The big liars win big
June 12, 2012 Leave a comment
For a long time, it’s been clear that bald-faced lying is a winning political strategy. Alas, there used to be a limit to just how egregious the lie is, but Mitt Romney is currently proving there’s little political cost to just going out there and lying your pants off every single day. I caught this “four Pinocchio” factcheck this morning and just shook my head. Kevin Drum’s response to the same thing seems pretty spot-on to me:
Politicians have increasingly discovered over the past couple of decades that even on a national stage you can lie pretty blatantly and pay no price, since the mainstream media, trapped in its culture
of objectivity, won’t really call you on it, limiting themselves to fact checking pieces like Kessler’s buried on an inside page. And because virtually nobody except political junkies ever see this stuff, it doesn’t hurt their campaigns at all.
This discovery — that you can tell almost any lie without paying a price — is, in some sense, an example of national politics becoming a lot more like local politics. Blatant lying has always been routine in local races that don’t get a lot of press coverage, but the brighter media spotlight kept at least a bit of a lid on it in higher profile races. However, with the splintering of the mainstream national media in recent years and the rise of the web and social media, national politics is local again. And being called on your lies by the occasional earnest fact checker now matters about as much as it does when a local columnist for a weekly newspaper calls you on it.
It takes a while for people to realize that norms have changed and to take advantage of it. Lots of politicians are probably still reluctant to lie too brazenly because they’re still working under the old rules, where the national media might call you on it and it might actually make a difference. The smart ones have figured out that this isn’t how it works anymore. Romney’s one of the smart ones.
I didn’t blog about it at the time and I can’t remember where the link was, but a couple weeks ago there was a study that found that while Romney and Obama may be “lying at similar rates,” Romney is in a class by himself when it comes to “pants on fire” lies. Here’s a nice David Corn piece on the same topic.