Utne Blogs > Politics

Lying to Win

by Cally Carswell 


Tags: Politics, Election 2008, John McCain, campaign tactics, Slate, the Nation, Ron Suskind, New York Times Magazine, Andrew Sullivan,

McCain at Rally

Fact checkers have been all over John McCain lately, exposing a bevy of fibs, half-truths, and straight-up lies emanating from his campaign. Even Karl Rove, the king of political dirty tricks, scolded the campaign (and Obama’s) this weekend for going too far. But McCain’s troops have paid their critics little attention.

Why? Because lying works, according to Farhad Manjoo, writing for Slate. Manjoo calls facts “a stock of faltering value.” He says the increasingly fragmented media landscape “lets us consume news that we like and avoid news that we don’t, leading people to perceive reality in a way that conforms to their long-held beliefs.”

Blogging for the Nation, Ari Berman looks back at a 2004 Ron Suskind piece from the New York Times Magazine that noted the irrelevance of facts in the Bush administration:

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

The McCain camp seems to agree. Berman quotes the campaign’s response to stories about their truth-stretching: “We recognize it's not going to be 2000 again. But he lost then. We're running a campaign to win. And we're not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say about it.”

Andrew Sullivan, for one, doesn’t think it will work. From his blog:

Reading the "press" in this surreal climate right now, one is tempted to despair. I'm not giving in to it, because I still believe that the actual truth matters in the world. If propaganda could win in the end against truth, then Bush's approval ratings would be somewhere in the high 80s. They are in the lower 30s. In the end, the American people are not fools. And facts are facts.…

…We cannot control these despicable liars in the McCain campaign. We can only tell the truth as fearlessly and as relentlessly and as continuously as we can until November 4. We must do our duty. And if the American people want to re-elect the machine that has helped destroy this country's national security, global reputation and economic health, then that is their choice. But I am not so depressed to think that they will.

Image by RiverBissonnette.