Why do people lie? More specifically, why do politicians lie?

George W. Bush delivering the State of the Union address.

The advent of the Internet in a politically conscious society will inevitably bring about the proliferation of websites such as (and especially) the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact, which keeps tabs on the honesty records of various politicians in an objective manner. Anyone can visit and research how often politicians have lied during speeches, interviews, etc. A sweep of the site is not exactly restorative to one’s faith in humanity.

Barack Obama’s record tends to lean towards the “true” section, with over 2/3 of the statements Politifact’s monitored being ranked between “True” and “Half True” (notably, “Half True” has the most). Mitt Romney’s record includes significantly less statements overall, and his honesty graph is pretty much balanced, with about 30 in every category, from true to false. Florida’s own governor Rick Scott has a similarly balanced record, with the biggest concentration being in the “Mostly True” category.

But wait a minute. Isn’t there something a little inherently strange about looking at a politician’s record and saying, “Oh, that’s pretty good, only 36 per cent of his claims [Rick Scott’s, I mean] are false! Looks like a pretty trustworthy guy!” I understand that these politicians, and their speechwriters (probably moreso the latter) are only human, but people like Romney, Mitch McConnell, David Axelrod and the Big O control the future of this country—300 million people and growing as I type this—and I began to feel, cruising through the “Pants on Fire” section of Politifact, that they should be held to a greater degree of honesty.

Niccolo Machiavelli, a heavy-handed Italian political philosopher of centuries-old significance.

Call me a malcontent or a wannabe revolutionary (that’d be unjustified though), but when one employs reasoning, it’s pretty amusing to ascertain why a politician would lie about such things. There is the mere possibility that they do not know what they’re talking about, but—simple gaffes aside—if Politifact has the wherewithal to prove or disprove the politicians’ claims, surely the politicians can also find same wherewithal to figure out if their claims are true before they say them. What a novel idea, Harry Reid!

The only other reason I could think of for a politician to blatantly lie to the point of sartorial combustion in a speech is because they want to be elected, and are willing to lie to do so. Taking the forking paths from this option leads to no comfort whatsoever. If one has to put forward a false platform to get elected, then one is either not concerned in the welfare of the citizen body and so is willing to feed them falsities, or one is possessed of delusional Machiavellian notions that, for example, Prince Romney may lie to the people if it ends up being good for them. This sort of executive dishonesty is cruel and outdated. The last politician to confess that he kept a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince on his bedside table was none other than Muammar Qaddafi.

Again, I’m willing to accept a bit of human nature, but at the same time, one would think that the likes of John Thune would have the personal motivation (or at least the Internet connection) to verify their own claims. The moment we put politicians at a level of privilege that exceeds ours, folks, we have lost the game for good.

Jake Bittle / A&E Editor 

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