Why Politicians Lie
(And Why Generation X Is Not Helping)
I would literally rather watch grass grow than read about royals doing ‘everyday’ stuff.
I don’t care if Brad and Angelina are together or not.
And I don’t follow sports.
I get my drama from politics.
For over two decades I’ve cheered on rising political stars as they outmanoeuvred their nemeses, and have gasped in Schadenfreude surprise at every party-room coup.
I’ve followed every election, parliamentary sitting and government policy announcement with the same fanaticism as a footy-team fanboy (but, sadly, without the merchandise).
So I feel qualified to offer an opinion on why politicians lie so much.
Any self-respecting writer would begin a story about lying politicians with the king daddy of liars, the Baby Trump.
But that’s too easy.
And this isn’t about liars. It’s about you.
Spoiler: Politicians Lie
Some pollies lie for personal gain. I know, shocking.
Set that aside. Put it down to shitty parenting and character flaws. (And, as research suggests, a disproportionately high number of sociopaths in politics.)
Why Politicians Lie: The Good Lie
Pollies also lie for less douche-baggy reasons.
Particularly, to justify a greater good. Let’s call these reasons ‘good lies’, but keep your tongue firmly in cheek (we’re going for irony, not accuracy).
Good lies are of course not good at all. They have a ton of policy-polluting, democracy-killing side effects.
They often find their way into government policy. There are plenty of examples of this.
Australia’s policies on climate, energy, tax and immigration are full of good-lie politics delivered by pollies lying their ass off for their version of the ‘greater good’.
Politicians and Morals?
Good lies are justified by compromising your morals.
We compromise our morals by unquestioningly following a tradition or view (authority bias).
Or by believing in something so strongly that all else is justified. This is where terrorism comes from and how religions find themselves in so many wars.
Generation X and the Good Lie
Here’s where you come in.
Good lies are not hard to spot.
If we put aside our political biases and cut through the spin, the facts usually point toward a sensible policy. Or at least a workable compromise.
But, of course, we don’t park our biases when we sit down to the evening news.
So, when we hear a good lie, we react in one of two ways.
Our response depends on whether we agree with the politics of the person doing the lying.
If the fibber opposes our view, we’ll be outraged at the brazen lies of yet another morally bankrupt lying-bastard politician.
But if we happen to agree with him or her, well, what’s a little white lie in the greater scheme of things?
The problem here is that we reward lying if we agree with the greater good.
We too have traded our morals for a political win.
And we’ve reconfirmed something our pollies have long known: the good lie is okay, as long as you’re behind the winning lie.
Democracy is a Shit Way to Make Policy
The other reason pollies lie is to push a solution to a complex problem that people don’t fully understand.
The world is full of these problems. Although, you’d never know it if you listened only to politicians.
Climate change, social security, immigration, fiscal policy, health care, you name it – all easily solved by whatever political party you support.
Not true, of course.
Responses to complex issues are almost always complex themselves. They’re also often untested and typically only produce partial results.
Not really the stuff of inspiring TV commercials. Impossible to explain in news soundbites.
So pollies simplify.
The result is watered-down (lowest common denominator) or populist responses that focus on feeling good (or looking good) rather than doing good.
This is how Australia got its ‘Turn Back the Boats’ immigration policy, and the US got its ‘Border Wall’, for example.
Four Thoughts on Accountability
Generation X can hold pollies accountable by finding time between elections to give a fuck about politics. It doesn’t need to be a big fuck. Just enough to get some of this done:
- Judge politicians by their principles (like honesty), not just their politics.
- Beware of simple solutions to complex problems – there are no more easy problems.
- Educate yourself (and your kids) on the issues you care about.
- Be a swinging voter – move your vote to the candidate that champions your issues in a way that aligns with your values.