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September 18, 2008


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The lie that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were telling lies is the most enduring lie among the partisans of the Left.


Wow! Jump back!

First, it is certainly true that there is a fair amount of distortion in the current campaign, but it does not seem to me to be systematically more prevalently used by one side than the other.

Second, I would be curious to know if there is any eveidence on the net efficacy of these distortions, i.e. how many people would change their votes if they had access to impartially presented descriptions of candidates records and positions. It seems quite possible the net effect of these distortions by both sides is close to nil becase they cancel each other out.

Third, one does not need so grand a theory to explain why Republicans attack "the [big] media". There is a far simpler rationale: such media tend to favor Democrats, albeit often in subtle ways. This is consistent with many actual statistical studies of media affiliations and biases. In fact, the attacks on the media probably tend to encourage fairer coverage as its personnel redouble their efforts to belie such attacks.

The core cause of political dishonesty is the government at all levels controlling so much of the economy and our lives that there are big incentives to lie to gain control of the levers of government power. Big stakes encourage dirty play.

Reprinted here: http://thunor.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!71C238B5E0E3724D!1050.entry


This post portrays the media as the "good guys," which -- when left alone to report the news -- will on the whole increase the quality (and objective “accuracy”) of public discourse. It doesn't acknowledge or address the incentives and role of the press in giving life to half-truths advanced by political candidates. There are at least two well-recognized characteristics of today’s media environment that illustrate this point: (1) the pressure to report on a 24-hour news cycle and (2) improvements in technology that make it possible for reporters to receive constant spin from campaign spokesmen (often in the form of e-mail on a Blackberry), sometimes literally while standing in front of a live camera. It's as if the media has, at once, both left itself no time for fact-checking and has outsourced this essential responsibility to those it should be most skeptical of. An important question is then, on balance, is the media really in a position to increase the quality of public discourse? And, if not, perhaps a solution to the problems identified by the post’s author lies not only in reforming political campaigns, but the media itself.

Uzair Kayani

I think the canceling out argument in DWAnderson's post misses the point. The point is not the net effect of lies but the legitimacy of (and confidence in) a political system. Lies cancel out in the same way that theft might cancel out in a world without property rights enforcement. Everyone who lies will be lied to in return; however, this will destroy public confidence in the political process- it will lead to public apathy and non-participation. That seems to be the problem. The problem is serious because historically, democracy is not the usual means of governance, and it is likely to collapse without high public support and confidence.

Moreover, the notion that politics is corrupt because government is too powerful is troubling. It suggests that the cure is a relatively powerless government that no one will have much interest in joining. This cure is worse than the disease: it is like saying that the way to discourage cheating on entrance exams is to make colleges worthless. Strong incentives will always lead to some shady behavior. But the incentives to joining government must remain strong- few callings are as important. It does not matter whether the motivation is power-hunger, patriotism, or anything else: if it is strong, people will do all sorts of things to attain government positions, absent social or other barriers.

The cure will have to come from parties that have the incentive and means to minimize lies and to maintain their credibility. Not all media outlets have such incentives or means, but some do, and they gain trust and a good reputation over time.

Finally, I don't think that the 24-hour news channels are so ubiquitous or influential yet as to become the dominant source of information. They have probably become less influential over the last five years. They are competing, like newspapers are, with various forms of "new media." It is unclear how this will affect political discourse here; I suspect it will polarize it.

Chris Roach

My God. Did the Swift Boaters lie about anything? Geoff Stone cites absolutely no evidence of a single Swift Boat Veterans for Truth lie.

Did they lie when they reported John Kerry's defamations of his fellow soldiers rooted in the discredited Winter Soldier investigation?

Did they lie when they reported he hauled ass from Vietnam after only a few months in country?

Did they lie in reporting John Kerry's lie that he spent Christmas in Cambodia, even though he did not, no one confirmed his report, and he later retracted this self-serving implication of government bad faith which he earlier claimed was "seared in his memory?

Did they lie when they reported many Vietnam veterans were deeply offended by John Kerry's grand-standing and cheap shots at the war and its fighting men upon returning home?

Finally, did they lie in asking for John Kerry's service records, releasable through signing Form 180, which Kerry never signed?

Geoff Stone is a partisan hack and a disgrace to the law school. When he is not casting religious bigotry at US Supreme Court justices, he's shilling in the msot transparent manner for the Democratic Party. Can't they just give him an office in the DNC so the rest of us can stop pretending this lightweight is an academic? He's not written anything interesting in years anyway, other than perhaps the interesting half-truths he spews in hopes of securing a judicial appointment.

Bill Clinton

"Listen to me now: I. Never. Had. Sexual relations. With that woman. Miss Lewinsky."


Uh, actually the Swift Boaters did lie as confirmed by Factcheck.org, a nonpartisan group:

That any U of C educated person could support the Republican tactics like Swiftboating is somewhat amazing, given how distracting and anti-deomcratic it is to confuse the uneducated and distract them from the issues that they shoudl be paying attention to.

McCain's cowardice in releaseing TV commericials with such blatent lies as Obama supported teaching sex-ed to kindergardeners shows the need for regualted forms of speech in political campaigns. Imagine how much better our democracy would work if politcial ads could only set forth the actual vies of the candidiate it was made for, rather than leveling inaccurate persoanl atatcks against an opponenet.

McCain should be ashamed of himself for allowing the Rovians to release so many false atatck ads. He said he was going to wage a different type of campaign. McCain himself is a liar (And now a champion of regulated financial markets apparently). What a chump.

Anonymous Bosch

This is my favorite part of the Factcheck.org article LAK cites:

McCain: I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable. As it is none of these individuals served on the boat (Kerry) commanded. Many of his crewmates have testified to his courage under fire. I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam. (quote from AP interview 8/5/04)


LAK's comment shows the Left's prescription to the problem of truthful ads that they don't like: Call them lies often enough, and people may believe it. Obama supported a bill that extended sex education requirements from sixth grade down into kindergarten. It's in the text of the bill, it was made an explicit goal of the bill by its sponsors and outside proponents, and it is objectively unquestionable -- unless it damages your favored candidate's attempt to be elected President.

Anonymous Bosch

Uh, Leif... you might want to read the bill in question.


It didn't mandate sex ed for kindergartners, it stated requirements for what such classes would be if they were offered. Nowhere does it say that such classes were required to be taught, and explicitly states that any pupil may be excused from such instruction at the request of their parent/guardian.


Yes, Bosch, and then read how that bill would, if passed, interact with Section 110 of the Illinois School Code, which mandates "comprehensive health education" in Illinois schools -- including sex education.


And that amounts to Obama "wanting to teach kindergardeners about sex before they can read." ????

Do you actually believe yourself Leif? Do you actaully think McCain's ad was an accurate depiction of his position?

All republicans can do apparently is concentrate on nonconsequential issues that distract poorly educated people with fear. You should be so proud of your party's camapign tactics. "He called Sarah Palin a Pig!"

I mean, please.

Anonymous Bosch

Leif, I stand corrected - I misunderstood the structure of the document. Mea culpa.

Mary Fioretti

On November 4th there will be a vote for a constituional convention. Could you all start a discussion on this. It could cover rewriting elections and introducing Recall of the highest elected officials. It could include a rewrite of education and the responsibilities that the state must undertake - similar to Kentucky's constitution. That's just two to think about. I would appreciate hearing from the top constitutional professors with their thoughts.

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