Lies and Damned Lies.

Politicians lie.

No brainer of an opener there. We all know politicians lie; some of us even expect it. Still, even those of us who are the most cynical can sometimes express shock, anger or incredulity over some of the lies politicians tell. Why we still do so, I have no idea, by now it should be so expected as to not be a surprise anymore.

Off the top of my head there have been some great lies told in recent decades: going back to the 60’s, the gulf of Tonkin incident is one that should resonate with Australian and American Audiences: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Vietnam War.”; North Vietnamese naval forces apparently attacked US Naval forces in the Gulf of Tonkin, giving President Johnson the pretext he needed to up the ante in that conflict. Of course we now know it never happened.  Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”… well, that depends on your definition of sexual relations doesn’t it Bill? Australia’s former Prime Minister John Howard was a practiced liar, indeed, Howard even graded his lies with the euphemistic phrase of ‘Core and Non Core Promises” which roughly translates as: “Promises we intend to keep, and those we don’t intend to keep but we make so you will vote for us”.

Apparently the nation wasn’t going to get a GST…. But…. We got one anyway… (He calls this, “changing his mind.”). Those nasty refugees were throwing children overboard – conveniently right on top of an election, polarizing an easily racially fired up population with just enough fear of the “outsider” and his inhumane behavior to vote back in Mr. Howard –  Of course, we now also know this wasn’t true either. Mr. Howard defends himself by saying he acted “on the intelligence he was provided with at the time”; a convenient excuse for a “leader” to take to avoid personal responsibility for the things he does or says. This excuse would be rehashed again when Mr. Howard would team up with friend and buddy George W Bush and fellow deputy sheriff Tony Blair for the Weapons of Mass Destruction fairy tale; and I’m sure that’s in recent enough memory to know what that led to.

So, they lie. Here’s some reasons why:

1: We want them to.

We say we don’t, but really, a lot of the time I suspect we do. In times of trouble people rally around their leaders. Case in point: the surge in popularity for George W Bush in the wake of the September 11 attacks where prior to this, his popularity had been on the wane. People want security in times of insecurity and often this is sought from their leaders. Think about it, what you would prefer: “The situation is under control” or “The asteroid is going to hit us and there is nothing we can do about it.” The flipside to this however is that politicians know this and use it to their advantage; Australian Prime minister John Howard successfully manipulated fear for his own ends: Children overboard and terrorist attacks.  George Bush of course painted the picture of Iraq somehow being linked to Al Qaeda, thus over 50% of the US public believed there was a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, thus excusing an otherwise baseless invasion.

2: They need to.

These guys are after a job. In a democracy, the general public is the one who conducts the job interview. How many of us have fudged details on a resume? Exaggerated job experience or even simply made stuff up. If you exclude the whole “public service” thing about politics, the principle is the same. These guys want the job, and why wouldn’t they? It comes with a whole bunch of perks. They will lie and lie again or if not outright lie, then “spin”, “embellish” or “Omit” in order to get your vote. It’s rare that a politician seeking to be rehired tells you the real truth: “The economy is a shambles, we screwed up. We’ve deregulated to the point where your jobs are all now overseas and while some of us have got rich, most of you haven’t. We’re doing what we can to fix it, but we’re in for a few years of job loss, recession and hardship.” Personally, I’d find that a refreshing change, but really, whomever said that isn’t likely to still be on the payroll come election day.

3: They are afraid.

Public humiliation is a pretty scary thing. Considering the case of Bill Clinton, he was being berated for infidelity. How many people that aren’t politicians would or have lied about that? Consider if he told the truth outright, imagine the conversation with Hillary when he got home? I’m not excusing it, but that’s a human thing to do, people lie all the time to avoid embarrassment, confrontation or shame. Politicians are, at their core, human beings, inherently fallible and prone to the same insecurities as the rest of us.

4: They are rarely if ever accountable.

This is a clincher as far as I’m concerned. It’s rarely if ever a politician is hauled up before a court and made to publicly and legally answer for the consequences of the lies they tell. If you were the head of a private company and your lies cost the company millions, billions or trillions, if your lies cost the lives of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people; you would be raked over the coals and be fairly confident of spending the rest of your life in a jail cell or depending on your jurisdiction, face a quick end by some means of execution. Yet, this does not happen to politicians; there is a fairly good case to be made that political decisions as much as private sector ones led to the recent financial crash, and not to labour the point: the invasion of Iraq, based on lies, that led to widespread death and destruction on all sides of the conflict. Yet it is highly unlikely that you will see a politician ever have to answer for this. Under the old Roman Republican laws, a politician was immune from prosecution until their term of office ended, at which point, they could be – and sometimes were –  brought before a court and made to answer for their record of service.  To avoid this, among other reasons, was why Julius Caesar marched his legions across the Rubicon and into Italy, leading to the downfall of the Roman Republic itself. Perhaps if our modern politicians had a similar reckoning to look forward to, we might see a little less lying.


~ by benephobia on November 2, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: