AL Blog ~~ Nov 22, 2012 ~~ What’s in a lie?
Like many people, I have spent the fall worrying about the election, going so far, in fact, as to give more money to more people in more races than I can ever remember. In 2008, I did a lot of phone calling and canvassing for Obama, and many afternoons and evenings found me perched on a stool outside the tiny “headquarters” in an alley with a bunch of other volunteer callers. On election eve, I had three Swedish colleagues visiting, and we watched the election returns in one of the dorms with a crowd of ebullient students. The Swedes could not get over the extent of our election process (it seems as if it truly never stops) or over the barrage of untruths, half-truths, questionable truths, and outright lies that not only led up to the election but, as we saw in the coming days, continued long after it was over. (They were particularly incredulous over the insistent and persistent claims of the “birthers.”)
This year I wasn’t able to do as much volunteering because of my own travel schedule and because I had back surgery scheduled for election day itself, so I sent money instead. I admit to being a little spooked about having surgery on Nov. 6, and wondered (only half laughingly) if I wanted to go in wearing my beloved “Old White Woman for Obama” button. So when the surgery was postponed for a couple of days, I was relieved: I got to enjoy election night flipping between stations, since I was too nervous to join friends at a hotel in San Francisco.
It’s now ten days after the election, and it and the fallout from it are all mixed up in my mind with surgery and the complications it entailed—allergies to all narcotic pain medications, hallucinations, spasms, convulsions, raging fever—the whole nine yards of misery interspersed with lucid periods when I would hear of one more House seat picked up or of anything I could about Elizabeth Warren and the record number of women elected to the Congress.
But these ten days have given me some time for reflection, and in that time I’ve thought a lot about how disingenuous so much of the campaign was (an understatement if ever there was one) and especially about the “new normal” that seems to many to be emerging for truth telling. Several columnists have commented on the fact that we as a public seem to be tolerating a higher and higher level of untruths, or lies, that they seem almost taken for granted: of course political candidates and their supporters will lie. Of course.
The Republican claim that Jeep and Chrysler were sending jobs to China is certainly memorable: “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China,” the Romney ad stated—and the campaign kept repeating the claim even after it was disavowed by the auto companies themselves along with a bunch of fact checkers. Of course, Plato long since taught us that it is not enough to tell the truth: we have to give the appearance of telling the truth, and Aristotle warned of the dangers of substituting repetition for argumentation. So in some ways this latest round of back and forth attacks may seem nothing new. But it does seem to me to have reached a new watershed or threshold for what people will believe, and for how much they will believe not only without evidence or proof but in spite of such evidence and proof.
Now it is a little over two weeks after the election, and tomorrow will be Thanksgiving day. My meditations and reflections (and perhaps some of my delirium) have led me to think about what—in this entire mess of a 2012 election—I have to be thankful for. Just to name a few:
- I’m thankful that President Obama will have another four years to try to implement the policies that he has fought for, especially on education, on immigration, on tax reform, on the environment, and on health care.
- I’m thankful for sabermetrician Nate Silver and his blog, which stuck to his algorithm through thick and thin and avoided scare tactics or other forms of prognostication in favor of what his statistics told him.
- I’m grateful for those—on every point of the political spectrum—who took time and care enough to provide strong and clear evidence for the views they were espousing, who had enough respect for those of us in the electorate to level with us and to back up their words and feelings with research-based support.
- I am grateful for teachers, and especially teachers of writing, who devote so much time to introducing students to the realm of ethical rhetoric, to how to conduct honest research and how to deliver it in clear and straightforward ways, to the means at their disposal for analyzing claims on their own so as to ferret out the untruths, the half-truths, and the lies, and to the ability to refute those lies on their own.
Of course, most of all I am grateful for students themselves, for their intelligence, resilience, sheer hope, and determination to make a difference in this world. I have confidence in this generation and their potential to do just that.
I’m thankful for a whole lot more, of course: for the fact that my back seems to be healing, for my family and magnificent friends, for every new day. Happy thanksgiving, everyone, even if it’s a week late.