Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Truth in Politics; and Other Oxymorons

First of all, let’s make clear the definition of the word oxymoron, as there may be a precious few who may be unfamiliar with the term. Oxymorons are two or more terms used in combination that seem to contradict one another. My wife’s favorite examples are “Jumbo shrimp” and, much to my chagrin, “Military Intelligence.” I was M.I. in the Army.

Now that we have a clear definition of the term, it should be self-evident as to why we might refer to “truth in politics” as an oxymoron. After all, the very nature of the political arena lends itself to deceit and distrust while presenting the pristine smile of morality and reliability.

This is not to say that all politics is negative or that all politicians are habitual liars. No doubt there are many honorable men and women in the political arena whose aim and ambition is to serve the constituency that put them in office in the first place. But even that altruistic motive can put them in direct conflict with opposing forces who are all fighting for their own slice of a finite pie.

Conflict, of course, is central in the political arena. As the old saying goes, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” Alliances are formed, deals struck and compromises made that, in the real world, would not have been imagined. The worst part is that so much information is withheld from the general population about these backroom deals (all in the name of protecting the public) that we tend to disbelieve almost anything that comes out of any politician’s mouth. How does that old joke go?
Question: How do you know when a politician id lying?
Answer: His lips are moving.

It is a rather cruel joke, but what are we to believe?   

There are so many excuses for it. For example:

·         Disclosure could compromise the deal.

·         The public is not ready for it.

·         It might affect the coming election.

·         The general population wouldn’t understand. It’s for their own good.

Oh, and my personal favorite:

·         It’s a matter of National security.

There are all kind of reasons that information is manipulated or the truth stretched or abandoned altogether, but politicians seem to be the masters of the art. You might say the same is true about lawyers, since so many politicians practice (or practiced) law at one time or another.

Question: What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?
Answer: A good start.

But lawyers lie for different reasons, and, generally speaking, they are representing one client at a time. Their goal is to win at all cost. Also, lawyers generally (but not always) believe in the innocence of the client they are representing or the guilt of the accused they are prosecuting. This kind of honesty can relate to all of us.

If you honestly believe that what you say is true based on the facts s you know them, regardless of what others believe, then you are not lying. Naturally, things may change. New facts may be revealed, errors in logic uncovered that may cause you to change your position. This happens all the time in politics, often to the detriment of the politician.

Once a politician takes a stand on a position, it becomes a matter of public record. But political climates, much like the weather, are constantly changing. New evidence comes to light, or a politician may have to change a position on one issue to gain favor on another seemingly more important one. It’s called, “You scratch my back….”

Naturally, down the road this has the potential to come back and bite him in the butt. He may be viewed as a waffler, indecisive, unreliable, even, God forbid, a liar. But changing your position in light of new evidence or changing circumstances does not necessarily constitute prevarication. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that opposition forces will forestall use of such perceived inconsistencies against you. After all, perception is everything in politics.

So, why would anyone with a modicum of common sense want to enter the whirlwind circus known as the political arena? Politics, where every move, every decision is scrutinized, analyzed, criticized, debated and recorded. For the money? Perhaps wealth can come at some point for the truly successful politician. But entry level compensation is modest at best and many lower-level “Public Servants” are forced to “Keep their day jobs” to survive economically.

But there are other perks that come with a career in politics. Power, influence, notoriety and a host of other ego-stroking motivations come into play. But it is the potential for power that is the most dangerously addictive and most likely to result in lies and deceit. It is also the most difficult to keep in check.

Power can be more intoxicating and dangerous than the most addictive of drugs. It feeds on itself, forever demanding more and more until the individual disappears altogether and all that is left is the mechanism of ever-increasing influence.

There are extreme examples in history of course, the most infamous being Adolph Hitler and his Nazi regime. To most of the free-thinking world he was a monster, the very definition of evil and human corruption. So, how did he get millions upon millions to follow him with unmitigated abandon in a quest for world domination?

Hitler raised his people up through a series of promises of a better life in a time of extreme hardship. He gave them hope and instilled a feeling of superiority that caused them to blindly follow him. But Hitler wore many faces, and once he had seized power he used any and all methods to not only keep it but to expand upon it.

Of course, Hitler is perhaps the most notable and notorious example of political abuse of power. There are many others, but no need to launch into an extended diatribe here. The truth is we are all involved in politics, albeit in a lesser scale, in our daily lives.

Life is a never-ending series of negotiations: Parents with children, neighbors with neighbors, community groups, the PTA, social clubs, even social media to some extent. Actually, anywhere people interact can be seen as a political arena, and it will usually be the case that one or more individuals will be seeking personal advantage and willing to use less than ethical means to achieve it.
Does this make politics inherently evil? No. but it does point out the need for vigilance. There is nothing wrong with trust. Trust is an admirable trait. But it should never be blind trust. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Trust your own gut feelings but search for facts. Know your friends as well as your advisories, and always be aware of the frailties of human nature.

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