Lying Politicians

Please pardon the redundant title.

The post below, about whether Arnold Schwarzenegger is libertarian, got me thinking about what I should expect to hear in his policy statements during the campaign if it is so, or if it isn’t. Would he actually talk about what programs to cut, or what lifestyle choices to legalize?

This got me to think about politicians and lying in general. It seems to me that it might have become impossible to win a major election without lying. You have to tell different groups of people things that please them, and unless you contradict yourself, you probably won’t please enough people to win the election.

Also, carrying out foreign policy might be easier without being completely truthful. For example, it’s possible that if the Bush administration had laid out its actual case for war in Iraq, it couldn’t have garnered popular or congressional support; or it might have invited more opposition from other countries, making the task deadlier for our troops. So, it might have been a good policy for the national interest, but telling the whole truth about it might have endangered it.

So, suppose there was a candidate you really like; you share basic values, you think he’s honorable, reliable, smart, etc. Would you want him to be scrupulously honest during the campaign? After the election? Would always telling the truth enable him to win, or be effective in office?

I notice that Republicans seemed more concerned with Clinton’s lies, and Democrats seem more concerned with Bush’s lies. This isn’t surprising. But, could it be the case that nobody really cares about whether politicians lie? Don’t they expect it? Could it be that what they really care about is whether the politician has good values, instincts, sense, etc.?

And, if it’s the case that lying isn’t really that important to us, does that put democracy in danger? Does democracy depend on politicians telling the people the truth? Or can the people find out enough about politicians’ characters and values and policy preferences even though they often lie?

What do you think?


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