Any American who is even remotely alert regarding current affairs must recognize that there is a distinct lack of outrage about the growing numbers of “lies, damned lies and statistics,” to borrow from Mark Twain, being foisted at us in every communication medium imaginable.
It is almost as if some of us have begun to accept outlandish lies, hypocrisy and the blurring of the line between fact and fiction as a part of our daily lives. We seem to have lost our need for truth through the mental exhaustion of being constantly bombarded with conflicting information.
And we’re talking lying and hypocrisy big time here. From the Bush administration’s repeated distortions of facts leading to ongoing wars, to Sarah Palin and the tea party turning American history into almost a fuzzy fantasy tale. How, for example, did we stand by and watch Dick Cheney refer to torture as “enhanced interrogation,” then appear on a 2005 “Larry King Live” show and say that detainees had been “treated humanly and decently,” then flip-flop on national television in 2009 by asserting that the practices were justified even if they violated the law?
“In such circumstances, language loses any viable sense of referentiality, while lying, misrepresentation and the deliberate denial of truth become acceptable practices firmly entrenched in the Wild West of talk radio, cable television and the dominant media,” writes Henry A. Giroux, in a recent Truthout.org. essay.
Speaking about the social costs of such departures from reality, Giroux, who holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies department, adds: “When a society loses sight of the distinction between fact and fiction, truth-telling and lying … critical thought and fact-finding as conditions of democracy are rendered trivial and reduced to a collection of mere platitudes …”
Giroux further makes the argument that 9/11, while perhaps at the time, justified accepting a temporary militaristic approach, also encouraged U.S. citizens to suspend their critical analysis of what they were told, to the extent of not questioning these choices and their consequences to society as a whole.
Even the uplifting, hopeful and idealistic nature of President Obama’s entrance into the American political scene has been compromised, as his administration has backed many policies that sustain power grabs by the wealthy, war and undermine many social progressive movements.
Lies, misrepresentations and deceit, not only substitute falsehoods for truth, but also become their own kind of truth, as they make celebrities out of dishonest charlatans and help to perpetrate an atmosphere of public, corporate and even government behavior that is essentially unaccountable to American citizens. The spectacle behind this kind of lying merely feeds into our prurient natures and not into building a stronger and more effective social fabric. In his 2006 essay, “Why Politicians Have to Lie,” New Zealand author Philip Dorrell contends that politicians and car sales people are among the careers that we expect dishonestly to prevail. He wonders aloud how it is that even though “the words and actions of politicians are subject to intense scrutiny by many commentators and observers … politicians lie and they lie persistently.”
Working with the premise that morality and politics are in conflict, he contends that voters expect too much of our politicians, largely by requiring them to take both a political position that satisfies a particular constituency and a moral position that is likely to attract or repel different parts of their target audience.
In this and other ways, the competitive nature of politics “…encourages politicians to appeal to the smallest majority they need to in order to gain power.” Perhaps that is the reason we hear so much double speak in political rhetoric, and why we passively allow it, as well. Never mind the fact that ‘morality’ has become more of a philosophical abstraction, that has been stretched and molded into many different shapes by politicians and the media.
But, that is not the way things should be.  Individuals, parents, community groups and social movements have a moral and vested interest in mobilizing against political corruption in any form that it takes.
As Giroux writes: “Exposing the underlying conditions and symptoms of a culture of lying and deceit is both a political and pedagogical task that demands that people speak out and break through the haze of official discourse, media-induced amnesia and the fear-producing lies of corrupt politicians and the swelling of hatemongers.”