Why and How Politicians Lie

politicianIn my last column Politics and Government Explained, I detailed my theory of how power (and money) is behind so much of politics and big business. I also described how power can be wielded or given. What I didn’t explain is that it is often difficult to see exactly how power is used. In this article, I’ll take some time to explain how, and why, a politician or business executive hides their true intentions.

“Just because something isn’t a lie does not mean that it isn’t deceptive. A liar knows that he is a liar, but one who speaks mere portions of truth in order to deceive is a craftsman of destruction.”
― Criss Jami

Why They Lie

A politician that just wants to hold onto and gain power will quickly find themselves in a quandary. If they do what they need to do to consolidate and use their power openly, their constituents might just vote them out of office the next election, even with the extra power (money) garnered in the meantime. Voters don’t tend to like politicians, even in their own party, that vote themselves and their friends favors. (Ultra-liberal voters are sometimes an exception to this, but that’s a topic for another article…)

So politicians need a way to use and grow their power without ticking off their voters. They call it a lot of things, but to me it’s all just straight up lies, trickery, and deception. And they’ve gotten good at it. Very good.

Why They Lie More

Let’s say the politician needed some law changed to help a big corporate donor back in the home state. Before the internet, they could (and did) get away with writing a bill or amendment with sufficiently vague, yet still workable, language. Chances are that the general population (voters) would never read or hear about it. Even if they eventually did, it would be “ancient history.”

Then came the internet, bloggers, FOX news, etc. People were starting to notice things. I remember setting up a daily email to tell me how my congressman voted, the same day they voted! I could even read the law they voted on! (And so could the press.) This changed everything. Not that everyone was looking at daily votes, but enough journalists, bloggers, and talk radio hosts were that the news got out reasonably quickly. The politicians needed a workaround. They came up with many ways to intentionally obfuscate their actions. As long as they could hide what they were really doing, they could do anything they wanted. And they did. But it took more lies, more complex lies, and more collusion between politicians and the recipients of their largesse (often big business). While the politician is saying one thing publicly, perhaps something that would hurt his benefactor, he must make sure that the benefactor is expecting it and is aware of the real plan. The benefactor can then act indignant publicly for the slight, then sit back and wait for the real payoff.

This worked for a while, but then the TEA Party came along, conservative talk radio grew, and the conservative movement began picking up steam. Can you see now why most politicians openly dislike FOX News, the TEA Party, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest? It has little to do with parties or liberal vs. conservative ideals, these entities are keeping them from using and growing their power! These entities shine a light on what the politicians are doing. It’s now even harder for the politicians to give favors to big donors or change laws to increase their power without being caught. Now they must collude with more politicians from their own party, politicians from the other party, lobbyists, the media, special interest groups, and big donors. Political staffers are kept very busy working complex deals and telling various parties a special version “what’s really happening here” while the politician publicly tells the public exactly the story negotiated by all parties. What he says, of course, is exactly what he has to say, which has nothing to do with the truth.

It’s this collusion that seems to have proliferated lately. I could relate some crazily complex examples of how extreme this has gotten, but it’s not relevant to my main point: Much of what we see happen in DC, big business, and special interest groups can be explained by simply looking at how power is used and grown. This article just points out that, by it’s very nature, it must include deception.

How They Lie

So I’ve explained why politicians lie and why their lies have increased in quantity and complexity since the internet came along. Now I’ll explore just a few of the ways they lie. This cannot be an exhaustive list as more are being invented every day. Some of these, I’m sure, are as old as politics itself.

  1. Say one thing but do another. Simple. Tell the people what they want to hear then do what you need to do. It’s surprising that this works so well, even today. Campaign promises, anyone?
  2. Give the bill a name that is the opposite of what it actually does. After the bill is enacted and all those “unintended consequences” come up, claim ignorance and work to “fix” it. (Which will just be an opportunity to use or gain more power.)
  3. Post-date parts of a bill. Make sure that legislation has all kinds of voter-approved ideas in it that (surprise) don’t kick in right away. To a politician, the future is an endless dumping-ground for lies. The future never comes because the law can and will be quietly changed before those sections are enacted. And all the players know this. The politician can spend all his time talking about how great the (future) things are without dwelling on the downsides of the part that is implemented immediately.
  4. Pass a bill that is popular when there is a secret or unspoken agreement that some or all of it will not be implemented. This is happening more and more often. Immigration bills pass and the amnesty portion of the bill is quickly implemented while the border protection portion somehow never gets put in place. I call this the “passive resistance” approach since it is a tactic often used by passive-aggressive people. This also is an incentive for bills to be longer, more comprehensive, and more complex since that makes it easier to get away with ignoring the portions they don’t like.
  5. Pass a bill that leaves many details “to be determined” by some regulatory official down the road. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) pioneered this method. So much of the bill is TBD that we are still waiting to find out important details because they are being determined by unelected officials.
  6. Don’t bother with Congress at all, just regulate desired changes into existence. Once they figured out they could do number 5 above, they also realized that they didn’t need the bill in the first place. The unelected (and largely unseen, unknown, and unaccountable) officials in various departments can “reinterpret” existing laws in new ways. Congress is supposed to not let this happen but when the majority of congress is just interested in their own power, and the changes help grow that power, congress remains silent.
  7. If you want a bill to pass, but it will be unpopular with the folks back home, poll everyone and find out how many you need to pass the bill. Then work with those that want to vote against it to find…

 

In my next post I’ll begin looking at various groups. Political parties, special interest groups, voters, big business, etc. I’ll map out how I see power being used to control others, and used to grow power. I had several “Ah ha!” moments while mapping out the connections. In many cases it explains why groups have acted in unexpected ways. And it seems to predict how they will act in the future…

Jeff

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