Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lies About "Lies"

Is there some kind of anti-thesaurus out there, funneling the English language's rich vocabulary into a Newspeak-ian handful of terms too broad to retain any real meaning? Anything liberals support (and/or anything conservatives find silly) is politically correct; any time a non-white person has a race-related complaint, it's an accusation of racism; anything Democrats do is socialist,[1] and so on. The list gets longer every day, and I'd like to add one more—lie, as in lies, lying, liar, and any other inflected forms in the title of that Al Franken book.

It should be obvious by now where I'm going with this: A substantial amount of so-called "lies" are, in fact, anything but. To be clear, this is very much a problem on both sides, but I've made a commitment to keep this blog biased and unfair, and I'm not about to change that now. So, without further ado (alright, one more parenthetical ado, because I just can't resist), let's get to some examples:[2]
This is perhaps the most fundamental, important lie in Obama’s entire speech: the recession we’re going through right now was caused by Republicans’ economic policies.
The "lie" in question is this snippet of the speech Obama recently gave in Ohio:
The flawed policies and economic weaknesses of the previous decade culminated in a financial crisis and the worst recession of our lifetimes.
Ok…where's the lie? Even if we go along with the unfounded inference that Obama was referring specifically to Republican policies, I don't think anyone would try to argue that the Republicans are absolutely blameless.[3]
His promise of not resting [until the oil spill is stopped] can be added to the pack of lies
Alright, so Obama should've been more sensitive to the negative attention he'd surely incur by publicly doing anything fun while the Gulf continued filling up with oil, but how is it not clear that "I'm not going to rest…until the leak is stopped" is not to be taken literally? I'm pretty sure he didn't expect to drink a ton of coffee, spend all night locked in his office, and have everything taken care of by the next morning.
Why isn't everyone jumping on Obama for LYING and saying he visited 57 states-Hillary cannot embellish a story without a pitt bull attack from rabid Obama worshippers?
Ha ha, just thought I'd throw this one in. I have no idea what's going on in the second half of that question, but the first half is a reference to the time Obama appeared to claim he had campaigned in seven more states than humanly possible. Maybe he misspoke, or maybe he actually didn't know the maximum number of states in which one can campaign,[4] but, either way, it was about as far from a lie as a statement can be without being true.

Still, it's fun to consider that maybe he was lying. What could possibly have been his motive for trying to convince the public that there are (at least) 57 states? And didn't it occur to him that his sinister plot to misinform would be met with resistance from the few remaining Americans who know better? Why not lay the groundwork by distributing some revised maps, or hiring some Hollywood friends to stage a campaign appearance in East Dakota, or having CNN announce polling data from Freedonia? Just a shoddy effort, all the way around.

Anyway, end of digression. Moving on to something of a slightly higher caliber than Yahoo! Answers:
[F]or Obama and the New York Times to mislead the American people into imagining that the White House has celebrated iftar all the way back to 1805 is simply a straight out lie.
Hey, it's Warner Todd Huston again! At least this time I can tell what he's upset about. Apparently, 205 years ago Thomas Jefferson met the ambassador from Tunisia, a Muslim, for a meal, which was eaten after sunset in accordance with traditional Muslim observance of Ramadan. Meanwhile, various online sources define an iftar, rather unanimously, as (1) a meal (2) eaten by Muslims (3) after sunset (4) during the month of Ramadan. Barack Obama described the 1805 meeting as an iftar. That, to Huston, is not only a lie, but a "straight out lie."

Ugh. What Obama said was, at worst, spin, and, at best, accurate. He took a set of facts—the truth of which, as far as I can tell, is not in dispute—and framed them in a politically-favorable way. That kind of thing is not, and has never been, a lie.

So, to review, the sort of statement that, in today's discourse, might draw shouts of "You lie!"[5] could actually be a defensive reaction to a perceived slight, an idiomatic expression interpreted literally, an innocent mistake, or plain ol' political spin. The only one of those things even remotely worth getting worked up about is spin—i.e. legitimate information used in arguably illegitimate ways—but still, it's counter-productive to combat misleading statements by conflating them with lies.

Why? Because someone who has been misled is well-armed with facts that sort of support their beliefs, and will thus be clung to with astonishing persistence. Tell them their beliefs are based on lies, and they'll double-check the facts and conclude that it is you whose pants are at risk of bursting into flames. But tell them their beliefs, while not indefensible, are based on misleading interpretations of the facts, and maybe, just maybe, they'll re-evaluate things. Probably not, but maybe.

1. I have no problem with Democrats being labeled socialists, as long as we can agree that they're only, like, 20% more socialist than Republicans.
2. I've written a few articles already in the here's-something-to-think-about-and-here-are-some-examples-that-don't-really-prove-anything-except-that-I'm-not-totally-making-shit-up format, and others are in the works, but this was by far the easiest to research. There's just so much of this junk out there.
3. Because if they did, they would be objectively, incontrovertibly wrong.
4. Call me a mindless ObamaZombie, if you like, but my money's on the former.
5. Interestingly, the most famous accusation of lying in recent years may, shocking immaturity aside, have been a fair one.

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