Lies and the Lying Liars Who Profit From Them

Rick Perlstein’s The Long Con: Mail-order conservatism suggests that lying in part of the DNA of the right-wing political movement.

I have a knee-jerk distrust of arguments (especially around election time) that seem so nakedly calculated to reinforce liberal biases, but the source commands some respect, and it is based on some research. Perlstein is the author of Nixonland, one of the rare truly great books about Nixon and his times. (Two other great Nixon books I’ve read are William Safire’s Before the Fall and Garry Wills’s Nixon Agonisties.) His piece is worth a read, and I say that as someone who pretty much stopped reading Crooks & Liars a couple of weeks ago because the constant theme about how absolutely everything the GOP does is dishonest started feeling tiresome and shrill. (I wouldn’t go over 50%, see how moderate I am!) Perlstein, though, is plausible and palatable:

It’s time, in other words, to consider whether Romney’s fluidity with the truth is, in fact, a feature and not a bug: a constituent part of his appeal to conservatives. The point here is not just that he lies when he says conservative things, even if he believes something different in his heart of hearts—but that lying is what makes you sound the way a conservative is supposed to sound, in pretty much the same way that curlicuing all around the note makes you sound like a contestant on American Idol is supposed to sound.

In part the New York Times had it right, for as much as it’s worth: Romney’s prevarications are evidence of simple political hucksterism—“short, utterly false sound bites,” repeated “so often that millions of Americans believe them to be the truth.” But the Times misses the bigger picture. Each constituent lie is an instance pointing to a larger, elaborately constructed “truth,” the one central to the right-wing appeal for generations: that liberalism is a species of madness—an esoteric cult of out-of-touch, Europe-besotted ivory tower elites—and conservatism is the creed of regular Americans and vouchsafes the eternal prosperity, security, and moral excellence of God’s chosen nation, which was doing just fine before Bolsheviks started gumming up the works.

Perlstein makes a convincing case that lying is a core part of how the permanent campaign class of the GOP, from Richard Viguerie to NewsMax to Anne Coulter, milks its base. Where we may part company, though, is when he also argues that this is how the elite in the GOP rolls, pointing to what he calls a “curious fact”:

—for all the objections that conservatives have aired over Romney’s suspect purity in these last months, not one prominent conservative has made Romney’s dishonesty part of the brief against him.

Is that right? It seems to me that the Eleventh Commandment broke down quite badly in the primaries. Consider this video:

Some of the right-wing spin machine are probably in it just for the money; but that’s probably the case with most long-running political movements. Some others are true believers, whether well-informed or prisoners of the self-referential epistemology that Perlstein points us to. Some of the billionaire funders may be operating on self-interest rightly understood. And some of the above are Straussians, actualizing the philosophy that the way to talk to — to lead — the masses is to lie to them. Romney doesn’t come off sounding like like a true believer, which is odd as his policies surely serve his self interest. That invites us to place him in another one of the categories. Perlstein says Romney is lying because that is what his backers expect. I suppose it could be, as Perlstein’s account would lead us to believe, that Romney’s lie parade is some dog-whistle style pitch to fellow Straussian would-be overlords, but if so it’s certainly not being done with much finesse, nor despite a generally stenographic mainstream press does it seem to have wowed the voters.

I hope.

[Instant Update: fixed the title of Safire’s book!]

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7 Responses to Lies and the Lying Liars Who Profit From Them

  1. bakho says:

    The left has the same type of “Politics for Profit” infrastructure and it has come under attack by the left in the past. Money donation is for people who do not have the time or cannot make the time to be more involved but it is a poor substitute.

    • Jexpat says:

      Not sure how that attempt at a false equivalency is supposed in any way to vitiate the culture of lies and lying that 21st Republicans have with great persistence created.

      Equally, I’m not sure how a nation whose citizens are unable to distinguish objective fact from abject falsehood are in any way equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

  2. The fact that Gingrich has now “absolved” or “forgiven” r(M)oney of being a liar, is further proof of the Straussian roots of the “liar’s culture” that pervades the right.

  3. ezra abrams says:

    the level of naivete, and ahistoricity, of R Perlstein, and those who reblog him, is astonishing.
    To think that M Romney or the GOP is any different then the Democrats….I got a bridge in brooklyn I can sell you cheap

    Bomber Gap
    Tonkin Gulf
    Re read the opening paragraph alterman’s liberalism history, does the std on FDR – a man without honesty

    Bill Clinton (ok, it is better to lie about a blow job then the economy)

    Bill Clinton – Nafta is a good idea

    I mean, havn’t any of you people even glanced at Caro’s bio, or read Mencken, or Liebling, or even J K Galbraiths’ description of washington in the 40s, or….

  4. Vic says:

    More relevantly:

    American citizens and diplomats died in Lybia, while the White House situation room (according to some sources, including the President) watched live via drone camera. Help was requested multiple times – help which was readily available in the area – and was refused by SOMEONE in the Administration (quite possibly the President himself). After all this, the President has shaded the truth, avoided questions, even clearly lied at times about what happened – all (apparently) to keep up the political point that since bin Laden is dead, we should all re-elect him. He has yet to come clean about the simple facts of what happened when and take the responsibility for the official non-response.

    And the media, for the most part, lacking any apparent desire to be a new Woodward and Bernstein, and fearing being called racist, just ignores the story for the sake of the election. If Bush did this, we’d never hear the end of it.

    Meanwhile, Romney says things in which people don’t agree with his interpretation of the facts – and he’s a LIER! Romney alters his thinking on something, and it must be because he’s a LIER! Romney doesn’t actually SAY that he wants to outlaw abortion and take away womens’ shoes and it can only be because he’s a LIER!

    Seriously, I think that people need to STOP worrying about trivial BS and start thinking about what’s actually important: Fixing the economy, creating jobs, stopping the rediculous farce in Afganistan, dealing with a miriad of other REAL issues, and finding out what is going through the head of a President that feels free to Unconstitutionally kill American Citizens overseas one day and won’t save them on the next.

    • I think if you read the “Chronicles of Mitt’s Mendacity” that poor Steve Benen compiled (even discounted for judgement calls), or just look at the fuss over the Romney Jeep lie, you’ll see that there really is a very high level of straight lying built into the campaign strategy.

      One thing I just don’t get is why no one suggests that a campaign based on such falsehood by its very nature cannot create a mandate to govern. But somehow, maybe because there’s a reluctance to call lies what they are, this isn’t a common refrain.

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