Last Friday, CNN published a piece on “Why politicians lie.” It ran the gamut of excuses, touching upon all the reasons (e.g., because they can get away with it if they’re lying to loyal constituents; because they’re aware of spin and can “evade” and get what they want via tactfully crafted statements; etc.). While the piece is good, it is too diplomatic and doesn't go far enough.
Politicians lie because they need to lie. They need to appeal to your sensibilities at the expense of honesty or some romantic sense of honor that would otherwise appeal to something else —something that yields irrelevant or undesired results out of their constituents. They need to appeal to your hopes and/or fears; if accomplishing that takes anywhere from a bit to a lot of lying, then they’ll do it — it’s their job. They are compelled to do whatever it takes (within their moral limits, of course) to satiate their ulterior motives; in their hearts, they lie to achieve an outcome that is “right” (whatever that means), and self-satisfying. It’s the “invisible hand” willfully reaching to grab something — even if it must sucker-punch its way through.
Here’s the kicker: I’m not complaining. Politicians should lie. I encourage my favorite leaders —people I admire and at times even adore — to lie because it’s ultimately in both my and what I believe to be others' interests to keep them in power. So long as such ends bring about said means, I’m a happy camper, and everyone else should be happy too.
If they don’t like it, they can exercise their First Amendment rights; rally together, nominate another liar, and vote him or her in next time. They have the Huffington Post and Drudge Report, MSNBC and Fox News at their disposal. They can turn to the courts (where, by the way, we allow liars on two sides of an issue to throw down before a judge who gets to decide who the more convincing liar is). That’s why we live in a democracy, right? Isn’t that compensation enough?
That’s how the world is. Never mind right and wrong. In a morally relativistic world where misinformation can be used just as much against you as it can be used in your favor, lying becomes not only opportunely advantageous, but necessary even. In the grand scheme of things, within such an imperfect construct, right and wrong amount to diddly-squat. In a world like this, only four things matter: your personal values, the stuff that you have, the stuff that you want, and the wherewithal to get you from A to B.
If lying is part of that wherewithal, it’s not about right or wrong; it’s about whether or not you have the guts to do it.
Additional compensation we earn for allowing politicians to lie is the power to hand out their sentences when they’re caught. Clinton? Spitzer? Weiner? Edwards? We’ve carried out their sentences well; we’ve got our hilarious press conferences, our tabloid fodder, our priceless SNL skits, roaring minutes out of our favorite comedians’ stand-up routines, all the footage we need of once-kings lying through their teeth before we put their heads on pikes for it. Liars entertain America; we live for it, to catch liars and make them suffer as we watch (even if we all lie ourselves yet conveniently forget to wonder why we should get away with lying while people in power are suddenly so supra-human that they shouldn’t). We live to lambaste these people from the comfort of our living rooms, or from behind all the comforting anonymity of our computers. We’re low — and most of us aren’t ashamed of it.
There’s only one reason why people complain about lying when they simultaneously seem to love it so much: lying becomes unacceptable when you find out that you’re the one who’s been lied to, and for somebody else’s benefit, no less.
The world may change and one day become utopian; as realistic as I am, there’s always room in my heart for optimism. But for the time being, the realist in me says, “Cut the double-standard crap, stop crying, and lie, lie, lie if it means getting us what we believe to be the policies and legislation we need.”