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Is "Liar" the New "Racist"?
During the Bush era, it used to drive me nuts when I'd hear an obnoxious Democratic politician or pundit on television emphatically insisting that George W. Bush had "lied" about Weapons of Mass Destruction to take us to war in Iraq. It didn't seem to matter how many fellow Democrats in congress had drawn the same conclusion as Bush did from the national intelligence reports. It didn't seem to matter how many other countries' intelligence agencies drew the same conclusion as ours did. It didn't seem to matter that the Clinton administration had made the same claim. The notion that Bush "lied" was mainstreamed through the media and became conventional wisdom among many on the left. For whatever reason, it wasn't good enough for them to accept that the administration was wrong. Their battle-cry was that Bush lied, despite no proof to substantiate that conclusion.
Whether it was a calculated political tactic or an emotionally-driven narrative fueled by hate, the Republican brand was certainly damaged by those who alleged that Bush was an inherently heartless liar who threw away American lives for U.S. oil interests.
Conservatives certainly didn't forgive and forget the over-the-top rhetoric.
Right-leaning pundits have recently been employing a similar tactic against President Obama, insisting that he "lied" when he projected that our national unemployment rate would be around 5.5% right now as a result of his economic stimulus program. As we know, the U.S. unemployment rate has yet to fall below 8% since Obama took office, and 8% was the number he told us we'd never rise above in the first place. A failure? Yes. But I wince when I hear fellow conservatives play the liar card. They might believe they're warranted in doing so, based on the amount of flack that Bush took, but they're wrong.
A "lie" is a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive. It's important for society that people understand and accept that.
I'm as harsh of a critic as anyone when it comes to the Obama administration's ridiculous economic policies, but I don't doubt for a second that President Obama's economic forecast in 2009 was the result of him and his administration being dangerously naive... Not inherently dishonest. Why should I dispute that he believed his bold act of throwing a trillion dollars into the economy, regardless of how irresponsible and reckless the delegation of funds were, would magically fix everything? It's the kind of belief that most fiscal-liberals share, because they have no understanding of macroeconomics and how the free market works. No politician in their right mind would knowingly concoct such a politically damaging, false prediction when the actuality would surface before their re-election campaign.
Now, I'm not suggesting at all that politicians don't lie. Of course they do. They do it all the time. For many of them, it's like second nature. And when they're caught spreading a lie, they should absolutely be taken to the woodshed, publicly shamed, and held accountable. However, they don't typically suffer any significant backlash for knowingly spreading untruths. It's the reason why Nancy Pelosi can publicly insist that she was unaware of terrorists being water-boarded by our government. It's the reason why the Obama re-election campaign can continue putting out ads accusing Mitt Romney of things he never did.
Barefaced lies are often met with public indifference, and I think part of the reason why is that accusing someone of lying has become nearly as mundane as accusing someone of being a racist.
Labeling someone as a "racist" used to be a serious charge reserved only for those who have displayed unequivocally racist behavior. Yet, the accusation has largely become a simple tool to silence opposing viewpoints, and is thrown around so routinely and recklessly in our public discourse that many people don't take the claims seriously anymore. It's a real shame because racism absolutely exists, but legitimate claims have been marginalized because "wolf" has been cried far too many times.
Calling someone a liar is nearly as damaging of a charge, because like racism it goes right to an individual's character. Personal character is important in our country - perhaps now more than ever in a political environment where true integrity is rarely witnessed.
For whatever reason, people don't yet seem quite as comfortable calling someone a liar as they do a racist (which is odd considering that being a racist has more serious connotations), but as a deficit of shame in our society persists, I'm sure that will change.
I want accusations of racism and dishonesty to actually mean something again. That will only happen when we demand legitimacy behind such claims. Unfortunately, we're not engaged enough as a society to make that happen.