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.Examples:
--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.