Contributed by Terry Munson
In her book Wild Swans, author Jung Chang says that “Self-deception while deceiving others gripped the nation…The whole nation slid into doublespeak.” Although she was writing about China’s disastrous Great Leap Forward in the 1950’s, her words struck me as eerily relevant to America’s current political conversation. While President Obama publicly stresses his determination to avert a nuclear Iran, Mitt Romney distorts that message by telling his listeners that the President is ignoring the subject. As President Obama urges young Americans to take advantage of the vast array of educational opportunities available after high school, Rick Santorum spins that advice by calling him an ‘elitist’ for wanting everyone to go to college. Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, hopes to become president by deceiving the public about the achievability of $2.50 per gallon gasoline. All the candidates repeatedly invoke code words to remind devotees that the president is black. Their oft-repeated defense is to claim, in the next news cycle, that they were misinterpreted.
Although twisting a rival’s words is a time-honored tradition, this political season seems to me to rise to a new level. In order for the aforementioned politicians to profit from their doublespeak, they must win their bets that their audience neither listens to nor reads any news, or that they are in denial of what they learn. Second, they have to delude themselves that the voters they court are too oblivious to recognize that they are the targets of a misinformation campaign. Yet writing the American voter off as too shallow to understand the important issues has seldom proven to be a winning strategy. Newt, in particular, relies on a falsehood that misrepresents how capitalism works, the nature of world petroleum markets, the influence of international politics on oil prices, the role of speculators in driving up prices, and the ever-increasing demand for petroleum by countries with sky-rocketing numbers of automobiles. Given how forked his tongue has become, and how huge his supporters claim his brain is, it appears that some of his DNA molecules have betrayed him and gone rogue. Big-time gambler Willard Romney, if he dared to utter such anti-party-line heresy, would bet far more than $10,000 that Newt can’t deliver on that promise.
Mao’s maniacal words resulted in 30 million deaths by starvation. That’s unlikely to happen here, of course, but the damage to America’s long-standing hope to have politicians work together to solve serious national problems will have grave consequences. China has recovered from its nervous breakdown and is driving toward world economic ascendancy. Meanwhile, our own politicians talk and act like children who are unaware that words have consequences. Time, as they say, is of the essence, and our self-serving politicians continue to treat it as if it were a renewable resource. It isn’t. Every day wasted spouting misinformation is a giant step on a path to nowhere, except perhapsto a declining standard of living and a system of government that both embarrasses and diminishes the nation. Because President Kennedy makes Mr. Santorum want to vomit, he and his competitors for the Republican nomination feel compelled to help us comprehend that feeling of deep revulsion. To that extent, they have proven remarkably successful.
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