Isn't it so quaint to think back on that old legend about George Washington? You know, the one by Parson Weems where young George confesses to his father that he cut down the cherry tree, unburdening his soul because "I cannot tell a lie." Whether the story is poetry or prose, its meaning is admirable, a morality tale often used to illustrate the nobility of truth.
What a concept, truth. "The quality of being true, genuine, actual, or factual." I've made that a link to Dictionary.com because there are quite a few people out there who are deeply confused about the concept of truth. Those people -- the confused ones -- come in all shapes, sizes, genders, colors, and political parties but for the sake of argument, and as a nod to the political climate of this GOP Convention week, let's focus on politicians, shall we?
I'm up writing this article at 5:30 in the morning because I found myself lying in bed tonight pondering the state of our country (forget George Clooney dreams, I've got politics keeping me up!). I'd made the mistake of reading an article that was so hyperbolic and slanted so disingenuously that I couldn't help but ponder, when did we lose our way with the idea of honesty? What happened to the demand for ethics in making points or accurately reporting a story? When did we become so willing to sacrifice truth and honor to slant a debate, score polling numbers, get readers to "like" a story, or win an election?
I'm not naïve; I know factual perversion has been going on since the dawn of man, but it seems now -- with so many media outlets, so many ways for so many people to say so much -- the tsunami of lies, manipulations, spin, and propaganda has become an unstoppable torrent with no moral compass to keep it in check. Or, as Mitt Romney pollster, Neil Newhouse, says, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."
To that I say, WHAT??!
In the year 2012, at a time when we need clear, cogent, elevated thinking to continue to pull our country towards a better economy, a more fair tax system, reformed education and healthcare, and social policies that embrace compassion, we're not even going to try to rely on that magical, mystical, Camelot-like fantasy called "truth"? Not even when it's about shepherding a candidate toward the highest position in the land?
Apparently not. Lying is the new Truth. And that's keeping me up tonight.
I'm an opinion writer, therefore I make no bones of my predilections, what side I'm on, who I believe in politically, or what I think about any given thing. However, I've never knowingly misreported (I swear, God did tell me He/She isn't a Republican!), I've never plagiarized, and I did finally tell my mother I was the one who ate the box of Salerno Butternut Cookies way back when. Truth is important to me. I have a son to whom I've made the point clear many times: "You can lie to me and get away with it. There's plenty any person can hide that will never be found out. Truth is not about getting -- or not getting -- caught. It's about honor. It's about who you choose to be as a person. And you are required to be an honorable person." This is one of many versions of a speech I made throughout his life. You can ask him; he's probably got it memorized.
But as a parent, an American, a sentient being on this Earth, it's getting pretty damn hard rattling off that speech at a time when honor is arbitrary and truth is dismissed as so much inconvenient fact, particularly if it gets in the way of a good campaign ad or party talking points. The article keeping me up tonight? Why the Rhetoric Against the Successful Must End, another weary rehash of the GOP manipulation of Obama's "You didn't build that" speech in which the article writer actually says:
From classroom to the halls of Washington, risks are considered bad. They are to be avoided. Those that take them are deviants... for the sake of our economy, the president's guilt trip on the successful must stop.
"Deviants"?? "Guilt trip on the successful"?? Who has EVER said risk takers are deviants? And there is and never has been any attack or "guilt trip" on success made by this president. More intelligent minds understood the context of his speech; it was focused on the collaborative nature of success, how mentors and teachers contribute to one's entrepreneurial spirit, how parents and colleagues help build one's skill set and wealth of knowledge; how the free enterprise system, government programs, history and its ancestors built structures and foundations upon which we all build our own businesses today. It was a poetic (if clumsy) speech meant to highlight the "it takes a village" philosophy but to those for whom truth is arbitrary, cynically twisting it into something resembling "this Administration is against success" was the more important point than truth. (I'm leaving the FactCheck.org link here so you can check the inconvenient facts yourself. Given the way in which this speech is being used -- like a bludgeon -- during the current GOP Convention, it's important.)
Yes, I know life is subjective. We all have opinions, emotions, filters, experiences, observations, etc., that color our particular interpretation of the truth. But not everything in life -- or in politics -- is ripe for the Rashomon effect. Some facts are just facts. When a GM plant actually closed down, which requirements have or have not been cut from welfare, who will or won't be impacted by the Affordable Care Act all involve facts. Not open to manipulation, politics, campaign propaganda, cheap-shot articles, Ann Coulter, or lies (lies just naturally seem to follow Ann Coulter).
So how about this? How about we acknowledge our political differences, we debate those differences, but we hold to a mandate of truth in any discussion about them. We denounce all lies, manipulations, falsehoods, parsing, purposeful misinterpretations, lies (did I already say that??) and leave all that truth on the table for voters to decide. All of us. Both sides. Every side. Everyone. Each candidate. Their pollsters, campaign managers, wives, pundits, financiers, barbers, even Ann Coulter. That would be refreshing.
But we won't do that, will we? We could (well, maybe not Ann), but we won't. Because it's campaign season. It's politics. Just ask CNN's David Gergen, who wrote off the misstatements (aka "lies") of Paul Ryan's convention speech with "But let's not forget that this was a speech about big ideas." Big ideas apparently trump truth. And truth just isn't that hot anymore.
Lying is the new truth.