With the presidential and congressional campaigns in the homestretch, the quadrennial contest for deception, misdirection, fact-bending, half-truths, and downright lies, in other words, the challenge to win the hearts and minds of voters, is in full swing. In writing this post, I’m trying to maintain a neutral stance on which party and which candidates are the most disingenuous and dishonest, but I will say that lying seems to be reaching its apogee with less than two months until the election, though I’m sure there will be new heights (or depths, depending on how you look at it) to be reached between now and November.
I’m constantly amazed by how often politicians lie and then, of course, their unwillingness to admit that they lied. The euphemisms that politicians use for what is, in many cases, bold-faced lies are legend. Politicians misspoke. The biased media misinterpreted what they meant. Politicians’ words were distorted, misrepresented, twisted, exaggerated, or taken out of context. They overstated, understated, or misstated. But, of course, politicians never lie, at least that’s what they say.
Yet, the unvarnished truth is that politicians do lie about things substantive, for example, Anthony Wiener’s denials of his physically self-adoring tweets, and trivial, such as Paul Ryan’s physically self-adoring claims of having run a sub-three-hour marathon.
The $64,000 question that is constantly asked is: Why do politicians believe they can lie and not get caught? Particularly in this age of the Internet and its army of professional and amateur fact checkers, the chances of lies standing up under the glare of the inevitable cyber-scrutiny are slim to none. Of course, some politicians don’t even try to adhere to “honesty is always the best policy” (thanks George Washington), as the Romney pollster Neil Newhouse now famously stated, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”
So, why do politicians believe they can lie when their untruths are so easily uncovered? Here are six reasons.
Ultimately, politicians lie because, due to the six reasons above, the cost/benefit ratio for lying is in their favor. Politicians run this calculation when they create or shift a damaging narrative, attack an opponent, or respond to indefensible claims against them. I’m going to assume that most politicians know when they are lying (if not, we not only have a bunch of narcissists in government, but also a whole lot of sociopaths). So, politicians lie when they believe that dishonesty is the best policy for getting elected.