The lies and damned lies of this presidential election could well damage our vaunted two-party political system beyond full recovery. At a minimum, they could change elective politics in very damaging, destructive ways.
Strong words? Yes. Mine? Yes, but not mine alone. Near-daily research of opinions of some of the best political minds in this country shows many of them saying similar and, in some cases, exactly the same thing.
That we are a badly divided nation is no overstatement. Daily transfusions of hate radio, political and social lies on all our computers spread by too-often anonymous cowards and the ignorant drivel of some in high political office combine to create the toxic atmosphere. Add prolonged uncertain national economic conditions affecting us all, a national media which seeks sensation without information, sustained high unemployment and you’ve got a breeding ground for division, mistrust, ignorance and hate.
To all this, add the now-legal ability of a couple dozen billionaires to bombard our national atmosphere with poisonous media messages – often anonymous and always uncontrolled – seeking to change the foundations of our society to conform to their own self-interests. Dividing us still further.
We have a presidential contest devolving into some of those “lies and damned lies.” While the principal candidates must share some blame, the more scurrilous of the bunch come from those SuperPACs. The ones that are supposed to operate completely unattached to the candidates they support. Road apples! Two of the Obama and Romney SuperPACs are headed either by former staffers or avowed supporters very familiar with each man. Such isolation as there may be rests in the lack of emails or other direct communications but any separation stops there. They are “joined at the hip” for all practical purposes. To the extent they are, the candidates must accept a large share of the blame for the falsity of their messages.
Here are two specific examples of charges that are completely untrue. From the Obama camp, the charge Mitt Romney is “hiding” his tax returns. Not true. Romney’s returns are legally protected from publication as are those of the rest of us. Despite the false charge of “hiding,” Romney and his advisors have made a calculated political decision not to publish what he is entitled to keep private. You may argue – and I certainly do – that the decision is doing more harm than good as continued polling shows. But to claim he is “hiding” them is not true.
On the Romney ledger of lies, the charge that Obama is the “most divisive president in our history” and that his is an administration of “separation and destruction of our society.” Not true. For two reasons.
First, he’s done nothing overt to divide. But many in society have made it clear they don’t want a black man in the White House. Hateful, racist examples of that have been plentiful these last four years. Right wing media, hate radio, street demonstrations and intellectually vacant – and most often anonymous – emails by the millions. Division – if division there be – can be more accurately described as coming from outside the White House than within.
One oddity of that is that Obama is not a black man. He is an American of mixed race who has chosen to live his life as a black man. He has written of his decision based on his skin color and of his father’s Kenyan birth.
The second proof of the “divider” lie is Obama’s training and education. He has been a constitutional law professor, counselor and head of several groups which exist because of their ability to compromise, modify messages and cooperatively bring about change and attract others to their cause. Fellow Democrats have often complained of his too-easygoing political conduct because of Obama’s intense efforts to get opposing political forces to come together in conciliation and compromise. His most memorable political losses have largely been because he attempted compromise when he should have resorted to arm twisting. Not the legacy of a “divider.” The charge is false.
But these and other lies persist as the anger levels rise and the attacks become more personal. As a student of political history, I’m aware of many previous campaigns of hate and division. What differs now is the means of communications – instant and everywhere. Nearly 150 years ago, it took the news of Lincoln’s assassination nearly a month to cross the continent. Today, when a political lie is told, it reaches from Florida to Alaska in seconds. I-net, Facebook, Twitter and the rest send fact, lies and gossip all mashed up with a keystroke. No fact-checking; no editing; often no truth.
Neither presidential candidate is blameless. Both parties share guilt. SuperPAC’s – anonymous, cash-glutted, self-serving, lying – are cancers causing damage to our electoral system which may fundamentally change our nation forever. It is not overstatement. Proof is everywhere.
Whether the elections are a significant contributor to national fear and anger or are a symptom of what’s already there is a fair debate. But this fact is crystal clear. The middle class is being savaged and gradually eroded. No good can come from that. Only worsening economics and a making a weaker nation. Hate, anger, racism and unbridled spending by those who amassed their fortunes because of the historic labors of that middle class are combining to gut such democracy as we’ve historically preserved through wars and other challenges. What irony if we are undone by a court decision that gave corporations the rights of individuals. Free, unfettered speech.
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