Lies And the People Who Ignore Them

Mark Kleiman has assembled what he calls a very partial list of Bush lies. And while it's a good list, it is a very partial list, mixing the deadly and the trivial. The problem is that there are so very many, many lies to choose from. (Other compilations include Bushwatch, Bush-lies, Caught on Film, and .)

Every so often, I get a feeling of disconnect from the body politic. I recall being stunned to discover in college (during the Iranian hostage crisis) that friends of mine, people I considered basically sensible, had taken a trip down to Washington DC in order to throw rocks at the Iranian Embassy.

I have a similar feeling of disconnect now. How can it be that about half of the voters in this country tell pollsters that they are basically happy with an administration that lies like a rug? This is surely one of the central questions of the day.

In particular, I want to know to what extent this report of (eligible) voter satisfaction is due to

  1. Voters not being exposed to information about what's going on;
  2. Voters exposed to the info but not reading/watching it;
  3. Reading/watching it but not caring.

I know that there is some evidence for (1), especially among Fox viewers, but the numbers are too small to explain the 50% job satisfaction rating. I have to think that a key part of the variation is (3): people don't mind being lied to.

Why might voters accept being lied to?

A. One explanation is cynicism. If you think that politicians lie all the time, you might be more likely to just accept it as a fact of life. In this view, being told a politician lied is as meaningful to your vote as being told he takes campaign contributions. Similarly, if you think politicians are all bought and paid for, no amount of coverage of fat cat donations and sweetheart deals will move you.

B. A similar explanation is 'lie fatigue'. In this version the voters are not irredeemably cynical, but the modern version of the Big Lie — a constant policy of lies — works, because no one can really process all the mendacity.

C. Yet another theory would have it that the voters who support Bush do so despite the lies. They agree with his policies, and put up with the lying as either necessary strategic behavior to achieve desired ends, or as an unfortunate side-effect of avoiding alternative policy sets that they dislike. (This is in some ways the scariest theory—does an informed public really affirmatively support the current Administration's policies? Or is it rather a 'lesser of evils' sort of support? )

D. Intertia. In this story, voters tend to identify with a party and are loath to switch. They tend particularly to be unwilling to admit their last vote was a mistake. (Personally, I think this is by far the least likely of these alternatives. Voters seem perfectly willing to revenge themselves on people they elect when they feel disappointed.)

E. Rally 'round the flag. Perhaps voters are in 'wartime' mode. As I recall from the Vietnam era, there is a deep and powerful feeling in the land that in wartime 'my country right or wrong' and that it is almost disloyal to question, much less criticize, the Head of State.

No doubt there are still other possibilities. And they are not mutually exclusive. But anyone concerned about either the policies of this Administration or about promoting a modicum of honesty in our public life, needs to know what explains the current poll numbers. Is support shallow? Deep? And most importantly, where does it come from?

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3 Responses to Lies And the People Who Ignore Them

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    “How can it be that about half of the voters in this country tell pollsters that they are basically happy with an administration that lies like a rug?”

    Um, because they had at least 8 years to get accustomed to it?

  2. Joe says:

    I sorry… what is “is” again? Oh, and a BJ isn’t really cheating or sex.


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