September 23, 2012

Penalize politicians for lying


---- — The election season is full upon us, which means that for six more weeks we will be subjected to what has become America’s favorite political pastime: Lying. Along with its kissing cousins, exaggerating, misdirecting and willfully misrepresenting the facts.

Candidates for offices, both local and national, will tell us what they think we want to hear. They will make up bad stuff about their opponents and fabricate good stuff about themselves. They will talk about glorious plans and grand financial reforms that couldn’t possibly work.

“I promise to cut the taxes of every person who votes for me.” “With your support, I will control the wind, the rain and the rotation of the moon.” “Why is it that my opponent does not deny drinking the blood of young puppies?”

Republicans claim that President Obama has robbed, raided and gutted Medicare. They know it isn’t true, but they keep repeating it, with no repercussions.

Mitt Romney never meant that “he likes to fire people.” That quote was taken out of context and it’s disingenuous for Democrats to continue saying it. And of course he didn’t really strap the family dog to the top of his car, that would just be … uh, well.

People have come to accept this dishonesty in elections. Politicians, they say with a shrug, have been telling lies to get elected since the beginning of democracy.

Because it has always been that way, however, is a poor reason to let it continue. We don’t condone dishonesty in our children. If one of our kids tells a giant whopper — “The cat really did eat my homework” or “a 7 percent flat tax could eliminate the federal deficit by 2017” — he would be grounded. Why should we hold elected officials to a lesser standard?

It’s gotten to the point that politicians will lie out of habit, about things of no import whatsoever. Why, for instance, would vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan claim to run a marathon in two hours and 50 minutes, when it actually took him more than four hours? Why would Vice President Joe Biden claim to be the bronze medalist in the decathlon at the 1968 Olympics? It’s pathological.

I don’t understand why we continue to let this occur, not in an age when everything can be checked and verified (!) with a few clicks on one’s cell phone. Why do we not stand up and proclaim “liar, liar, pants on fire” when appropriate?

Is it because most politicians will nonetheless cling to the cardinal rule of lying: When presented with irrefutable evidence, continue to refute it, but louder and more vehemently.

Is it because politicians don’t fear the proof of dishonesty? Their theory being that A) the lie will sway some people; B) other people won’t care; and C) the few who do care weren’t going to vote for them anyway.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that public shame alone won’t make politicians tell the truth. It’s about time that we instituted some penalties. Everyday citizens can be fined and imprisoned for lying about their taxes or lying to a judge or, say, impersonating a public official. Why should a would-be public official be exempt for lying to us?

I’m not suggesting putting every politician in jail — though, really, a night or two in maximum security would do most of them some good. There are other options that would hit them where it hurts.

There should be fines for insignificant lies and oversights. Republican fines will be used to send a same-sex couple on an all-expenses paid honeymoon to Cancun. Democratic fines will be used to buy all the ammunition at the NRA’s annual picnic.

During debates, I suggest making the candidates remove one article of clothing for each lie, though when one candidate gets down to a thong, perhaps it would be best to move on to another topic.

When the lies are bigger, so are the penalties. Force candidates to suspend all fundraising for a week. Make them appear as a recurring regular on “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” Station them with an infantry platoon in Afghanistan.

Heck, do the one thing that matters to these liars: Take away votes. You, sir, are being fined 25,000 voters in New Hampshire. We’re taking away your 11 electoral votes in Missouri. You are no longer on the ballot in West Virginia.

Aren’t we supposed to have faith in our leaders? Aren’t we supposed to believe what they tell us? Is that too idealistic?

It’s not that I want politicians to be hooked up to a lie detector for all public appearances, but, OK, yes, that’s what I want. I little bit of truth would go a long way.

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