Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

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[politics] Political lies

Lies are funny things, especially in politics. Some of them have the most amazing staying power. Remember Ronald Reagan's welfare queen speech? Most people seem to, even young conservatives who weren't born when he gave it. Much later on, the Great Communicator admitted to having made it up. There was no Cadillac-driving Chicago baby machine living high off the public trough, it was just something Reagan and his speechwriters imagined to be likely. The rhetorical image captured the attention of a generation.

Likewise the story about Hillary Clinton decorating the White House Christmas tree with crack pipes and condoms. On the face of it, this was ludicrous. Even if she were the literal reincarnation of Elizabeth Báthory, Hillary has always been far to smooth a political and media operator to stoop to such a crude public gesture. The cookie baking fiasco of 1992 was more her speed. Yet back in the 1990s I heard otherwise intelligent adults (including family members of mine) repeating that bizarre story in hushed, disgusted tones, because they were so desperate to believe anything bad of the Clintons.

Again, John Kerry and the medals. Somehow the Republicans were able to revile a decorated Vietnam vet, based on the testimony of people who weren't even serving with him, and maintain the military credentials of a man who on the face of it had a rich-boy National Guard deferment. A more complex set of lies, but absolutely lies all the same. The Dan Rather story about Bush's National Guard service appears to be true in substance, but the GOP and its operatives seized on some bogus evidence within Rather's reporting, and in doing so thoroughly obfuscated the issue that no one in the national discourse will touch it now. (For more on Dan Rather, see this story about his recent civil suit over the National Guard story.)

The massively frustrating thing from the liberal-progressive perspective is that these lies, many of them simply bizarre, stick in the public consciousness and take on a life of their own. That was the point of the recent "John Edwards had an affair" story. It was an unsubstantiated rumor, but the originators and promoters hoped to hang it in the public consciousness like Hillary's crack pipe Christmas Tree, or if they were very lucky, like Ronald Reagan's welfare queen. Somehow, though, it's only the lies about Democratic and liberal-progressive figures that stick. I don't know if that's a comment on the critical thinking faculties of different portions of the electorate, or the degree of media control the Republicans have exhibited over the last twenty-five years, or some other factors entirely.

Truth may be the first casualty of war, but political lies are the unquiet dead forever climbing back out of their graves.
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