Friday, May 23, 2003

Truth and Lie in an Extramoral Sense

To judge by their obvious delight in the practice, you might think that the spokesmen for the Bush administration just discovered how to lie. They’re like 12-year olds who’ve just stumbled on the miracle of self-abuse and now retreat to the bathroom at every opportunity. In all probability, however, Chaney, Powell, and Rumsfeld were familiar with this basic political tool before they took office. The elaborate, studied prevarications habitual to this administrations reflect, not a change in the behavior of the personnel, but a change in the public world in which they operate. There is simply no cost to lying to the public right now. Republicans can lie about the budget as they have from the beginning. They can lie about weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi connection to Ben Laden. They can invent and film thrilling war stories like the Jessica Lynch fable and the staged demolition of Saddam Hussein’s statue. They aren’t going to be called on these lies in any politically meaningful way and they know it.

To be fair, Republicans have never really had much of a choice in regards to veracity, though they used to pay more of a price for programmatic dishonesty. All politicians regard truth as optional, but politicians who actually work for the interests of a large percentage of their constituents can sometimes afford to play it straight. In a democracy, politicians dedicated to the defense of privilege simply have to lie. They can only prevail by force or fraud.

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