Thursday, May 31, 2007

Why politicians lie to us

The short answer is they lie to us because we want them to.

When my oldest son was younger he believed in the tooth fairy. And why wouldn't he? My wife and I told him she existed, and he slept soundly enough we could exchange a dollar bill for his most recently liberated baby-tooth without waking him and spoiling a rite of passage.

Basically, we lied so he could enjoy a more magical world than a child could otherwise understand in the real world. Which is a fancy way to say we indulged (abused?) his child-like wonder of the world and his trust in us while mom and dad went on with business in the real world and took care of his every need--and many of his wants.

In a moment we'll get to why the new democrat-controlled congress funded the Iraqi war without pull-out dates, but first a little more groundwork.

With my apologies to those taken aback with my sacrilege, let's take a short test to see if you believe in Santa Clause:
  • Gas prices are manipulated by big oil companies, yes or no?
  • The President is responsible for the economy, yes or no?
  • The rich become rich by exploiting the working class, yes or no?
  • "Living wage" laws lift people out of poverty, yes or no?
  • Congress will make sure Social Security will provide for your retirement, yes or no?
If you answered yes to any of these questions there's a good chance you may still believe in Santa Claus--or if not Santa, at least you believe in fairy tales.

Don't be upset. Your child-like innocence is endearing to your mother--and your representatives in congress. In fact, most politicians admire those qualities in voters because it makes their constituents easier to manipulate. Or in plain English, easier to lie to.

Lies work best when one party is more gullible than the other. In the issue at hand, Democratic candidates won a congressional majority by telling voters what they wanted to hear: that they wouldn't provide any more funds for the war without a time line for withdrawing the troops. Put your vote under the pillow and the fairies will replace it with an exit strategy tied to funding.

How were voters so easily duped? Because they'd rather believe withdrawing the troops this fall has no military consequences than that insurgents and terrorists would use it to their own positive ends. They'd rather believe the troops in Iraq will see a withdrawal plan as concern for their safety than a lack of confidence in their mission. They'd rather believe the non-uniformed combatants that blend into the population and think nothing of targeting civilians as they do our military are petty criminals better tried by Judge Judy than a military court.

As much as it pains me to write it, the new democrats in congress knew tying funding to pull-out dates was a bad national strategy but they also knew promising it to impatient voters was their best ticket to Washington. Even after giving empty Easter baskets to, Pelosi and gang are still promising they've hidden eggs in the living room--or that they soon will.

Voters are also anxious about gas prices so congress passed a bill promising to investigate gouging when they know they'll find none--but they can say they did something. Reminds me of how parents shoo monsters out from under the bed. It works for children for the same reason it does voters--because both are gullible. Voters are gullible because they're either ignorant or prefer to live in a make-believe world than the real world.

So voters need to ask themselves if they want to be grownups, if they want to be treated as grownups, and which candidates will talk to them like grownups. It's easier to spot politicians pandering to childish thinking after we become adult about the issues facing our nation's borders, oil dependency, education, health care, income taxes, and all the issues facing our state and local governments.

Adults don't trade votes, or teeth, for favors from politicians we know they can't deliver.


  1. Of course you're right on, Tom. I feel better about this blog, too, because it gives voice to me in a way, also. Now, we need to keep exposing the liers publicly, and hope the voting public gets it.

  2. The truth well stated, Tom. My wish would be to televise your blog 24/7 with the hope that all of those voters holding on to their child-like fantasies would come of age and grasp the lies they are being fed. Hellooooo!!

    Hopefully those gullible beings who voted Granholm back into office are questioning their adulthood.

  3. No doubt there are plenty of gullible voters out there, but how does one tell the gullible from those that disagree? I know quite a few intelligent people and some of them even disagree with me.

    Without some criteria or standard, I can't imagine anyone saying, "Yep, I'm gullible. Better vote for what Tom says."

    What are the signs of gullibility?

  4. "What are the signs of gullibility?"

    I've been thinking about that one for a while now, but to answer it fully will probably require an article of its own.

    But since that article will take some time to compose I'll throw-out some of my less-fully-baked ideas.

    One of the obvious signs of gullibility is emotion. I'm unaware of anyone reading a brilliantly composed essay and responding to it with ecstasy, anger, or tears. The normal response to logical argument isn't to spring into action. Logical argument inspires thought, not hysterics. Hysterics (or immediately mass-mailing everyone in your address book with a must-read article--like this one) is a common response to ad populum rhetoric. Reasoned argument deserves reasoned consideration. Adults appreciate reason. Children appreciate emotion.

    Adults are considerate of other points of view. Adults respond to differing viewpoints as alternatives and not antagonisms. Instead of insulting those who don't share their opinion they're willing to take the time to understand the composition of the alternative and as noted before, will respond reasonably and not hysterically--calling the other person names or otherwise disparage them directly or indirectly. If the other party is unable to defend their opinion then it's safe to assume they arrived at it emotionally. In that case the reasonable reaction is to politely excuse yourself from the discussion or move onto other topics you can discuss rationally, like the weather or the latest season of American Idol.

    Those are my first two thoughts. As I think of more I'll either respond here or post a new article.