One of the painful truths about the United States is that our politicians now lie with such grinding regularity that we no longer really listen to what they say. Instead, we evaluate the misrepresentations they foist upon us like judges at an Olympic gymnastics event, handing out scores afterward for execution, degree of difficulty and overall presentation.
A Republican Party that once placed a premium on personal honor under the guidance of old political warhorses like conservative pundit William Buckley is being transformed into an institution for which the truth is whatever its members can convince people to believe. In short, the GOP is becoming a party of “fabulists.”
Webster’s defines a fabulist as a “creator or writer of fables.” As a fabricator, liar, fibber, prevaricator, and storyteller.
Dishonorable political discourse has become so ingrained on both sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C that lying isn’t even called “lying” there anymore. Instead, it’s referred to as “politics,” or “spin,” or even managing “the reality-based community.”
Republicans certainly don’t have a monopoly on political misrepresentation, but they have led the race to the bottom. That’s why they’re so often in conflict with good journalists.
These conflicts aren’t happening because reporters lean collectively to the left – that’s never been true in my experience – but because the best of us call them on their lies.
The one-sided spat between U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, and Miami Herald reporter Marc Cavuto that took place Nov. 29 is an example of the increasingly ridiculous and demeaning conflicts we’re now encountering.
Diaz-Balart, who received his little district as a hand-me-down from big brother Lincoln in an unopposed election, is a classic fabulist. That’s why it incensed this political hooker when Caputo chuckled as he rolled out the fiction that the Obama administration’s recent successes in Africa and the Middle East actually resulted from the policies of George W. Bush.
You can hardly blame Cavuto, given that Geedub made this nation into an international diplomatic laughingstock, bankrupt the Treasury, and helped plunge the world into the deepest economic slowdown since The Great Depression during his abortion of a presidency. That’s a painful truth that’s really not open to negotiation – unless you’re a fabulist.
In their eyes there is no such thing as inherent truth.
Diaz-Balart (far left) was attempting to advance a fable in which all of our nation’s current ills are due to Obama, and he was willing to attack any journalist with the sand to linger on the train-wreck Geedub left behind. Even if their affinity for the truth was confined to a single involuntary chuckle.
“You laugh, are you a reporter or a debater?” Diaz-Balart said, turning on Cavuto. “It’s funny because – and I’m not giving you a hard time here – but usually reporters are reporters, not advocates.”
“I am not,” Cavuto replied.
“Oh yes you are,” Diaz-Balart said.
Diaz-Balart was right, but not for the reason he thinks. Cavuto actually is an advocate – for the truth – like all good reporters. And like all good reporters he has minimum standards for the quality and quantity of knowing lies he can endure without feeling insulted.
Diaz-Balart’s fairy-tale about Bush (right) fell well short of those minimum standards. So much so that even the Eastern European judges would have given him low marks for “execution” and “overall presentation” if lying were an Olympic sport.
It’s hard for the average American to understand how any decent person, much less a polished public speaker like Diaz-Balart, could possibly spew such nonsense with a straight face, and then become angry when it’s skeptically received.
This kind of brazen behavior is indicative of a new problem, which is that Diaz-Balart and his fellow fabulists have been lying for so long and enjoy such sheltered lives that they’re actually losing the ability to differentiate between fact and fiction, and between truth and half-truth. They stopped being decent people a long time ago.
Like their peers in the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union, these little tyrants can’t bear to be laughed at. But their knowing lies have become so ridiculous that it’s almost impossible for reporters to listen to them with a straight face.
Diaz-Balart could just as easily have been telling us that former porn star Jenna Jameson is chaste, Fox News is fair and balanced, and John Boehner’s skin is naturally orange.
Don’t chuckle, or Diaz-Balart will be demanding to know if you’re “a reporter or a debater” and then telling you he’s “not trying to give you a hard time.”
The hell he wasn’t.
In fact, the knowing lies of the GOP fabulists have fallen to such lows that it would be news if one of them stopped spinning fairy-tales long enough to begin telling the truth again. That would be worth talking about.
Such is the disgrace that is Washington, D.C., where honor and integrity have been replaced in both parties by the ability to tell a convincing lie. For machine politicians and lobbyists, the truth is something to be bought and sold.
DC’s preference for convenient political lies over inconvenient truths has become so pronounced that it’s created hundreds of new jobs by giving birth to a genre of television shows that includes the The Colbert Report, Onion News Network, The Daily Show and Real Time With Bill Maher. The only reason they seem to lean left is because the right provides the best material.
-Did you know that radical Muslims are taking over the United States and replacing our legal system with sharia law? Not.
-Did you know that Obama is advocating death panels and rationed medical care?
-Did you know that the American medical system is the envy of the world?
-Did you know that any oil drilled from the Artic National Wildlife refuge would be sold at a discount right here in the U.S., rather than to the highest bidder in the global marketplace?
-Did you know that Wall Street isn’t slanted in favor of huge investors?
-Did you know that Congress is full of strong, principled, sacrificial leaders who come from the same backgrounds as you and me and are devoted to advancing the greater good?
-Did you know that cutting taxes for political donors stimulates more donations.
OK, that last one is true.
The current crop of machine politicians seems to feel nothing but contempt for the decent, middle-class Americans who put them in office and their watchdogs in the Fourth Estate. They pity our attachment to the truth.
We’re quaint and backward to them in much the same way as lawyers who still respect the law, doctors who still respect their Hippocratic Oath, and soldiers who are still willing to sacrifice themselves to advance the greater good. In short, anyone who is not for sale is soft in the eyes of the pollies. They’re sheep to be shorn.
Personal honor? That’s just something to be monetized for them.
The average voter’s persistence in viewing machine politicians as elected leaders with a real attachment to the truth and a proper sense of morality also is seen by the professional political class as something quaint, backward and stupid. The contempt these political hookers feel for traditional values is so pervasive that they’ve taken to seeing themselves as a kind of aristocracy in recent years – a hereditary ruling class not unlike England’s old House of Lords.
I was chatting amiably with Michael Brown – of “good job Brownie” infamy – in 2005 when he said as much to me off-the-record. We were having a heart-to-heart when I told the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency how much it disturbed me that political considerations weren’t pushed to the back of the bus after Hurricane Katrina to speed aid to the Gulf area, where more than 1,800 Americans died and hundreds of thousands more were left homeless, hungry and without power or potable water.
“Don’t ever let anyone in DC hear you talk like that Victor,” Brown advised me. “They won’t respect you, because politics never gets pushed to the back of the bus in Washington.”
He agreed to my request to put the verbal exchange, which still sends chills up my spine, on-the-record a few years later.
The manner in which machine politicians treat U.S. voters today is reminiscent of the way young soldiers and civilian employees of the U.S Department of Defense treat locals when they’re stationed overseas. Residents of “the villes” immediately outside every U.S. military base in South Korea and Japan served two primary purposes when I worked for Pacific Stars & Stripes in the late 1990s. They were either a source for sex or a provider of retail goods.
In other words, if they weren’t giving up some ass, setting up a round of shots or making a leather coat, they were largely invisible to us. Just as the middle class is today with machine politicians like the mayors who recently cracked down on the Occupy Wall Street movement for questioning the status quo that brought them to power.
Our own elected officials have begun treating us like residents of an occupied nation. On paper, they’re supposed to protect us, but most stopped making sacrifices on our behalf a long time ago.
Now, machine politicians like U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) – who has been in the House for 40 years – and U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) – who has been in the House for 28 years – think we exist to serve them.
Sure, Congress makes it sound like they have term limits, but they don’t. And every time they redraw the lines of their districts they seem to start the clock again to obscure just how long they’ve been ripping us off.
It’s just one of the little cheats machine politicians use to game our system of representative democracy.
No group makes as much from the status quo as the political hookers of Washington, DC, and the wealthy industries that keep them in thigh-high boots and red G-strings. That’s one reason why journalism is under attack now from the right. The other reason is that Republicans are simply better politicians than Democrats. They’re ruthless trendsetters, who aren’t afraid to innovate.
GOP spin-doctors know that good reporters try to be objective when they write in the third-person. They know that we seek to balance our own personal opinions to give both sides a fair shake in our hard news stories. And they’re using that knowledge to game the system now, much as tech analysts like Jack Grubman cheated the financial system during the dot-com boom by distributing misinformation to investors in a practice detailed in books like “Liar’s Poker.”
The political right has figured out that reporters put a comment from a leader of each major party in every political story we write. They’ve learned that if all the Republican newsmakers advance the same misrepresentation simultaneously they can push marginal garbage into our stories that wouldn’t otherwise make the cut.
That’s really the purpose of their ballyhooed “talking points.” The points exist to get all the big GOP names behind the same lie at the same time so it can’t be ignored.
Likewise, Republican spin-doctors know that the Washington press corps is fiercely competitive, and that the Internet and social media have dramatically curtailed the time reporters once had to evaluate the veracity of a news tip prior to publication. The rise of Fox News has exacerbated this situation by creating a news presence that’s willing to scoop any reporter who declines to immediately regurgitate a Republican lie elsewhere.
The result is a capital press corps whose members no longer seem to care as much about whether they’re reporting a lie, so long as they get it first. Increasingly, their agenda is preserving and expanding access to newsmakers, rather than separating lies from the truth.
This was never more obvious than during the “birther” story, which advanced the fiction that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. Instead of objective reporting, the big news organizations gave us stories in which Democratic truths were balanced by obvious Republican lies.
As a columnist, I don’t operate under the same pressures as reporters. Unlike them, I’m free to voice my opinions and to speak my mind in the first person as I’m doing right now.
And I believe there is such a thing as inherent truth.
One of those truths is that Republicans have been lying for so long and with such enthusiasm that it’s had a caustic effect on the Grand Old Party’s collective honor, which is now nearly nonexistent. The practice has hurt Dems, too, but they still have enough collective sense to be ashamed of themselves when they’re caught in a lie, whereas Republicans seem to take a perverse pride in their ability to mislead and dissemble.
Washington has an insatiable appetite for such behavior, but the American middle class does not. We’re weary of being lied to and we’re looking for a way to clean House. And the Senate, too.
The two political machines would know that if they still represented us, but they don’t. Instead, they’ve become a club for honorless millionaires and near-millionaires whose lackeys lend an air of false legitimacy to their self-serving lies.
Half the U.S. Senators and Representatives were millionaires in 2010, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. They had a median net wealth of $989,000. That’s hardly representative of voters. Ninety-nine percent of the 312 million Americans were not millionaires in 2009-2010, when the median household income was $50,046.
The rich have grown richer the past 30 years thanks to the political machines and increasingly live in different communities and move in different social circles than the rest of us. They don’t send their kids to public schools, struggle with soaring health care costs, fret about getting fired for telling the truth, or deal with sadistic bosses in a corporate world turned upside down by fear-based management techniques.
One of the side-effects of our bifurcated Society is that many machine politicians just don’t know the voters they’re supposed to represent anymore. That’s why Dems declared victory in 2008 and Republicans claimed a mandate in 2010.
The painful truth is that neither side won in either election because most of the middle-class wasn’t voting Democrat or Republican. They were voting against incumbents in a bid to burn down two political machines that now seem to exist solely to serve themselves.
Sadly, we don’t have much in the way of political alternatives at a time when political syllables are measured in the bricks of cash a candidate can afford to feed into the television marketing machines which push their message into the public forum. TV ads are an insurmountable financial obstacle for any candidate who isn’t affiliated with the Dems or GOP.
If the pollies really knew us, they would understand that American wage-earners suffer in silence for a long time before they become enraged, but there’s no going back once we cross that threshold. Working people don’t negotiate when they’re disgusted, they just stop looking for temporary solutions to the temporary problems around them and start looking for permanent solutions.
That’s the precipice most of the nation is standing on right now with regard to term limits, nepotism, predatory banking, health care blood money, political corruption and the legalized bribery facilitated by lobbyists. People are sick and tired of the lies and poised to burn it all down.
Some professional politicians seem to see it coming. Like U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the 30-year House veteran who announced he would not be seeking re-election this week.
Others, like Diaz-Balart, live in a fantasy world where the truth is whatever they can convince the rest of us to believe. Where suspect career politicians still think they get the benefit of the doubt.
He and his fellow fabulists are new and different in that respect. Once upon a time, the GOP had enough sense to be ashamed of a clumsy lie.
The GOP still had a passing attachment to the truth when I had covered Jeb Bush in Tallahassee for Gannett. I had a serious man-crush on Jeb, whose real name is John Ellis Bush, much as I did years later on Cory Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, New Jersey.
Both are big, lumbering men who are wicked smart. They’re charismatic policy wonks with great senses of humor, pinata-sized heads, zero fashion sense, and enough self-respect to know when to be ashamed.
In short, fun guys to cover.
Part of Jeb’s plan for re-election in 2002 involved monopolizing the daily political stories coming out of Tallahassee. That meant leveraging his incumbent status to camouflage campaign appearances as legitimate press conferences.
It’s a lot of work for a small campaign staff to find enough issues to generate that many events and Jeb’s staff came up short midway through the campaign. The result was a ridiculous press conference that sought to connect several rapes with the idea that Democrat opponent Bill McBride was soft on crime.
Part of the disconnect was that McBride wasn’t even in public office when the rapes occurred, but Jeb was sleeping in the governor’s mansion every night. The three women that were chosen to speak at the presser on behalf of all Florida rape victims had one thing in common: all were staunch Republicans.
The presser’s asinine premise was that the rapes were somehow McBride’s fault and Jeb was poised to do the right thing for the victims by sponsoring draconian legislation requiring the arrest of anyone walking their dog at night, provided a neighbor thought they had evil intentions. Jeb’s campaign staff didn’t think it mattered that he had already passed on the very same misbegotten legislation a few years earlier.
The sheer outlandishness of the presser hit me like a wave of humid air when one victim actually punctuated the tale of her brutal rape with the words “and I’m a Republican and I support Jeb Bush.” As I sat among my fellow reporters I found myself wondering how I could possibly cover such a surreal event accurately without being insensitive to a rape victim who had just politicized herself.
I briefly pondered the idea of lampooning the presser in a story called “Republican Rape Victims for Jeb” or asking the victims for the political affiliation of their alleged rapists. At one point, I must have shaken my head in disgust because Jeb caught my eye from the lectern, smiled wanly and shook his Charlie-Brown-sized head like a baseball pitcher seeking a different sign, as if to say “if you pass on this one, I will understand.”
He promptly wrapped up the presser and headed for the proverbial woodshed with a very contrite campaign staffer at his side.
Jeb didn’t me if I was “a reporter or a debater” or accuse me of being a political advocate because I appeared to balk at the outlandish misrepresentations he made that day. His professional expectations of himself were simply too high for that kind of Stalinist garbage.