"I'm (Insert Name Here), and I Approve These Deceptions"

Nov 6, 2006

The Bottom Line Politics is all about deception but there are some ways to spot lies quickly and effortlessly. Stay informed and conduct research before you believe anything you hear.

Election Day 2006 is upon us. Within the next twenty- four hours, millions of Americans will go to the polls and select the next group of leaders to guide us until their terms expire. The entire U.S. House and one- third of the Senate is up for grabs with a large number of governorships and thousands of local offices waiting for the final decision from the voters.

If you’re like me, you will be looking forward to Wednesday, November 8 when the political bashing will finally come to a temporary end. There will no longer be any advertisements clogging our televisions, radio airwaves, and mailboxes. We will get to experience some relief from the negativity, the false statements, the deceptions, and the outright lies that have been told during this election season.

In a short time, however, the deception and lying will resume once more with each politician looking for the right way to craft his/her words so that the constituents will think something different from reality is taking place. All politicians are liars to one degree or another so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that these types of shenanigans exist. Dishonesty of politicians is a fact of life, exists at all levels of government, and continues to get worse and worse every day. What is a poor constituent to do??

How To Spot a Liar:

Like I said, all politicians are liars to some extent. They all twist facts and make deliberately false statements to sway voters. Some lies are subtle and may escape voters when the lie or deception is first spoken. Other lies are obvious and should be spotted within seconds of their initial utterance.

What are some of the common ways that politicians lie and deceive? Their methods are many but with a little practice, the average person can spot some political lies a mile away. Here are some examples of common political statements and common political beliefs that are proven false with minimal research:

1. ”This program has grown by X percent in the past year- faster than other social programs”

Percentages are an excellent means of deception. To put it bluntly, politicians love percentages! They allow deceptions to be spread by providing a mathematical means to make people believe something is far greater or far less significant that it really is. By using percentages, a problem that is miniscule can be exaggerated to seem exponentially more serious. Likewise, a problem that really is critical can be made to seem less significant through the use of percentages. Politicians will quote percentages when convenient as a means of making a point. They will avoid percentages and use absolute numbers if the numbers make the situation seem more dramatic.

Here is an example: Suppose politician A wants more funding for one of his/her pet programs. Looking at trends, $5 billion was spent on this program two years ago and $5.1 billion was spent last year. Politician B is against any more increases in spending and feels that the .1 billion increase was good enough. In order to show how tiny this increase was and plea for more money, politician A is likely to use percentages: “This program, so critical to the well- being of millions of needy people, was increased only two percent. This isn’t nearly enough and it is less than the rate of inflation”. Now comes Politician B’s turn: “This program is well funded. Last year it received a $100 million dollar increase in funds- an amount greater than the majority of social programs under consideration this year.”

See how that works? By using percentages or by quoting numbers, a problem can be made to look much smaller or much larger than reality dictates. Politicians will choose whichever one makes their position seem more valid and their cause seem more critical. It is also common for a politician to pause when he/she is about to quote the numbers and then speak the figures slowly, for the greatest possible effect.

2. ”If You Pass This Law, I Guarantee……..”

These types of promises are generally made by politicians who have a controversial goal in mind and want to assure the people that their proposal will improve the situation at hand. It could be anything from stem cell research to prayer in schools. The use of the word “guarantee” is designed to dispel any fears that the measure may not work.

The deception here is, of course, the glaring fact that virtually nothing is guaranteed! If it was, the world’s problems would be solved overnight. The instant you hear a politician talk about “guarantees” of prosperity, equality, fairness, or whatever the situation might be, you should become instantly skeptical. Optimism is a fine thing, but thinking that a proposed law is suddenly going to change everyone’s life for the better- and that the change is guaranteed to occur- is naive and foolish, both on the part of the politician who makes the claim and on the part of the citizen who is so gullible to believe it.

3. Lower Taxes = Smaller Government

This probably ranks as one of the greatest of all deceptions and it is a popular lie touted by Republicans. The ‘small tax’ politicians want you, the ordinary citizen, to believe that the size of government is reduced when taxes are reduced.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The size of government is not a function of the money collected in taxes. It is a function of the amount of spending by government. If taxes are reduced and the overall level of spending goes up, then government has not been reduced at all. It has actually increased. The only difference is that funds are borrowed to pay for the increase in spending, leading to higher deficits and the necessity to pay the money back at a later date, causing even greater financial hardships in the future. Lower taxes, in this instance, only means less money is available to pay for the increases in government, resulting in the necessity to increase borrowing to cover the difference. To put this into perspective, it would be like an individual who receives a reduction in annual salary by $5,000 per year and then responds by increasing his/her level of spending by $3,000. If the individual’s budget had been balanced before (the same amount of money spent as received), it would now show a deficit of $8,000. And the only way to pay for this would be by borrowing money either through loans or with credit cards.

Spending is the key determinant of government size, but there are also other factors that cannot be easily measured mathematically. Social controls are also an aspect of government control. One example is the prohibition of alcohol in the early part of the 20th century. This was an obvious infringement on individual rights and a huge increase in government control. But this is not something that can be easily measured in dollars. With social controls factored in, the small government equation becomes a little more complex. It is no longer simply a numbers game. Ironically, it is usually the tax cutting proponents that support measures to increase government control over personal decisions, thus further negating their claims that they are making government smaller.

Politicians will continue to make the “small government” claim when they push for decreases in taxes. Informed citizens should recognize this deception immediately. Unless the reduction in taxes is accompanied by a decrease in spending, the size of government has gone up, not down.

4. ”A Study Conducted by (Fill in the Blank) Proves My Point”

This type of deception is used to gain credibility. A politician begins by making a speech about one of his/her pet projects or a project needed to fulfill a promise to a special interest group. Then, to make the plea seem more valid and to persuade the public into supporting it, the politician will cite official university studies, think tank studies, or any other study that backs up what the politician saying. The idea is that, if a study reached the same conclusion, then what the politician is asking for must have some validity. After all, if a university conducted an official study, this is definitive proof that the proposal is an important one.

The deception, of course, is that most official “studies” are in fact biased in a given direction. I know this from taking part in university studies myself. The university (or other group) will receive funding to conduct a study with the condition that the final results support the political philosophy of the organization that provided the funds. By selecting specific variables for testing and ignoring others, a study can be created to make almost any conclusion come true. This is why official “studies” from different groups so frequently result in different conclusions. They are typically biased in some way. An example of this that comes immediately to mind was a study I can remember hearing about on the radio. It was part of an ad campaign by the city of Cincinnati and it played for many weeks. It claimed that Cincinnati was “America’s Most Livable City”. I thought it sounded like an unusual claim so I did some research. What I found out didn’t surprise me at all: The city had commissioned its own study that was biased in favor of the city. By emphasizing livability factors that were relevant to Cincinnati and ignoring factors that were detrimental, the city of Cincinnati got the desired outcome.

5. ”Funding for This Program Has Been ‘Cut’ by X Percent This Year”

Another popular deception is the claim that a program has had its funding “cut” and it is usually used to strike up emotions in the hearts of the citizens. Opposing politicians are painted as heartless beasts who had the audacity to actually cut funds for a program- money that was vitally needed to support those who are less fortunate and really need the assistance.

Some quick research will usually set the record straight on these claims of “cuts” in spending. What is almost always the case is something else entirely: The program didn’t really see its funds reduced; rather, the proposed increase from the previous year wasn’t as large as originally expected. For example, say that a program was slated for a five percent increase in funding for the current year but instead received an increase of only three percent. Angry politicians who wanted the full five percent will often speak out against the smaller increase, claiming that the funding was cut from the previous year. This is obvious deception and the politicians know it. When the average person hears that money has been cut, he/she thinks its level is lower than it was before. Imagine if you were expecting a five percent pay raise this year but only got a three percent raise. Would you walk around telling people your pay had been cut this year? Of course not- you still got an increase of three percent. But this is the deception commonly used by politicians. They want you to think that those greedy political foes of theirs have worked to reduce critical funding for a program. In reality, the spending went up, just not as much as its supporters had hoped.

6. ”Approving This Measure will Increase (or decrease) Spending by X Dollars Over the Next X Years”

This is another popular deception used by politicians each year and it is designed to give constituents a feeling of security. When budgets are passed, it is common to hear certain programs specifically mentioned as being “phased in” or “phased out” over time. The people hear this and assume that things are going to continue in a certain direction and that a specific plan to increase funding, decrease taxes, implement a new proposal, etc., will become reality in a few years.

The deception used here isn’t as obvious as the ones mentioned above. When it comes to the federal budget, the truth of the matter is that no budget is binding on future years and can change at any time. When the federal budget is ironed out the next year, the Congress is under no obligation to honor the provisions of the previous budgets. Congress can change everything if its members agree to. This is a common occurrence when a new president is sworn into office. Think about the budgets passed during Clinton’s final year in office. Some of the provisions of that budget called for things to be implemented over time. Do you think George W. Bush went along with these provisions? Not a chance. He and the new Congress wrote their own budget and ignored the provisions of the previous one.

7. ”We’re Doing This ‘For the Children’”

This is a popular statement used to gain votes and I find it nauseating. When a politician isn’t getting the support he/she was hoping for, it is common for our beloved lawmaker to add some emotion to the mix. And what could be more emotional than pretending that the proposed legislation was motivated purely as a means of helping America’s children? How can anyone be against this?

Whenever you hear a politician use this popular line of b.s., ask yourself this question: Would this politician still feel the same way if kids were out of the picture? In most cases, you will find that the answer is yes, the politician would still want the legislation regardless. This further proves that the concern about children was all a bunch of bull in the first place. The politician not only benefits from the emotional reaction when people hear that he is concerned about children, he/she can also benefit by accusing anyone who dares to disagree with him/her as being a heartless demon who is against the welfare of youngsters.

8. ”The People Have a Right To (Fill in the Blank)”

People like to talk about things as “rights”. It has a nice ring to it and rights are one of the foundations of the United States Constitution. But not everything can be defined as a right, even though today’s modern politician, always on the lookout for ways to stir up the crowd, will try to make you think otherwise.

The deception here is with the definition of what is a “right” and what is not. To define it simply, something is a right if it does not directly infringe on anyone else’s right. Thus, free speech is a right because even though you might not like what another person says and you may be offended, the words of that individual have no bearing on your own right to free speech. Other than possible feelings of disgust or anger, you haven’t lost or given up anything because of the free speech of others. On the other hand, other rights proclaimed by politicians are bogus. There is no such thing, for example, as a right to a high paying job; to a nice house; or to many other things. Giving everyone a right to a house would mean that others would have to pay for the house through taxation and other means. And if one has to pay against his/her will, then owning a nice house cannot be a right. Politicians like to stir up crowds by talking about rights even when they know well that what they are talking about isn’t a “right” at all. It is nothing more than a ploy to get votes by making the constituents think that a bag of goodies awaits them, free of charge, if they cast their votes for the right candidate.

9. ”I Don’t Pay Attention to Polls”

Another big lie that politicians like to tell is the one about ignoring the polls. “I’m a man of principal” some politicians will insist. “I vote independently regardless of what the poll data tells me”.

In reality, all politicians pay attention to polls. Teams of individuals work around the clock, in some cases, in order to collect public opinion data and determine a politician’s next move. The poll data is analyzed and a course of action is determined. Any Washington politician who says he doesn’t pay any attention to poll data is either a big fat liar or a man/woman who will soon be out of a job (or both).

10. "The Majority of Americans Want This. Democracy Must Prevail"

Using the word “Democracy” is a common tactic to denote fairness and equity. But the way it is used by politicians often flies in the face of individual rights and is likely unconstitutional. Just because a majority of people say they want something doesn’t mean it can or should become law. It this was true, then almost any right could be taken away by a simple majority vote. Women could suppress all men; Whites could suppress other races; etc, etc.

This type of deception is usually a plea to a real or perceived majority that the politician is courting. If what the politician is proposing interferes with basic rights (like free speech, assembly, press, etc.) then there is a good chance the proposal will never materialize anyway. In a republic form of government, rights are not decided by vote. They are inalienable; that is, they cannot be repudiated by others.

Why Don’t Other Politicians or the Media Expose These Lies?:

This brings us to a good question and it is one I have been pondering for some time now. Politicians use these and other deceptions on a routine basis. Some of them are easily proven as blatant deceptions and can be recognized with little or no research. But the mainstream media- as well as other politicians- tend to let these individuals off the hook. No one bothers to point out the obvious fabrications in these and other statements like them. The media and other politicians just let them go, giving the public the false impression that there could be some truth here since no one is saying otherwise.

In the case of other politicians, I think the reason they tend to not point out these deceptions in their opponents is because they are all doing the same thing. If politician A accuses politician B of using percentages in a deceptive way, then politician B is likely to retaliate by pointing out the deception use by politician A when he makes the public think that the proposal to reduce taxes will cut the size of government. In other words, it seems to me that they are all in this business of lying and thus there is an unspoken agreement to let each other lie and not expose it directly; allowing the people to listen instead to both lies and decide which one is more believable.

With the media, I cannot offer any concrete explanation why they act the way they do. The only reason I can come up with is that the media wants to show that it is unbiased and it accomplishes this by avoiding passing judgment on the words of most politicians. The politicians are all allowed to say whatever they want without scrutiny; leading many members of the public to think that, since no one said anything in response, the politicians’ words must have some merit. This desire to come across as unbiased is the only reason I can think of why the media doesn’t do more to expose the nonsense that is spewed from the mouths of politicians on a daily basis. They want us to respect them as unbiased news reporters but in doing so, they give the false impression that what these politicians are saying is actually truthful.

Final Thoughts:

Politics and deception are two things that go hand in hand. Politicians tell lies of varying degree every day and there is little chance this will change in the future. The art of political persuasion is, in fact, learning the right way to deceive. To put it more specifically, the skill lies in knowing how to make a statement that is obviously deceptive but that doesn’t go so far that anyone can accuse the politician of an outright lie. There always must be an “out”: A way to explain the deception to make it sound like it was meant to be honest and that no deception was ever intended.

Deception comes in many forms and politicians will pick and choose the way they deceive based on many factors; among them the constituency they face and the level of education and general knowledge they possess; the issue at hand; and several other factors. The basic political rule is simple: If deception will work and will result in the desired outcome, then by all means use it. Don’t take a chance on telling the complete truth. The truth won’t always get you want you want.

Many people look to politicians for guidance and moral vision in the day to day lives of the constituents. This is why some people would like to see a greater moral role given to politicians, with expanded authority to decide right from wrong and determine what is moral and what is not. But why in the name of all that is sensible and civil would any sane individual look to a politician for moral leadership? Think about it- these are people who routinely lie to us every day. They have teams of researchers who take polls, check facts, and determine how best to lie in order to fool the greatest number of people. Politicians are not moral leaders by any stretch. They are people elected to govern based on the U.S. Constitution, which is a secular document. It is nice if they try to set a good example but I certainly would not want any of them deciding what personal moral code the people should follow. This is why I have issues with social conservatives and others who want to control personal decisions (like who one is allowed to marry, what music one can listen to, what movies one can watch, etc.). In order for the correct moral decision to be made, men and women of the highest moral standards would have to be the ones making the laws. And, as we all know, the men and women in the U.S. Congress have many moral flaws. They are not qualified to be making these types of personal decisions for the rest of us.

Politics is a nasty business and it will likely get worse before it gets better. Only when we, the people, reject these deceptions, these negative and misleading advertisements, and these general acts of immorality will a change have a chance to occur. In the meantime, try to stay informed and be on the lookout for any of the ten deception tactics described above. Politicians use them all the time and as long as the people are naive and fall for the deceptions, they will continue to be used indefinitely.

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