The Truth About Political Debates: A Filthy Bunch of Liars
We are a nation that is dangerously obsessed with “truth.” For example, before the debates end, internet fact checkers test every comment for its veracity. After the debates, political pundits continue the fact checking by telling us they are separating fact from fiction.
We say we want to know the truth, but in reality we are hiding from the truth. We don’t want the truth; we want to live in a myth. Unfortunately, the myth looks deceptively like truth. The myth doesn’t set us free; it enslaves us. I’ll risk the cliché about truth because, ironically, it is true. Jack Nicholson was right, we can’t handle the truth, because the truth about ourselves makes us uncomfortable.
We saw the myth last night during the second presidential debate. During a particularly awkward moment, President Obama and Governor Romney circled around one another as they pointed fingers of accusation. My Facebook friends called it the “alpha dog” moment. The image of our political candidates circling one another was symbolic of the toxic nature of this campaign where myth passes as truth.
Please, don’t be infected by the myths our candidates are spewing. They are grasping at truth and attempting to beat one another over the head with it. That use of the word “truth” enslaves us to rivalry with one another. Our politicians are enslaved, and especially during this political season, we are enslaved to the myth. We mirror one another and look like enemy twins, circling one another, ready to accuse one another of lies in the name of truth.
But truth is always false when you think you have it. Because you can’t hold the truth; if we are lucky, the truth holds us.
One thing is for sure: When we think we hold the truth, we have made the truth into our idol. By making the truth into an idol, we use it to scapegoat our opponent. We justify our open hatred, name calling, and a win-at-any-cost mentality. The problem is that scapegoating never leads to truth. Rather, scapegoating always leads to a mythical sense of our own goodness, which is mythical because it depends on the lie that our opponents are a filthy bunch of liars.
That version of truth is false. And our politicians are leading us into a toxic future of lies that lead to rivalry. The truth that we can’t handle is that in our mutual accusations against one another we become exactly the same. We become the filthy bunch of liars we see in our opponent.
I want our politicians to lead us out of this mess. I want them to have the courage to say this: “My opponent is a good and fair man. He wants what’s best for our country. He has served our country in the best way he knows how. I’m not going to accuse him of being a liar. I simply disagree with his policies.”
Is that political suicide? Maybe, but I don’t care. If it is political suicide, that’s a reflection of our culture. Our culture needs real leaders. Leaders who will guide us into a more truthful future with one another. Unfortunately, we don’t have those leaders. We have enemy twins.