Monday, September 15, 2003

Truth and Lie in Extramoral Sense

Because I prefer debates and elections to assassinations and civil wars, I have a considerable tolerance for political equivocation. Where bare metal rubs against bare metal, oily characters come in handy. With this in mind, I’ve never uttered the joke, already stale during the ostracism of Aristides the Just, about how you can tell when a politician is lying. Even in politics, however, there are lies and then there are lies: white lies and black lies, public lies and private lies, trivial lies and consequential lies, opportunistic lies and programmatic lies, lies we can forgive because they create an illusion of community between groups that in fact hate one another and lies we cannot forgive because they fundamentally misrepresent the purposes of the speakers in order to harm the interests of the listeners.

The deceptions of the current administration, the carefully crafted output of countless committee meetings and focus groups, are anything but casual tactical shifts. They are what people used to call studied lies. In the context of the expensive and relentless disinformation campaigns of the administration on the budget, the environment, the connection between Iraq and Ben Laden, corrupt deals with Halliburton, the manufactured energy crisis in California, and nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, the much mooted sixteen words are a trivial issue and not even characteristic of the overall Bush approach to lying, which is usually careful to avoid specific assertions. The duplicity of these folks doesn’t so much reflect moral weakness—well, not that moral weakness—as the correct perception that policies beneficial to a minority of people can only be floated in a democracy by systematic fraud.

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