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Political Lies and Democracy

September 18, 2008

Geoff Stone uses the University of Chicago Law School blog for a screed decrying Republican political operatives:

In the last several national elections, political operatives, exemplified by the Swift Boaters in 2004, have employed a deeply cynical and highly effective strategy to distort and manipulate public discourse. This strategy poses a serious threat to the very foundations of democratic self-governance.

He goes on to explain that attacks on the media are part of this nefarious plan.

To which I say, "Wow! Jump back!"

First, it is certainly true that there is a fair amount of distortion in the current campaign, but it does not seem to me to be systematically more prevalently used by one side than the other.

Second, I would be curious to know if there is any eveidence on the net efficacy of these distortions, i.e. how many people would change their votes if they had access to impartially presented descriptions of candidates records and positions. It seems quite possible the net effect of these distortions by both sides is close to nil becase they cancel each other out.

Third, one does not need so grand a theory to explain why Republicans attack "the [big] media". There is a far simpler rationale: such media tend to favor Democrats, albeit often in subtle ways. This is consistent with many actual statistical studies of media affiliations and biases. In fact, the attacks on the media probably tend to encourage fairer coverage as its personnel redouble their efforts to belie such attacks.

The core cause of political dishonesty is the government at all levels controlling so much of the economy and our lives that there are big incentives to lie to gain control of the levers of government power. Big stakes encourage dirty play.

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