Strategic Lying as Political Art

If you listen to Randi Rhodes, you know she is still livid over Romney being declared the “winner” in last week’s – we’ll call it a “debate” for the nonce.

Alas, though, the reason he won is that poll numbers have moved in his favor.  Whether that bounce is robust remains to be seen.  But it did gain Romney some sort of advantage, at least in the near term.

Randi’s objection is that Romney lied, repeatedly, and about almost everything.  In the process, he flatly repudiated some of the major planks in his platform – the destruction of Medicare as we know it, the $5 Trillion dollar tax cut, the reduction of tax share paid by high income people, and an insurance plan not covering pre-existing conditions stand out in that regard.   And these are but a few of the 27  debate lies that can easily be recognized and refuted.

Indeed, the one rare moment of lucid candor came when he eagerly, gleefully announced that he would send Big Bird to the unemployment line in order to avoid borrowing money from China.  Big NPR whoop!  To put this in perspective, for CY 2012, the Federal Government, via the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, is contributing $26.65 million in support of PBS, or 0.0007% of total Federal expenditures ($3.77 Trillion) for 2012.    In fact, the entire Federal contribution to CPB is $445.2 million, or 0.0118% of total expenditures. That’s sure going to help balance $5 Trillion in tax cuts over ten years. (CPB data from Wikipedia, current expenditure data from the St. Louis Fed.)   Romney isn’t lying about our creditor position with China, but he was certainly misleading.  According to Fox News (!) “China, it turns out, holds less than 8 percent of the money our government has borrowed over the years.”

OK, I get where Randi is coming from – to have a totally unprincipled opportunist in charge of running the world’s greatest super power is not a recipe for any kind of enduring success, either for the U.S.A. specifically, or for the world at large.  There are many historical examples one could cite, but we really needn’t go back any further than the “compassionate conservatism” of unprosecuted war criminal and would-be social security privatizer George W. Bush to make the point.

But what Randi refuses to acknowledge is that what we witnessed last week was not a debate, by any recognizable definition of the term.  Lying will get you disqualified in a real debate – right?  This was political theater – and what is theater but staged fiction? 

And there is nothing unusual here.  I’ve been saying for years that all Republicans do is lie, and then lie about their lies. (I might have gotten that phrase from Randi – the memory is foggy.)  Here is a four-year-old exposé of some of Romney’s shape shifting.  (H/T to Dave Brockington at LGM.)

A more insidious kind of lie is simply denying reality, as characterized by birtherism, New Deal and global warming denialism, and Friday’s epidemic of conspiracy theories surrounding the latest favorable jobs report.   But I digress.

Here is my point.  Brad Delong points us to a 1984 Fay Joyce article in the N. Y. Times uncovered by Michael Moore.  It turns out that lying during a debate is a time honored Republican strategy.  Even 28 years ago, when there was some chance of the main stream media doing actual journalism, they were confident in their lying strategy.

The Republicans are unabashed in their discussion of their ability to use the television medium. “You can say anything you want during a debate and 80 million people hear it,” observed Peter Teeley, press secretary to Vice President Bush. If reporters then document that a candidate spoke untruthfully, ”so what?”

”Maybe 200 people read it or 2,000 or 20,000,” he said.

Now, they have honed it into an art form.  And it’s worth remembering the one reason that always accounts for every person’s lie: their agenda is not compatible with the truth.

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