I am sickened to my bones by the lying.

10 October 2012

Film history is rife with narratives about corrupt politicians, so we have plenty of models for thinking about how virtue gets corrupted along the way to political office. Think of Robert Redford in The Candidate (1972) or Broderick Crawford in All the King’s Men (1949, below) — the basic trope is that politics corrupts.

But film history gives me no model by which to understand Mitt Romney’s willingness to lie during this campaign. He’s the political equivalent of Gumby: endlessly plastic, bendable. I am sickened to my bones of a man who either is willing to say anything to make himself more appealing to voters — no matter that he claimed just the opposite last week or last month — or someone with so few actual political commitments that they all seem to him to be accurate. He praised Planned Parenthood till he condemned it; now he claims to have no plans to dismantle abortion rights despite having been avidly pro-life to the point of advocating a personhood amendment. Each time he lies, his big eyes and handsome face and devout Mormonism all seem to try to reassure me that he’s at heart a good man, an honest man. It is all a lie.

In the one week since the debate with President Obama, Romney’s campaign has had to “walk back from” (i.e., deny) a number of the most crucial things he professed during that evening. His campaign has just today denied that he really meant to flip on the abortion question. What do you call a man who lies with such skill? What do you call a man who shape-shifts with such dexterity and disinterest in political commitment, yet decries his opponent for getting his position wrong. I am sick to death of it, and have a fear in my soul that a desperate American public will believe what it wants to hear — whatever little piece suits their fancy. For this man, no policy matters enough that he will not change positions depending on who’s listening.

In Romney’s America, there will be no king in Israel.

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17 Responses to “I am sickened to my bones by the lying.”

  1. servetus Says:

    Fantastic closing line.

    • Didion Says:

      It does indicate my profound existential weariness during these October days, as I watch a candidate for president lie with such ease.

      • servetus Says:

        Yeah. The reason I turned off the debate within ten minutes of the beginning was that I had seen Romney widen his face and open his eyes wide and lie like nobody’s business. He reminded me of some of my undergraduates. Sickening.

  2. RAFrenzy Says:

    LOL! If I were a masochist, I would take on that last line. Suffice to say most politicians are liars.

  3. FD Says:

    I share your feeling about Romney, but the fact is that lying has become the norm in our political elections at all levels. It may be bad for the country, but it is good politics.

    I don’t blame Romney for lying. It’s the media and the american voters themselves who are being irresponsible and lazy.

    The truth is we have no honest candidates. Any candidate who tries to be honest today will lose. Political consultants and focus groups control everything we hear. The only time we get the truth is when a candidate doesn’t have enough brains to “stay on message.”

    What sickens me are not the lies. I’m far more sickened by media journalists who allow the brazen lies to go unchallenged. Each time Romney changed his position, the debate moderator should have rephrased the question. Jounalists should expose a candidate’s inconsistencies and misleading remarks. Not help him/her dodge the question. Truth comes from subjecting the candidate to cross-examination, not inviting him/her to give a soliloquy.

    Does anyone who made it through junior high school seriously believe Romney is fighting to provide more jobs, protect social security and medicare, maintain abortion rights and preserve the middle class? You betcha!

    In the end, we get the leaders we deserve.

    • Didion Says:

      Oh, FD, you’re so right. And perhaps it’s exactly the corruption of the entire system that makes me so tired, so sickened by the spectacle of electoral politics right now.

      I’m very seldom prone to make arguments about cultural literacy, but I’m starting to think that students need to start taking critical thinking classes in junior high and renew them biannually.

  4. Becky Says:

    Oh, you are so right, I am exhausted with just trying to keep up with what he said last. Unlike others, I blame everyone for the lying. The candidates who should be ashamed, the voters who are not earning their democracy, and the so-called 4th estate who seem to have all become personalities. I am very afraid we will get what we deserve, and what we deserve is not good. I will show my age and tell you that we had “citizenship and current events” when I went to public schools, and it was valuable for all those who did not hear about anything of this nature in their own homes. If we want good citizens, then we have to ensure we make them!

    • Didion Says:

      I should hasten to make a note of something: I completely agree that politics is often about misinformation and hedging, but I’m less willing to say that what all politicians do is the same. I think it’s a tendency of the media to equivocate on that issue; to say, well, Romney’s bad but all politicians are bad. I will stand by my accusation of Romney in particular being willing to lie about holding new positions no one ever heard of before. The degree of his deception is greater than anything I’ve seen before.

      One of the aspects of politics that all informed citizens ought to be able to gauge is whether a politician’s positions will benefit the country. But if a politician professes to have every single position imaginable, informed citizens have nowhere to go.

      • servetus Says:

        Yes, emphatically so. I’ve really been convinced by Jay Rosen on this point — not all equivocation is the same; the media do that in the name of a belief they cultivate in “symmetry” or “balance,” but it’s not balance if they don’t call out lies when they see them — not least because then we are encouraged not to call them out. It’s definitely not the case that “all liars” have been equal in this presidential campaign.

      • Didion Says:

        Oh, Servetus, this is great: Jay Rosen’s PressThink blog is invaluable reading. And I believe the post you’re referring to is here. So important to stay abreast of smart commentators like this.

      • servetus Says:

        What I discovered this summer (in that particular political atmosphere you’re aware of) was “well, they’re all lying” turned into an excuse not to actually know what they had said. I was as guilty of this as my parents were; you’ve decided who you want to vote for and you’re too lazy to look further, so when you discover someone lying you say, oh well, that’s what they all do. No one should lie. But when you stack the lies up against each other, it’s clear that there’s a more severe problem on one side than the other.

  5. servetus Says:

    See also “The View from Nowhere.”

    http://archive.pressthink.org/2003/09/18/jennings.html

  6. FD Says:

    This is a slippery slope.
    Does Romney tells more lies than Obama?
    How about Biden?
    Is he lying?
    Or just sticking his foot in the wrong place?
    How about Sarah Palin?
    Does she lie now and then?
    You betcha!
    How about the folks who calculate the deficit?
    How about the Federal Reserve?

    Sounds like we’re back in the schoolyard —
    “But, he lied first.”

    I don’t think Senator Feinstein was lying when she said the price of gas in California is too high.
    Do you?

    So, is everybody in politics lying?
    That’s a good question.

    Remember what Bill Clinton said…”it all depends on what your definition of is is.”

    • Didion Says:

      Jay Rosen has a nice analysis of this problem. His point is that to make the point that a politician lies, the media focus on single, concrete lies — that Romney’s health care plan will not cover pre-existing conditions, no matter what he said during the debate, for example. We can tick through each one of these and compare them to lies or misleading statements or “extended lies” told by the other side or by other politicians.

      But what the media don’t discuss is the way this has become a post-truth election. That overall, we have seen a grander scale of lying than ever before. That when challenged on their lies, politicians say, “Well, that’s just your opinion,” when in fact it’s not a matter of opinion but a lie.

      Thus an analyst like Rosen can point specifically to lies told by Democrats and explain exactly why those statements were wrong. But the larger story — the one the media will not tell because it is an aggregate analysis of all these smaller lies — is that the Republicans have taken lying to a new level because they had a harder time convincing the public that their policies are attractive. So yes, I would happily commit to the statement that Romney’s utter lack of a coherent policy core — his willingness to shift positions willy-nilly depending on the audience — constitutes something new and awful in American politics.

      • FD Says:

        In my state (Connecticut), both senate candidates have been lying since securing the nomination. If either has a grain of truth in their ads, I won’t vote for either of them.

        But, on the national level, I agree. Nobody does it better than the Republican party who’s running against crazy Dems who voted to cut $700 billion from Medicare. We can’t afford these cuts and the Republicans will never cut social security or medicare. Not for anyone over 55.

        That’s a promise.

        But if you’re 50 or you’re Big Bird, you’re in for it!

  7. servetus Says:

    “Everybody does it” is an excuse not to penalize anyone for it, and the guy with the biggest pocketbook wins. I’m not completely ready to give up on the possibility that good politics can change some things for the better for some people, or to deny that the basic notions of utilitarianism are useful in determining the goals of a mass democratic politics.


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