Listen to the podcast:

When are we going to stop lying to ourselves about lying?

We say we value honesty and we can’t trust people who don’t tell us the truth. But researchers tell us that we all lie, and most people lie every day. That includes all the people that we trust. Your priest. Your mother. Liars.

When it comes to politics we demand that people in public life be scrupulously honest. But candidates know they have a lot more to lose by telling us a hard truth than they do by finessing a position, leaving out a few details, or just ignoring the facts.

And we reward them. Just look at our current choices for president.

Has there ever been a Maine politician who gets more infuriated about lying than Gov. LePage? And before Donald Trump came on the scene, has there ever been a politician anywhere who says so many things that are plainly false? Not matters of opinion, not innocent mistakes, not faulty conclusions. We are talking about made-up facts that make him look good and others look bad. He’s been caught again and again, and it costs him nothing.

In 2010, candidate Paul LePage told us that when he was a developer, the state of Maine had forced him to do a buffalo census before he could get a permit. False.

He said you couldn’t pour a bottle of Poland Spring Water into a river without violating Maine environmental regulations. Not true. He railed about a state tax on bull semen. No such tax exists.

After he was elected, he told us that Maine students have to take a special entrance exam if they want to go to the College of William and Mary. Wrong.

He said that the wind turbine at the University of Maine at Presque Isle had a little electric motor in it so it would look like the wind was turning its blades. It does not.

LePage said he called Forbes Magazine to question why Maine was ranked last in the nation for business, and said he was told that we needed to cut welfare and reduce energy costs. The Forbes editor said no such conversation had ever taken place, and welfare and energy costs had not been part of the ranking. Still, LePage was re-elected.

Now he is traveling the state, meeting with mostly sympathetic crowds telling them a lot of things that anyone with access to Google should know are not true. LePage supporters seem to think that it’s not a lie if you believe it when you say it, but we are not talking about ghosts or leprechauns. Belief shouldn’t enter into it.

Take this statement from last week’s radio address. Talking about Question 4 – the referendum that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour in 2017, then increase it by $1 a year until 2020 and tie it to inflation after that – he said: “If this referendum were to pass, Maine will have the highest statewide minimum wage in the country.”

That sounds bad – and it would be true if you didn’t count California, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state, which will all have a minimum wage of $9 or more next Jan. 1. And you would have to assume that there would be no increase in the five other states that will have a minimum-wage question on the 2016 ballot. Maybe he meant, “Maine would have the highest minimum wage in Maine and New Hampshire.”

But this is not just an opportunity to beat up on LePage (OK, if I’m honest, maybe a little). The way we tolerate people who lie to us tells us as much about ourselves as it does about them.

A recent Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram poll showed LePage’s statewide approval rating at around 40 percent. No surprises there. Mountains crumble, glaciers melt, but Gov. LePage’s poll numbers are always between the high 30s and low 40s.

But among Republicans, his approval rating was much higher, in the 75 percent range. You have to ask yourself: What would this guy have to say to alienate the majority of Republicans? How could people who say that they value the truth support a politician who makes up the facts so often?

Which brings me to another lie we tell ourselves. We say that we hate partisanship, but we don’t, really. What most people mean when they say they want bipartisan compromise is that they want people from the other party to admit that they’d been wrong all along and have come over to our way of thinking.

It’s human nature to be blinded by bias. So when you talk about how much you value honesty, it would be good to remember that you might be lying.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: