Lying doesn’t matter

January 2, 2012

Cantor refuses to admit Reagan raised taxes

An excerpt from the 60 Minutes interview between Lesley Stahl and Eric Cantor, shortly after Cantor remarked that he’s willing to cooperate with democrats, but unwilling to compromise his principles:

Stahl: But your idol … was Ronald Reagan, and he compromised.
Cantor: But he never compromised his principles.
Stahl: Well, he raised taxes, and it was one of his principles not to raise taxes.
Cantor: Well, he also cut taxes.
Stahl: But he did compromise.
Cantor: Well, but —
(Cantor’s press secretary, from off camera): That’s not true, and I don’t want to let that stand.

I’m not sure which statement Cantor’s press secretary was challenging, but nothing there is factually untrue. Reagan did cut taxes significantly when he took office; but subsequently he raised them, across all income brackets, several times. Even if you want to argue semantics about the word “compromise”, cue the clip of Reagan speaking to the nation from the Oval Office after signing a tax-hike bill in 1982: “Make no mistake about it, this whole package is a compromise.”

So Cantor’s press secretary is either (a) misinformed about (relatively recent) history, or (b) is lying.

I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume it’s (b), he’s lying (for it would take a truly astonishing amount of ignorance to have risen so high in the world of politics — as to become a sitting congressman’s press secretary — and yet still be totally unaware that Reagan in fact raised taxes 12 times during his presidency).

So he’s lying, simply put. And not about complicated stuff like climate change or economic policy, where it’s very easy to sneak in an un-truth, but about easily verifiable facts, like which legislation Reagan signed into law (they keep records of such things).

It makes you wonder: why would he do it? Why make such an obvious lie, on national television no less? Why expose yourself as a disingenuous fraud?

Here’s the reason: because lying works.

Yes, it would be easy to validate his lie, but how many people are going to do that? And if the audience wants to be lied to, if they want their pre-conceived notion of reality confirmed, then they will accept the lie with satisfaction, both intellectually and emotionally. In fact, depending on how emotionally invested they are, they might actively resist anyone who tries to reveal the actual truth of the matter. The truth would have such an emotionally destabilizing effect on them, that their mind and body reflexively resists it. These are the hapless ignoramuses of the world. They are not wantonly ignorant; they are helplessly so. Their emotional tranquility depends on it. We humans are instinctive animals, governed largely by our subconscious emotional lizard brain. To override our emotional instincts requires an exceptional amount of intellectual effort — an effort that most humans, unfortunately, do not have the capacity to summon. We fancy ourselves as rational beings, but for the most part we are slaves to our subconscious. All we really seem to be good at is rationalizing our irrational feelings. Go figure.

So in this case, the easier thing to do here, rather than try to precariously tip-toe around these inconvenient facts — facts that contradict the revisionist image of Reagan that modern republicans try to paint — is to just lie about them. Step right up and lie flat out, bald faced and all.

Dick Cheney once (in)famously quipped, “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” At some point, some idiot self-satisfied overconfident republican is going to let slip: “The modern-day republican party has proven, without a doubt, that lying doesn’t matter.”

Given the abundance of un-truths circulating Washington these days, it appears that more and more politicians have figured this out.

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