Anyone who has been paying attention to the political discourse lately knows we have descended into an alternate reality, altogether new territory where the demarcations between truth and lie are increasingly blurred. This is a domain so corrosive, demeaning, exploitative, amoral and destructive, so breathtaking in audacity that we can barely comprehend the wound we are sustaining, let alone determine how to recover.
Everyone knows what a lie is. And it's pretty safe to say that everyone has told one. From the innocuous fib to the protectivelie to the divinely inspired lie; from the socially graceful deflection to the compassionate distraction. We've heard them all. We've told them all. We do it out of fear. We do it out of concern. We do it for expediency, avoidance, to preserve a larger purpose or on behalf of some greater value. We may be lying with intent. But, largely, we are not lying to declare conventional reality null and void.
The political lie has been with us as long as politics. It is open to even broader interpretation than the garden-variety social prevarication. Campaign declarations, policy statements and soap-box promises by now have assumed cartoon status as anything you can hang your hat on. I'm not talking about pious platitudes and vague palliatives. I'm talking about twisting truth into something unrecognizable or disregarding it entirely-- you know, lies.
And for many of us who were most recently seduced by Obama's 2008 campaign into once more cranking up our faith, sure, there's an argument that a campaign is a different reality from the realpolitik of the Oval Office. At least that's a handy rationalization for the Obama we have seen since the election. But there are also a few choice promises from that campaign that have since taken on the cliche of lies being flimsy. We are led into secret wars, the evisceration of the 4th Amendment, the creation of the security state, the undermining of the very rule of law itself.
Politics is where the truth gets its most intense workout. If campaigning is an extreme test of linguistic hyper-flexibility, as we are so frequently reminded by George Lakoff(and most recently by Rebecca Solnit), our latest batch of top-of-the-ticket Republican candidates would be fully realized yogis. The bumbling--that is, permitting themselves to be recorded actually saying what they believe--of down-ticket or local right-wing candidates on the issue of abortion alone is testimony to the degree to which obfuscation and dissembling have become a fine art.
When did reality get such a bad name? Recall that the term "reality-based community" has its roots in a quotation from an October 17, 2004, The New York Times Magazine article by writer Ron Suskind, in which he was told by an aide (Karl Rove?) to George W. Bush
"…guys like [you are] "in what we call the reality-based community,...people who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. ... That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”In the short time since that statement, the amplitude, speed and breadth of political lying (not to mention the investment in it) have taken on startling proportions. The speed with which these deceptions are mouthed combined with the straight-face of the messenger leave us spellbound and gasping.
The lies now penetrate my chest, piercing into some deep and most intimate sacred cavern where the tapestry of reality itself is meticulously woven by an ancient sage; where the pattern is second nature because it's continuously recreated. The attending confusion, grief and despair is an unfolding disaster, uprooting civic discourse, tangling the social fabric, setting us adrift in the turbulence of having so much to do and no agreements about how to get it done. Now even the most routinely pervasive advertising gimmicks and slogans are subject to question. Who really has the largest 4G network? Who even cares?
The lies now disturb my sleep. They are a malicious political virus, threatening to enter the social DNA, distort the most fundamental contracts we share as Americans on a shared national journey, as people on a shared human journey. Seemingly, living by one's true values requires ever more resolute determination and focus.
Where do such profound and cynical prevarications come from? Desperation, fear, ideologies that rely on symbol more than substance; malign attempts to make sense of the Great Unraveling all around us--and which at the same time contribute to that collapse.
Katrina was no lie. Even so, Katrina was spun so many different ways from Day One that many came out the other side practically thinking it was New Orleans' fault for being in the way. Sandy is no lie. And Sandy cannot be spun. The moment Sandy slammed ashore, colliding with America’s dream-state with gale force, we entered a new reality, one in which the material realities of water, food, power, transportation, energy, even the infrastructure of community can no longer be taken for granted. There are now many new climate refugees within our very own borders. And the numbers will only rise.
It's as if the truth has come down hammer-like, exploding denial, distraction, self-delusion and the political fairy tale that anyone, Karl Rove included, can hope to manufacture reality any more. The day Sandy made landfall was, arguably, the day Mitt Romney's campaign met its doom. This was not the October Surprise he was wishing for. His brand of reality has been rendered irrelevant. It was Dick Cheney who said, "The American way of life is non-negotiable." Unfortunately for him, and anyone else with designs on denying the truth or constructing flimsy fantasies hoping that we will all, zombie-like, fall into line, nature doesn't negotiate. Let's get on with it. No more lies.