When/If The Lies Stop Working

When Franklin Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he was lying–for (arguably) an honorable effect. He was deploying hyperbole rhetorically. Of course, lots of people feared other things besides fear, such as death. But Roosevelt and/or his advisers determined that some mass-reassurance was needed (I deduce), and so Roosevelt and/or speech-writers chose hyperbole and lofty phrasing to deliver the message, “This situation will be sorted out–eventually; be calm.” It is probably fair to characterize this kind of lying as appropriate because it is intentionally translucent: we see through the veil of rhetoric to a message that (whatever other faults it might have) isn’t, in spirit, dishonest.

Most political lying isn’t of this kind, however–however and obviously. Observing the GOP primary-process may provide a good opportunity to see the effects of typical lying that ceases to work. Thus:

Mitt Romney, lying about his deliberately crafted moderate past, said to CPAC, “I was . . . severely conservative.” You will probably agree that “severely” is/was ill chose and therefore a “tell.” You may agree that a better speech-writer may have found a way to phrase this so it didn’t sound like an obvious, awkward lie. At any rate, the audience didn’t seem to buy what Romney was selling; however, the long-term effect may be nil if he wins the nomination and the presidency.

We cannot know for sure, but Newt Gingrich probably lied about the “open-marriage” proposal. Gingrich himself aside, you’d have to go with the odds and guess that a cheating man would the liar in the situation. For the short term, the lie seemed to work, especially as Gingrich distracted people from it by attacking the media. But the long-term effect? –Hard to say because it’s hard to say what variables have played into Gingrich’s having sunk into the mire. A broader problem for Gingrich may be that the old 90’s, non-Rooseveltian hyperbole (Obama = “Illinois radical”) may be out of gas.

Rick Santorum lied when he claimed he didn’t confront a woman (she claimed Obama is a Muslim and is an “illegitimate president”) because she seemed physically infirm. The video shows a slightly embarrassed Santorum as he probably is deciding not to correct her because correcting her will tick off the audience, and because such beliefs about Obama work to the GOPer good. There is no evidence that this lying didn’t work for Santorum, as far as I know.

In this snap-shot, anyway, Romney’s lying seems awkward and ineffective, Gingrich’s seems tired, and Santorum’s seems just fine.


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