Bending the Third Rail
Because We Should, We Can, We Do
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Institutional Lying
I'm going to be totally naive for a bit.

I ran across this piece today:
Both the LAT and NYT go inside with separate pieces on how Fleischer's testimony gave an insider's view of the way the White House press secretary is often kept in the dark and then has to deal with changing explanations. "The worst place to stand as press secretary is where the ground is shifting," Fleischer said.
It certainly isn't news that this White House, and all White Houses, lie. It has become institutionalized that Press Secretaries are left in the dark so they don't have to directly lie to the press, and that they can "deal with changing explanations".

My question is why is this?

Unfortunately I think the answer is the voters. Politicians lie because they perceive it to be in their best interest. The White House lies because to tell the truth would result in firestorms of disapproval and loss of power. For a "good" President, this lying is seen as a benign necessary evil. For a "bad" President, institutionalized lying is seen as a self-serving protective mechanism and condemned. Of course the trick is to decide who is "good" and who is "bad". And also of course, one person's good President is another person's bad President. Look at Bush, arguably the worst President ever, and he still has 30% of the population who think he is a "good" President.

So the net result? We tolerate institutional lying from our government as an unresolvable tension between the adversaries in the system. Regular voters become outraged when lies are revealed, but journalists and inside-the-beltway types merely chuckle and recognize it as business as usual. And when you have a President such as Bush, who is willing to test and push every limit, the checks on his power are minimal. All you have to do is note the changes (see previous post) that Bush has been able to implement over the past 5+ years with no one but the dirty hippies squealing. A President can do a lot of damage in 5 years.

The moral decay isn't in our politicians, it's in us. Until voters demand a greater return to truth as opposed to truthiness, institutionalized lying will continue at an all-time high. Bush has pushed those limits outward and I'm not hopeful that any future Presidents will volunatarily move them back. It's just too tempting to have the power. This is exactly why Bush really has to be impeached. Without that accountability, there's simply no reason for future Presidents to respect, on their own, the limits imposed by the Constitution on the Presidency.