Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the 18th century Irish playwright best known for The School for Scandal,
was also a Whig member of the British House of Commons for more than a
quarter century. And although the creator of such marvelous characters
as Sir Peter and Lad y
Teazle, Sir Benjamin Backbite and Lady Sneerwell has been gone for
nearly two centuries (he died at age 64 in 1816) Sheridan's take on the
politics of fabrication and outright lies is still second to none. I am
sure that were he alive today he would aim one of his acid-tipped darts
at such political prevaricators as Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and
even Clint Eastwood.
Sheridan was famous for cloaking his lethal literary fist in a glove of fine velvet verbiage. An example:
Once, when debating the Home Secretary, Henry Dundas (The Viscount Melville), on the floor of the House of Commons, an exasperated Sheridan told his rival, "The right honorable gentleman is indebted to his memory for his jests and to his imagination for his facts." (n.b. It should be noted in passing that Dundas was the last person impeached by the House of Lords.)
To be certain, telling half-truths and outright lies about ones political opponent is as American as mom, apple pie and the flag. Back in the presidential race of 1800 -- John Adams v Thomas Jefferson -- Jefferson's camp denounced Adams as favoring a monarchy, and claimed he had actually arranged a marriage with one of his sons and the daughter of the English king in order to bring back the British monarchy. The Jeffersonians further accused Adams of sending diplomats to England with orders to procure "pretty girls as mistresses" for the president and his running mate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.
Adams' supporters, on the other hand, accused Jefferson of being an atheist (he was in fact a deist) and of planning to set up a guillotine in the new national capital to execute his opponents and bring to the United States a reign of terror similar to that of the French Revolution. Moreover, Adams' Federalist U.S. attorneys arranged for the arrest of twenty-five Jefferson supporters. Fourteen of these men were indicted and ten eventually convicted.
By comparison, the current batch of Republican untruths is more than a tad flaccid and lacking in imagination. But nonetheless, the lies are there -- and being broadcast ten thousand times a day via ten thousand different media outlets. Hour by hour, minute by minute, people are being bombarded with commercials, interviews, pseudo news broadcasts, YouTube videos and Tweets, all accusing President Obama of:
- Spending the first months of his presidency on a worldwide "apology tour";
- Cutting more than $700 billion from Medicare to help fund Obamacare;
- Not implementing the deficit-cutting measures recommended by the Simpson-Bowles commission ;
- Stating that "business owners do not build their own businesses";
- Dropping the work requirement from welfare;
- Not creating a single job in nearly four years;
- Single-handedly causing the US credit rating downgrade;
- Being weak and indecisive on the issue of illegal aliens.
- Being anti-business;
- Weakening the American military;
- Being insufficiently tough when it comes to Iran and Syria and
- Throwing Israel "under the bus."
This is neither the time nor the essay to rebut all these obnoxious fabrications, although it could easily be done. It would be easy enough to point out that, among other things:
After exhaustive research of every speech the president had given while
abroad or before the United Nations, both the Annenberg Public Policy
Center's FactCheck.org and the Washington Post's Factchecker, concluded that he clearly did not engage in any "apology tour."
- That Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, himself one of eight Republican members of the Simpson-Bowles Commission voted against its implementation.
- That far from being weak on immigration, the Obama administration has deported more illegal s than the past three administrations combined.
the more than $700 billion Romney and Ryan accuse Obama of taking out
of Medicare, is actually coming from cuts in expenses, not benefits.
Moreover, hospitals and the insurance industry have both signed off on
these cuts which are, in reality supported by both Romney and Ryan.
- That the president did not in any way, shape or form remove the work requirement from welfare. (Politifact scored this Romney untruth "Pants on Fire.")
I can hear conservative readers of this blog screaming, "Hey Stone, why are you only going after the things Republicans say . . . which happen to be TRUE . . . and not going after Obama and the Democrats . . . who are, after all, the REAL liars?" Rest assured, dear conservatives, I am just as opposed to lying by Democrats as Republicans. However, it is far, far easier to spot Republican prevarications, because they are so obvious and bald-face. And besides, this is a partisan progressive blog; there are tens of thousands of conservative, pro-Tea Party, anti-anything-Obama blogs out there to keep you satisfied for the rest of the century.
Strangely, I'm not all that furious about the lies being told over and over and over by Romney, Ryan and the Republicans; it's all part of our political heritage. In the 1828 contest between incumbent John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, the Adams camp revived the decades-old news that "Old Hickory" had married his wife, Rachael, before her first divorce had been finalized. Adams' partisans printed hundreds of thousands of handbills asking " Ought a convicted adulteress and her paramour husband be placed in the highest offices of this free and Christian land?" ( Sadly, Mrs. Jackson died just before her husband's inauguration; many claim this attack hastened her death.) For his part, Jackson charged that Adams, while serving as Minister to Russia, had surrendered an American servant girl to the appetites of the Czar. He also accused President Adams of using public funds to buy gambling devices for the presidential residence; it turned out that these were a chess set and a pool table. (Jackson would go on to a lopsided 56.0%-43.6% victory over the hapless J.Q. who, like his father, would go on to make a much better former president.
Despite our heritage of lies and fabrications in the pursuit of high office, until recently, facts frequently bested falsehoods. Sadly, this no longer appears to be the case -- even with a slew of fact-checking groups and organizations, each staffed by dozens upon dozens of wonks, geeks and other partisan, non-partisan or bi-partisan political junkies. For proof, one need look no further than a recent comment by Romney campaign pollster Neil Newhouse who, when queried about the obvious falsity of several of his boss' statements said:
"Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers."
other words, if you don't like it when facts trump your fabrications,
attack the fact check group in question and charge them with being
nothing more than a bunch of partisan hacks. Certainly, the candidates
and their campaign managers must bear a great degree of the blame when
lies and fabrications are told. Then too, the media must take its share
of blame as well; far too frequently, they present the lie as if it
were news. At that point they are no longer journalists; they are
complicit shills -- abettors of mendacity. To my way of thinking, in
exchange for their FCC licenses -- which are truly licenses to print
money -- the media owes the public something more than entertainment.
How about ferreting out the truth while quarantining the lies?
I doubt that politicians seeking office will ever stop lying. Hell, so long as you tell your lie over and over and over and with greater and greater volume, the public will buy it. They'll believe anything.
Some might even believe that Mitt Romney has a core set of political principles . . .
-2012 Kurt F. Stone