like Reverend Wright will greatly appreciate the sentiments expressed in it. I couldn't have said it all any better myself...

Why Do Political Lies Work?

Anyone who wants to reform American politics has to seriously consider the pros and cons of lying. Telling people what they want to hear has rarely lost an election. Yet nobody wants to be on the Titanic, reassured that what they felt was just a tiny bump. To begin with, there's an assumption that no candidate can win by telling the whole truth . The Dennis Kucinich school of bald-faced candor is usually fatal. The phrase "lying politician" rolls easily off the tongue, and yet a balancing act is required. We expect politicians to lie in some areas but not others. Pollsters have not found a simple formula for success, although being positive comes as close as any. Voters don't elect whistle-blowers and Cassandras. In the present climate there are certain painful truths that cannot be safely uttered in public.


--America's going to lose this war in the end. Iraq and Iran will form a Shiite coalition controlling almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia.
--The Army contains a lot of disadvantaged kids who enlisted because it was an easy option that paid well.
--The death penalty is barbaric and doesn't work.
--Millions of prison inmates don't deserve to be there, the victims of draconian drug laws.
--Drugs aren't going away, no matter how many crusades are mounted against them.
-- American democracy panders to the masses once every few years but is run on a day-to-day basis by privileged elites.
-- If you're poor or ethnic, your interests take a back seat in Washington.
--The military-industrial complex fuels American exports, so while preaching peace, our pocketbooks depend on selling war.
--The Christian right would be totally ignored if they hadn't found a way to vote en bloc and employ character assassination against anyone who opposes them.
-- It's immoral to force a politician to prove he loves God in public.
-- The deterioration of public discourse since Watergate has driven the best and the brightest out of politics.
-- No problem is so big that Washington can't find a way to postpone facing it.

This is a discouraging list, but I'm sure any thoughtful person who keeps up with politics could add to it with many more examples. Succeeding in political office means either avoiding the truth, masking it over, replacing it with distractions that have little or nothing to do with everyday life (e.g., school prayer, abortion, and the flag), or if need be, creating straw men to knock down. It's no secret that the right-wing revolution begun by Nixon and spectacularly advanced by Reagan was fueled by social resentment. Why else did the entire South go Republican after the civil rights era? Why else did 'liberal' become a dirty word and war protestors were blamed for losing in Vietnam? Finding a group to hate and vent resentment toward is far easier than telling hard truths to your supporters.

Will this time-honored avoidance of truth-telling, which breaks down only in dire crisis, ever change? The Democrats are running on the hope that it will. But a double bind seems to be tightening on them, especially on Sen. Obama. When he tells the truth too plainly, he is accused of being unrealistic, naive, too idealistic for his own good. When he resorts to placating gun owners, church goers, and the working class after offending them, he is accused of returning to politics as usual. This double bind has always existed. Pres. Kennedy, for fear of looking soft on Communism, ran on a fictional missile gap with the Soviet Union, a naked appeal to voter fear and hatred of the enemy. The trick is to infuse false rhetoric and sham promises with enough integrity that voters can read between the lines. In America you must convince people that you grasp reality without giving them too big a dose of it.


  1. Qadree said...

    This reminds me of a point that Abbas Kiarostami made in the bonus features of the DVD for his movie "Ten". He was speaking about why independent filmmakers should study the Hollywood formula.

    To make his point he brought up an experience that he had at at festival that took place outside of the U.S. At the festival people kept booing the Hollywood films that were shown, yet the Hollywood films were the only films that were selling out shows at the festival. People kept booing, but they also kept buying the tickets.

    Whether we are talking about film, politics, dating, or whatever, the issue remains the same.

    Will this time-honored avoidance of truth-telling, which breaks down only in dire crisis, ever change?

    You could apply this question to cinema very easily. In order for escapism to work, people need to have somewhere to hide, someone to blame. It's only when those options run out that people give a damn about the truth, don't expect this to change anytime soon.

  2. Nic said...

    Michael Moore, Farenheit 9/11 talked about how the military purposely recruits in low-income areas(i.e. black) because they have "fewer" options than suburban kids whose parents make sure they go to college. The enticement of "money for college" is too strong for the "poor" kids to turn down.

    And the argument that Chopra makes about the "Christian right" can also be said for many groups who employ character assassination against those who oppose their views.

  3. Baby Please said...

    Politics = Lies.


  4. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...

    Well, polls would suggest that many Americans are ready for change...

    But I don't envy Obama's task much.

  5. dudleysharp said...

    Chopra has a few good ones and a few false ones in his list.

    Here is rebuttal to one false one.

    The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

    Innocents are more at risk without the death penalty.

    Living murderers, in prison, after release or escape or after our failures to incarcerate them, are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers.

    This is a truism.

    No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in US criminal law.

    Therefore, actual innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die in prison serving under that sentence, that it is that an actual innocent will be executed.

    That is. logically, conclusive.

    16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence.

    A surprise? No.

    Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

    Some believe that all studies with contrary findings negate those 16 studies. They don’t. Studies which don’t find for deterrence don’t say no one is deterred, but that they couldn’t measure those deterred.

    What prospect of a negative outcome doesn’t deter some? There isn’t one . . . although committed anti death penalty folk may say the death penalty is the only one.

    However, the premier anti death penalty scholar accepts it as a given that the death penalty is a deterrent, but does not believe it to be a greater deterrent than a life sentence. Yet, the evidence is compelling and un refuted that death is feared more than life.

    “This evidence greatly unsettles moral objections to the death penalty, because it suggests that a refusal to impose that penalty condemns numerous innocent people to death.” (1)

    ” . . . a serious commitment to the sanctity of human life may well compel, rather than forbid, (capital) punishment.” (1)

    “Recent evidence suggests that capital punishment may have a significant deterrent effect, preventing as many as eighteen or more murders for each execution.” (1)

    Some death penalty opponents argue against death penalty deterrence, stating that it’s a harsher penalty to be locked up without any possibility of getting out.

    Reality paints a very different picture.

    What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.

    What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.

    What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.

    This is not, even remotely, in dispute.

    Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

    Furthermore, history tells us that “lifers” have many ways to get out: Pardon, commutation, escape, clerical error, change in the law, etc.

    In choosing to end the death penalty, or in choosing not implement it, some have chosen to spare murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives.


    Furthermore, possibly we have sentenced 20-25 actually innocent people to death since 1973, or 0.3% of those so sentenced. Those have all been released upon post conviction review. The anti death penalty claims, that the numbers are significantly higher, are a fraud, easily discoverable by fact checking.

    6 inmates have been released from death row because of DNA evidence. An additional 9 were released from prison, because of DNA exclusion, who had previously been sentenced to death.

    The innocents deception of death penalty opponents has been getting exposure for many years. Even the behemoth of anti death penalty newspapers — The New York Times — has recognized that deception.

    “To be sure, 30 or 40 categorically innocent people have been released from death row . . . “. ‘ (2) This when death penalty opponents were claiming the release of 119 “innocents” from death row. Death penalty opponents never required actual innocence in order for cases to be added to their “exonerated” or “innocents” list. They simply invented their own definitions for exonerated and innocent and deceptively shoe horned large numbers of inmates into those definitions - something easily discovered with fact checking.

    There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.

    If we accept that the best predictor of future performance is past performance, we can reasonable conclude that the DNA cases will be excluded prior to trial, and that for the next 8000 death sentences, that we will experience a 99.8% accuracy rate in actual guilt convictions. This improved accuracy rate does not include the many additional safeguards that have been added to the system, over and above DNA testing.

    Of all the government programs in the world, that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty?


    Full report - All Innocence Issues: The Death Penalty, upon request.

    Full report - The Death Penalty as a Deterrent, upon request

    (1) From the Executive Summary of
    Is Capital Punishment Morally Required? The Relevance of Life-Life Tradeoffs, March 2005
    Prof. Cass R. Sunstein, Cass_Sunstein(AT)
    Prof. Adrian Vermeule , avermeule(AT)
    Full report

    (2) “The Death of Innocents’: A Reasonable Doubt”,
    New York Times Book Review, p 29, 1/23/05, Adam Liptak,
    national legal correspondent for The NY Times

    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail, 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas

    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

    Pro death penalty sites


    www(dot) (Sweden)

    Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part, is approved with proper attribution.

  6. dudleysharp said...

    One blogger, at Huffington Post, thoughtfully challenges Chopra on every point.

Post a Comment