Where Have All the Liars Gone?

Ursula K. Le Guin -- Photo by Marian Wood Kolisch

by Ursula K. Le Guin

What’s happened to the word “lying,” anyhow? Nobody tells a lie any more.

“Deciding to ignore the facts,” “not fact-checking,” “stretching the truth,” “not telling the entire truth,” — in covering speeches by Romney, Ryan, and all the leading Republican spokesmen, the media have a hundred ways of saying that they lied without saying so.

Even Politifact, when proving an outright, deliberate falsification, doesn’t use the word “lie.” They call it “Pants on Fire.” Isn’t that cute, now.

Today, the day after the Republican convention, was the first time I’ve seen an editorial or op-ed piece use the word “lie.” Kind of a landmark? In describing Paul Ryan’s speech, Paul Krugman in fact used the phrase “the big lie,” with umistakable reference to Adolf Hitler’s favorite stratagem.

Calling lies by name won’t affect the Republicans. Some of them are so far out of touch with reality that they wouldn’t know a fact if it bit them, and the rest have desperately adopted disinformation and falsification as their road to election. The Republican politician and voter must “believe in belief” and then turn his mind off. The big lie is their policy, and it has become compulsory. It won’t change now.

But I wonder if calling lies lies might get through to Obama and his advisors and spokespeople? Stupidly, instead of revealing falsehood by steadfastly speaking truth, they’ve been imitating the enemy. Increasingly often their statements “ignore the facts,” “stretch the truth,” and all the rest of the euphemisms. Every time the Democrats lie, they lose that much advantage over their shape-shifting, blame-dodging opponents.

By ceasing to weasel, waffle, shove things under the carpet, exaggerate successes, and evade problems, Obama could show his genuine personal strength. If, without lecturing and shaking his finger at us, he would tell us only the truth as he knows it, we-the-people might rise to that challenge as we rose to the challenge he offered in his first campaign — with enthusiasm, with hope.

“Speak truth to power” is a popular slogan these days. In a democracy, what about the responsibility of power to speak truth?

3 September 2012



Where Have All the Liars Gone? — 25 Comments

  1. I’m not sure it would work, as an election strategy. I wish it would.

    I don’t mean to be discourteous to your country or your culture – we lived in Seattle for three months once, and there are many things to admire about the US, and I have several dear friends there. But as an outside observer, this is what I think, no offense intended:

    We ate well while we lived in the US – there was an admirable selection of fresh fruit and seafood in Seattle – but whenever we bought pre-processed food of any kind, we were struck by how very over-sweetened the taste was. It comes down to predisposition, I think: Eat enough sweet stuff long enough, and anything with less sugar becomes unpalatable. I am afraid that news content and politics might suffer from the same syndrome: Raw, unprocessed truth might not go down well with a general public that has become accustomed to the higher sugar content of “processed” news and politics. Unsweetened. We know it is good for us, but the opponent offers something sweeter although less genuine, what will people chose?

    • That is a great analogy! I’m going to use that myself. That’s exactly what is happening. Desensitization on a massive scale. In fact it’s getting so bad that most Americans have no idea about Ryan telling lies because more Americans were watching a show about a girl from Toddlers and Tiaras named Honey Boo Boo than watched the RNC. The behavior of politicians, and the enabling behavior of the media, have turned off a lot of people who don’t believe change is possible. We have been desensitized.

    • I have a tough time with your post, in that it seems “the opponent,” (I am assuming your are referring to what has been the political right) isn’t sweet, and is therefore good for us. This may be the case, in some instances, but you also speak of pre-disposition, at which point, I wonder, if Ms. LeGuin is pre-disposed to enjoy a cold strawberry for a midnight snack (or blue-berry, most likely, but I have never met her), would she not be Anti-Good for backstabbing pre-disposition?

  2. In the very last weeks I’ve even heard the words “lie” and “lying” uttered on NPR. Not on any national program, and not by any show host, but by a guest expert, talking about the criminal banking-financial industry syndicate, the rove-cheney drive to invasion of Iraq and the radical political right wing, on our local public radio stations.

    The show hosts were, needless to remark — shocked, shocked, shocked to hear such words in these contexts and attempted for force the guests to back down from the words. The guests did not.

    Love, C.

  3. Lying is another symptom of turning away from science and it’s factual basis. It’s one thing to enjoy some speculative fiction, and social commentary from that removed viewpoint. It’s entirely another to bet billions, even trillions of dollars and the lives of hundreds of millions of American lives upon ignoring facts.
    Perhaps George Orwell would be proud of his 1984 stepchildren Rove, Cheney, Prebus and Romney. Frankly they terrify me in their steadfast doublespeak and sincere sociopathic delivery.
    Even more terrible that entire ‘news’ organizations have taken to repeating or even expanding the lies. When I was a child fact checkers were known as Journalists or Newsmen. Sadly those days are gone, and for no good reason other than wealth or fear.

  4. I fear that honesty has never won elections in the USA. I am not sure it has ever won elections anywhere.

    Neither party in this election has clean hands. The Republicans do indeed seem to have adopted a “big lie” strategy, and we can only hope it fails, but with a television network supporting them without reservation, plus all the airtime that some very wealthy people can buy, they may be able to make it work, despite Romney being one of the least likeable presidential candidates in history, possibly as unattractive as Nixon.

    But an honest Obama campaign would have to defend his record, and have to answer why he did not deliver the hoped for change. The Democrats would have to honestly answer questions about their inaction on the disaster in finance, in housing, on the drone programs, on torture, on their wars. Such answers would cost them votes, and the Republicans would be there with their 24×7 propaganda channels to make the price as high as possible.

    Our politics seem to be, ah, ethically challenged. And while there are many honest, ethical Americas, as a people, so are we.

    • I am not an American citizen and therefore I am interested in the elections’ outcome only as far as it affects the rest of the world. I care a lot, I mean. But I am afraid that the comments of Mette Hansen and Raven show very precisely where the main problem lies (see: I used the word “lies” without hesitation!).

      Unfortunately, in most of the Western democracies, including my home country Poland, elections are more and more a fiction. Voters are offered a choice between bad and worse, and the whole system, especially in the countries with bipolar politics like the American one, relies on preserving the status quo, just putting different masks on it – real differences between actual doings of Democrats and Republicans do not seem as great as between their promises, and the main argument they offer to their supporters is reduced to scaring voters about how bad and disgusting (in practice reduced usually to “worse and more disgusting” since even the most devout supporters are not completely blind) the opposing party is. Unsurprisingly, both parties in such a symbiotic system are absolutely dedicated to protect it, even the one that is not actually holding the majority.

      • No, no. There are substantive differences between the US political parties. What we lack from either party, is any program that will deliver substantial positive change–the “hope and change” that Obama promised in 2008. The Republicans are now completely dominated by their radical-right factions and their leadership (it has said) does not want to preserve the status quo. Instead, they promise a radical-right program. It is difficult to see how the Republican program, if implemented, will be anything but massively destructive. The Democratic leadership, on the other hand, does want to maintain the status quo—a status quo that includes financial domination of politics and and substantial authoritarian elements. I prefer King Log to King Stork. But why is that the choice?

        It is, under the circumstances, clear why neither party leadership is honest. What our hostess here proposes is, in these times, revolutionary. I suppose simple honesty has always been that. Set against the corruption of the times, though, honesty seems exceptionally radical.

        So now we have the scene where the old wizard leans on her staff and complains that laws which have stood before the foundation of our Republic are being abrogated, that the guardians of morality have become corrupt, and the very earth groans under the iniquities of our rule, answering them with storms and seasons of unnatural heat. And she exhorts our king and his court to speak the truth to us and so bring us to answer that truth with equal truth and action. I do not see how this can be with this king and court. And yet there is little time, and action must be taken.

        • It is the choice because we have chosen to keep it that way. Third parties are generally badly organized, don’t understand how to win locally and build up over time – and so gamble their few chips and lose at the big elections every time.

          • That’s mostly due to the fact that voters learned to believe that if the person they voted for did not win elections then their vote was simply lost. So it seems better to them to vote for some lesser evil than for a reasonable candidate. Another thing is related to the financing patterns which are designed specifically to help petrify the status quo.

            If I had to choose based on, so to say, artistic effect, I would prefer Democrats (not because their style is so attractive but simply because I usually find the Republican style repulsive). But then, it is usually the good cop, not the bad cop, that one should really beware of… Luckily, I have nothing to do with the American elections. Unfortunately, in my home country I face a very similar dilemma.

    • I wonder if honesty won Wilson his first office. I think it did, and so I believe in democracy.

  5. Here we disagree, it seems. Unnatural heat and social disasters are real but where you see a king and a pretender to the crown, I can only observe a professional wrestling spectacle, one in a long series of similar events. All its Manichaean contradictions which make the public so exited are mere papier-mache masks and well-studied grimaces. Unfortunately, the courtiers are strong, ruthless, and determined to keep the show going on. They have too much to lose.

    • Because the media are owned by the criminal corporate financial syndicates. They don’t allow it. If you want to work for the newspapers, the television and radio broadcast media, you have to lie. And they do.

      Love, C.

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  7. All this bitterness will make you old before your time. Try listening to both sides. That is how you can reach the truth. It is up to you. You probably also believe that the Republicans have started a war on women and want dirty air and dirty water.

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  9. Naturally only the Republican fascists lie and they have been responsible for all the evils of the modern world. Someone ought to stick to science fiction.

  10. I have had dogs and cats and taught them to live together peaceably. I have lined them up in the kitchen and fed them leftover steak. Nobody tried to grab food out of the order in which I fed them. I stared each animal in the eye as I fed them. I can say that only Democrats so far seem to have no intelligence behind the eyes.

  11. Hey, I’m just trying to have some fun. Speaking of who lied first, how about Ted “the swimmer” Kennedy lying about Mary Jo Kopechne. Or how about Democrats creating a new verb “borking” or Slick Willy lying to everyone until the judge took away his law license for 5 years for trying to redefine what the meaning of the word “is” is. Since when is going back to 2008 spending levels more extreme than spending an additional $11 trillion as Obama wants. Who is out of touch with reality? Cheers!

  12. Compulsory is my favorite word in post # 57. It is a Trojan horse filled with freedom. If it was written completely intentionally/in-cognition, my brain feels grateful for the breaking of the bread, and if it were more unintentional and “music,” I hope it comes to these parts soon!