Do conservatives care about the truth?


Remember Sarah Palin saying her hero Ronald Reagan went to college in Eureka, Calif.? Not true. (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

In 1976, President Gerald Ford, seeking re-election, campaigned on his vast and diverse experience against the one-term Georgia Governor, Jimmy Carter. In their second debate, on foreign policy, Ford made and repeated a mistake that discredited his competence. Flatly contradicting Cold War facts, Ford stated, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford Administration.”

Answering a follow-up question, Ford specified that “Each of these countries (Poland, among others) is independent, autonomous; it has its own territorial integrity.” In the opinion of many, this blunder, following his unpopular pardon of resigned President Nixon, cost Ford the election.

Ford was a moderate, not a conservative, Republican. Today’s Republican or Tea Party conservatives are more fact-free or fact-defiant, but less accountable for what would have been damaging gaffs years ago. Some accept or create fictions to support not only specific policies, but also a general re-orientation of American government. So their disregard of the truth becomes a habit of mind evident in matters large and small.

Consider the examples of prominent fabulators:

  • Sarah Palin, who declared that, pursuing opportunity in the west, her hero Ronald Reagan went to college in Eureka, Calif., when, in fact, he graduated from Eureka College, in Illinois, and only later went west. Wink, wink.
  • Michelle Bachman, who celebrated Concord, N.H., as the birthplace of the American Revolution – never mind that “the shot heard round the world” was fired at Concord, Mass. She then blamed her mistake on Obama’s teleprompter. Cute.
  • Mike Huckabee, who, claiming to know something about Obama’s early influences, detailed a Kenyan upbringing by his father and grandfather, although Obama met his grandfather never, met his father once, and visited Kenya only as an adult. Oops.

It is easy to dismiss Palin and Bachman as bobble-heads who appeal to other bobble-heads. It is harder to dismiss Huckabee, who presents himself as an honorable, religious man, but who tells lies and then tells more lies to cover them up.

Michael L. Hays

Local counterparts

Such conservative falsifiers have their local counterparts. Recently, Jim Harbison, a political activist in Las Cruces, recently forwarded an e-mail from one Richard Harper, of New Media Markets, to Debra White, who was recently defeated for a seat on the New Mexico House of Representatives. In turn, Debra forwarded it to others and me.

The e-mail contained a picture and commentary. The picture showed legislators playing card games, reading Facebook, or getting sports scores during a floor debate. The commentary decried their failures on various issues, their short workweeks, and their large salaries:

“This picture is worth a trillion $$ 

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, pictured standing, far 
right, speaks while colleagues Rep. Barbara Lambert, D-Milford and Rep. Jack F. Hennessy, D-Bridgeport, play solitaire Monday night as the House convened to 
vote on a new budget. (AP)
The guy sitting in the row in front of these two….he’s on Facebook, and the guy behind Hennessy is checking out the baseball scores.
These are the folks that couldn’t get the budget out by Oct. 1, and are about to 
control your health care, cap and trade, and the list goes on and on. 
Should we buy them larger screen computers – or – a ticket home, permanently?
This is one of their 3-DAY WORK WEEKS that we all pay for (salary is about 
$179,000 per year).

A quick and easy check on the Internet disclosed the following information. These representatives serve in the state of Connecticut, not Washington, D.C. I doubt that they work only three days a week when the legislature is in session. They get paid $28,000 per year, not $179,000 (sic: $174,000). They do not vote on federal legislation. They do not vote on the federal budget, which starts on 1 October; health care; cap and trade; or anything else implied by “the list (which) goes on and on.”

Neither Harbison nor White checked the facts before spreading falsehoods compatible with their conservative inclinations. But they are not alone; others go farther, not just by repeating, but by deliberately misrepresenting, the facts to serve their political agenda.


On the Las Cruces Sun-News website on March 12, anonymous conservative commentator “DAV” selected parts of both the text and history of the Fourteenth Amendment to lie that it denies citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants. He omitted its first sentence: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” He omitted subsequent court decisions that apply the amendment to all people born in this country.

Typically, conservative DAV follows the Constitution only so far as it suits him.

The price of freedom

I have not discovered a new truth; politicians often abuse truth. However, of late, conservatives are guilty of most distortions, most remarkably about American history and its constituent documents. The proofs of their ignorance of, indifference to, or perversion of the truth are repeated misrepresentations of fact and repeated refusals to admit them. Truth is one of the things that conservatives do not care to conserve.

American democracy is another. Conservative contempt for truth subverts – and, I think, is intended to subvert – it. Conservatives know – I worry that other Americans do not know or care – that a robust democracy requires the consent of a citizenry informed, not misinformed, in its political decision-making.

For, despite the conservatives assault on truth, far too many Americans no longer regard its abuse as a disqualification for public office. A shrug of the shoulders and a “whatever” presage the demise of democracy.

Thomas Jefferson declared, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” That price citizens must pay, and, if they value democracy and its freedom, they must realize that that price is not cheap and easy.

They must realize that vigilance requires smarts more than strength. They must care more for the truth than do those who betray the truth and would betray their freedom. They must themselves respect truth and face the facts of the matters that affect their lives. And they must hold others accountable for their falsehoods by ensuring that they suffer Ford’s fate – rejection and defeat.

Michael L. Hays (Ph.D., English) is a retired consultant in defense, energy and environment; former high school and college teacher; and continuing civic activist. His bi-monthly Saturday column appears in the Las Cruces Sun-News; his bi-monthly blog, First Impressions & Second Thoughts, appears on the intervening Saturdays at

38 thoughts on “Do conservatives care about the truth?

  1. I am sorry that you live in such fear. I doubt that anyone but yourself takes you that seriously. You can provide the requested information to my email ( and trust me to keep your identity a secret. If you cannot do that–perhaps out of a claim not to trust me–then I cannot trust what I cannot verify.

  2. Sorry Dr. Hays, I am anonymous and will remain that way due to the dangerous individuals and fools who lurk on the internet that can threaten me, my family, and my livelihood since I speak my mind objectively. Perhaps you have nothing to lose, lucky you, the internet is not a place to be open and trusting of anyone.

  3. Dr. J., pain is usually infallible. Criticism is not. Churchill implies that it is correct, but it need not be. You really cannot get past citing authorities as if their words are proof, not polish. Dr. of what? Please identify your dissertation, university, department, year. Or did you play pro basketball?

  4. Emerson’s poem “Concord Hymn” contained the phrase without placing in any particular place but the first shot was in Lexington

  5. “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” Winston Churchill

  6. Thinking about it a little more: one of his major “examples” is an anonymous commenter in a newspaper (DAV). Anonymous commenters (such as myself) are a dime a dozen. Of course you will find kooks. There are just as many liberal ones if you keep reading.

  7. Am I mistaken or did Mr. Hays say that “the shot heard round the world” was Concord? Wasn’t it Lexington? Interesting considering how much he accuses everyone else.

  8. IcarusPhoenix I am more respectful of what Red Chili Revolution said than how he said it. The actual content is what matters when trying to reveal the truth at least for the more sophisticated mind. I appreciate and enjoy this discussion very much. This is a blog. I am not a writer per se yet, I choose to participate. Participation and contribution is more important than the literacy or style of the participates. Only Heath is the formal journalist in this forum.
    Literacy is not really related to actual facts, truth or wisdom.
    I have cynically recognized the importance of messaging and propaganda. I am personally promoting more emotional appeal for the issues of the left as being reasonable and factual is coming off as sounding mealy mouthed. Honestly, listening to this morning’s call in show at KUNM made me pale with nausea at the weakness and ill preparedness of our Democratic politicians. I might try to analyze it for you guys later so you can see what I mean.
    By way of example of my stumbling contribution to environmental messaging, I wrote in Barb’s blog about the Spotted owl and Steve Pearce flagrant disregard for our natural heritage.

  9. IcarusPhoenix,

    I do not disagree with you, though I do worry, as do you, about biases in the use of terms. In political discussions, they tend to become honorifics or pejoratives.

    I do agree with the imbalance between a concern for truth, and I say so in my column: “Today’s Republican or Tea Party conservatives are more fact-free or fact-defiant, but less accountable for what would have been damaging gaffs years ago” and “of late, conservatives are guilty of most distortions, most remarkably about American history and its constituent documents. The proofs of their ignorance of, indifference to, or perversion of the truth are repeated misrepresentations of fact and repeated refusals to admit them. Truth is one of the things that conservatives do not care to conserve.”

    My consideration of liberal rigidities in the face of facts was intended only to avoid all-or-nothingism.

    I cannot disagree at all with your concluding paragraph.

    I look forward to having the materials which you mention, and thank you for them. Why new send them to my email:

  10. Nelson Spear, I appreciate your temperate and thoughtful responses. May I reply on a few points.

    One, we agree that people often filter information according to their propensities. I say so in this column.

    Two, in a note below, I discuss the importance of context, circumstances, and purpose in identifying an error from a lie. Sometimes, terminology is critical. I am no defender of Clinton’s conduct in the Lewinski case, but I do understand that his denial of “sexual relations” conforms to a narrow understanding of that phrase, to exclude anything other than coitus. So I am not so sure that he lied in this case.

    Three, I do not recall that Obama said anything, but a claim of a slip of the tongue would be plausible. Huckabee lied about his “slip of the tongue,” which compounds his lie to “know” about Obama’s Kenyan upbringing and his lies about that background. I give more details below.

    Four, you aptly repeat the circumstances reported in the article. My point is not that either person lied, but that both people showed a casual disregard for the truth of what they, people involved in politics, passed along—the point of my article—and according to their political propensities. (Return to “One.”)

  11. Of course, speaking about one’s self in the third person, particularly with such a potentially inflammatory nom-de-taper, hardly inspires civil discourse…

  12. Red Chili Revolution agrees with readers’ positive comments re: the Dr. Hays column on conservatives vs. truth. Everyone, especially political leadership and their camp followers, have a ‘truthiness’ point-of-view which they enjoy exercising. Even Red Chili Revolution sees reality from a unique perspective, which must be respected and weighed with other viewpoints. However, it’s this new crop of hard, right-wing ‘conservatives’ which gives Red Chili Revolution pause. We’re not sure these folks have honestly earned the right to use the ‘conservative’ label. Why? Well, conservatives, liberals, radicals, and even anti-intellectuals behave in humane ways. When it comes to communication, we don’t shout down the opposition. We don’t get in their faces and curse them. We don’t willfully distribute false information. In pursuit of our political goals, we don’t create videotapes that attempt to alter the truth, or reality. Instead, we encourage discussion. When new hard, right-wing ‘conservatives’ like Huckabee, Gingrich, Beck, Rush, and others wave their bloody shirts and destablize rational, reasonable, respectful conversation, then one might conclude we may have crossed over the line. We may be looking into the dark eye of fascism. When the state forms a coalition with powerful corporations and their super-rich monied interests, and uses that power to shut-down democratic debate, and remove 50 years of laws supporting the human right to collectively bargain terms and conditions of employment, then we ALL had best STOP, take a breath, and say NO. When we ALL engage in civil, respectful conversation, wherein we forcefully and freely express our points-of-view, then democracy results, the People move forward, not backward. Red Chili Revolution would appreciate Dr. Hays using his excellent analytical skills, and communication abilities, to deconstruct outcomes of the recent NM Legislature. Specifically, what does he think about the failure of state lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican majorities, to raise revenues for New Mexico’s universities, colleges, K-12 schools, and public services? And, what does Dr. Hays think about our lawmakers continuing to allow the wealthiest New Mexicans and out-of-state corporations to benefit from not paying their share of income taxes?

    Revolution in New Mexico

  13. Mr. Hays:

    I’ll dig up some links for you tomorrow (I have hard copies of four studies here, but that is, to say the least, unhelpful); for now I suggest looking up the academic work of George Lakoff (Moral Politics being the prime example – most of his other work is more pedestrian, though no less well-researched) and Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions; also try the Academic Resources page at Civil Politics. The best studies are a UCLA/NYU study from ’04, a Nebraska Study on eye movement from last year, and a Stanford/Berkeley/Maryland study from ’03. These are the ones I’ll try to find internet copies of.

    As for examples of liberal anti-intellectualism and political dogmatism, I think the issue we run into here is one of semantics, much like my differentiation between “truth” and “fact”; while the examples you give do invoke persons whose views are generally leftist – indeed, they are frequently further to the left than either you or I – I would hesitate to call them “liberal”, at least in those situations; a liberal, by definition, must be willing to accept the possibility that he is incorrect, or else he is not truly a liberal. This trait, while an intellectual advantage, is certainly an electoral handicap; I have worked for very few candidates that I would consider truly liberal, but trying to get them to be either succinct or definitive in campaign statements is a constant struggle.

    While anti-intellectualism is hardly a new phenomenon in history (American or otherwise), I must say that the modern American conservative movement has taken it to impressive new heights, at least in recent memory. After all, can you see either Sarah Palin or Rand Paul as legitimate candidates in the era of Eisenhower and Truman? Even in the era of the openly partisan papers of the nineteenth-century, can you honestly see our fore-bearers wasting their time on the non sequitorial rantings of Glenn Beck? In a modern world that is ever-more technologically and politically complex, it is something of an irony that the time necessary to explain and adequately discuss that complexity does not lend itself to the sound-bites, status updates, and tweets that are the result of that same world.

  14. Icarus Phoenix,

    I am flattered by the extended effort to explain the phenomenon which I address. May I still express some reservations with your views?

    I have some doubts about studies claiming that a pronounced neurological difference between conservatives and liberals. I wish that you had cited some to give me chance to see for myself. I think that it is one thing to be conservative or liberal politically and another thing to be conservative or liberal in habits of mind. Neither of us knows a representative sample, and differences in averages to do tell us very much when it comes to cases. After all, on average men are taller then women, but Lisa Leslie stands head and shoulders above me. (I am a big fan of women’s basketball, collegiate or pro—go Lady Vols.)

    I believe that the willingness to accept facts contrary one’s convictions is contingent on many factors. If—my big “if”—neurology explains some part of the willingness, the strength or coherence of one’s gestalt, one’s commitment to that gestalt as a matter of personal and social identity, one’s sense of self-confidence, one’s training, and such also explain other parts of it. For example, when faced with the facts, how many people can admit error of any kind? I think of the old Groucho Marx quip (in a movie) when his wife catches him in bed with another woman: he denies it, she affirms it, he asks, “are you going to believe me or your eyes? I do not think that Groucho imagines himself married to a conservative wife who would believe his words and not the facts.

    I know many people whom we would both agree are “liberals” who are as staunch as an “conservatives”—both groups defined by their political positions—who refuse to face the facts. A notorious example is the liberal allegiance to the Palestinian cause which is so strong that it applies a double standard in accepting and adjudicating the facts. (See my blog “Double Standard in the Middle East,” 10 July 2010, at .)

    To end with just a few brief points. American anti-intellectualism is nothing new under the sun and was just as strong among the anti-war left during and after the Vietnam War as it is among the supply-side economists of the right for the past three decades. The anti-war left gave particular punch to the pejorative charge of elitism. And I hate to say it, but liberals can be just as ignorant of and condescending to “the average working American” as an conservative.

    I do not intend this response as a rejoinder, only as a qualifier in the service of complexity and uncertainty and, I hope, truth.

  15. My comments regarding Biden prove that I am a terrible proof reader of my own work. Smile.

    My feeling is that the reader (listener) filters the information with the preconception that they have towards the source of the information.

    In Wedum’s case, he states his belief that Obama’s “57” remark related directly to the number of states and territories that Obama had to compete in primaries in rather than looking at the comment in the direct context for what it was said. In my opinion, that is either an uniformed response, a lie or just plain intellectually dishonest. I do not know Wedum so I will give him/her the benefit of a doubt and say it was an uniformed response. The entire text of the “57” quote is below if Wedum cares to review and change his/her answer.*

    In Michael’s case, I begin my response to Michael with the point that I believe Obama just made a verbal mistake when Obama claimed to have visited “57” states. I do not buy the theory that this was a passing reference to the 57 observer states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. My guess is that he meant “47” and it came cout “57.” I am not sure what Michael’s basis is to conclude that some specific are making a simple misstatement [like Obama] instead of outright lies [like Palin and Bachman]. The example of Palin’s (Eureka v. Eureka) and Bachman’s (Concord v. Concord) are not plausible examples of instances of known lies when considering “57” v. “47.” Now compare those statements with the following: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman… Ms. Lewinsky.” We all learned later that this statemment was a lie.

    Some people do not like to admit making a mistake. It is an understatement to state that people who run for office have egos and with those egos there is a greater likelihood that they will have trouble admitting their mistakes. Many persons making a mistake may deflect the mistake by humor or possibly by blaming others rather than fess up and admit the misstatement. I do not recall how either Obama or Huckabee corrected or clarified their statements if they ever did. Palin and Bachman appear to try to use humor to deal with their mistakes. That is not a lie. To say otherwise is at least intellectually dishonest.

    As to the other people mentioned in the article, I do not know them, but my guess is that someone forwarded them an inaccurate email and they in turn forwarded it as well without checking the veracity of the information. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt until someone shows me that they were informed of the truth and refused to acknowledge it.

    If the real goal is to tone down the political rhetoric, we must all be intellectually honest with ourselves and others in our politcal comments – oral and written. And that starts with cleaning our listening filters. It is Spring!

    * Obama’s words were as follows: “You know it is just wonderful to be back in Oregon and over the last fifteen months we’ve traveled to every corner of the United States, I ‘ve now been in fifty-seven states I think one left to go, one left to go, Alaska and Hawaii I was not allowed to go to even though I really wanted to visit but my staff would not justify it.”

  16. GWB stated that Sadaam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. That was not a statement of opinion. He could claim that he was misinformed, but he should know better now and he has never apologized. He is definitely in the ‘liar’ category (in my opinion).

  17. To briefly answer your premise as stated, Mr. Hays, I would have to say an unequivocal “yes”. However, therein lies the meat of your premise, I think, and certainly the meat of my argument. We are speaking of a philosophical – and indeed neurological – difference between liberals and conservatives, and between the liberal mind and the conservative one – specifically, we are speaking of the difference between truth and fact.

    Numerous studies have shown that, on average, when you show someone evidence that shows their point to be incorrect, one of two things will happen most of the time; first, they will ignore the evidence entirely and remain steadfast in their belief, or second (and more paradoxically), they will actually accept that as evidence that they are correct. One need look no further than birthers or 9/11 truthers for this particular phenomenon. Unsurprisingly, this effect is magnified in persons who describe themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative”, with the latter effect almost invariably becoming more prevalent with repetition. Those who describe themselves as one of several variations on the term “liberal” are still prone to this trap initially, but tend to change their viewpoint over time.

    It should also be noted that the same trait that makes the hypothetical liberal candidate change viewpoints over the course of their life also makes them very unlikely to pursue a tactic of attacking the lack of factual basis in their conservative opponents’ positions; they are always willing to accept the possibility that their opponent’s “may have a point” – even on matters when the opponent has absolutely no clue what he’s talking about (witness the President, a constitutional lawyer, taking the time to argue constitutionality with people who still believe in constitutional theories held by the losing side in the Civil War). This is also why the conservative – who will never accept the possibility that the liberal’s point might have some validity – has little difficulty portraying the liberal as “weak”. Dogmatic views are far easier to describe quickly than complex concepts arrived at over decades. This is also why any number of wealthy conservative candidates from equally wealthy families and who have stakes in any number of highly profitable businesses have spent several decades leveling the charge of “elitism” at middle-class Americans whose only apparent claim to that label is the possession of one or more advanced degrees.

    In other words, the phenomenon that Mr. Hays is attempting to describe has come after decades of fanatical devotion by conservatives to the bizarre cause of anti-intellectualism. Individuals who have never socialized with the average working American have apparently decided that the way to relate to them is to assume that they are unintelligent, and, logically (at least to a movement that bases so many of its actions on fear and differentiation rather than on optimism and commonality) that the best way to portray themselves as equals to the voters is to attack academia and the intelligentsia.

    This has led to an entire conservative worldview based almost entirely on presenting the American people with an alternative to complexity; An understanding of anthropogenic climate change, for example, requires one to spend a certain amount of time gaining an understanding of the science behind it; therefore, it must be the purview of the intellectual, and thus antithetical to the “average” American – logically, it must thus be incorrect (paradoxically, conservatives have created a large number of very complex and very shaky reasons to support this view). The same is true of the principal of evolution.

    History, too, is something that must be studied to be understood; rather than go into detail, it is far simpler to accept the bullet points… which, in omitting the all-important matter of context, conveniently support the conservative worldview. When one asks the question of “why”, however, we are presented with a world where conservatives stood squarely in the way of every single moment of American progress, from marriage equality and the basic human right of having the opportunity to live a healthy life; through expanding the mere right to vote to non-property owners, non-whites, women, and legal adults; all the way back to declaring independence from the English crown in the first place.

    Economics has been simplified to “lower taxes for the already-rich and less regulation on already-large businesses equals more money for hiring and thus more jobs”, despite the fact that taking even one more logical step (that of comparative wages) makes the entire theory potentially insolvent, and a second logical step (that of human nature) makes it obviously incorrect; however, despite proving consistently for three decades that supply-side economics is detrimental to American workers, conservatives maintain a fanatical devotion to the theory because of its inherent simplicity and its preternatural consistency with their world-view.

    There are very valid reasons for liberal incredulity towards the conservative worldview; to people whose viewpoints are absolute, it is no great leap to take a disagreement over policy as a personal attack and to respond in kind; to the liberal who voiced the initial disagreement, this position is nigh on impossible to understand because of a natural psychological distinction between personal and political. It is no wonder that liberals find ourselves uncertain how to respond to many conservative positions, which, while frequently not based on any verifiable nor quantifiable fact, are based on a conservative truth for which we lack a frame of reference – though we waste a great deal of time in pursuing our natural intellectual curiosity in attempting to understand where their viewpoint is coming from. For conservatives, it is no great leap of logic to argue that the liberal who is explaining his position in detail is an elitist and trying to prove his own intelligence – when in the liberal’s mind, he is in fact showing respect for the intelligence of his audience, and conservatives are treating them as unintelligent by expecting them simply to accept what he’s saying without question.

    All of this being said, I should make it clear that much of what I have written is my viewpoint on conservative reasoning; due to a lack of a frame-of-reference and a completely different worldview, I can not adequately explain why conservatives believe the things they do. This caveat, too, is a side effect of liberalism; complexity, by its very nature, breeds uncertainty (This is one of the reasons that journalists and academics do tend to be liberals politically; these are jobs that specifically involve uncertainty and an understanding of specifics).

    As such, no true liberal will ever try to say with any absolute authority what a conservative is thinking, or what they believe. We will gladly state their positions in their words, but we do it on the (apparently unreasonable) assumption that it is known that we are merely stating our understanding of their beliefs and not the beliefs themselves.

    In my experience, however, most conservatives seem to have no compunction telling liberals what we believe and then telling us why we are wrong, incorrect, immoral, or unintelligent. Of course, the fact that they are almost never accurate in their statement of our positions means their arguments are almost always based upon a false understanding of what we are espousing. It is admittedly frustrating to debate someone who is debating their mythological representation of you rather than you yourself.

    The issue, therefore, is not that conservatives neither care about truth nor that they are unintelligent; quite the contrary. Instead, the issue is that their worldview need not include complexity. After all, there is no need to explain in detail why you believe something when a philosophically-expanded variation on Anselm’s ontology is quite enough for any situation. Nor do they need to admit to bias; after all, how can one be biased if one is automatically right?

    To the liberal, however, belief is not enough; we require reason, and thus our worldview is necessarily complex – indeed, sometimes it is more complex than reality, though (speaking from an admittedly biased point-of-view) I would rather an overly-complicated world with reasons to one with automatic answers which I am expected to accept without explanation.

  18. artiofab, I like your effort at a taxonomy in these matters. But the assertion that Libya is a threat to the country is not a statement of fact, but a statement of opinion. So there can be no lying about it. It may be an unreasonable opinion; it may be a reasonable one. The difference is the number or cogency of the reasons supporting the opinion.

    A recent survey of college students indicated that large percentages could not distinguish fact from opinion. We are in deep doo-doo if people confuse the two.

  19. But if I am wrong about Biden’s plaiarizing past, does that make me a liar, a person with bad facts, a person with a bad memory, or does it make me something else? let’s define the word liar right now.
    If you make a claim that is inaccurate once, it is a mistake.
    If you are told that it is inaccurate and you don’t care to factcheck your claim and repeat it, you are intellectually lazy. An informal term for this is “ignorant”.
    If you are told that it is inaccurate, you factcheck it, find you are wrong, and repeat it, you are intellectually unethical. An informal term for this is “liar”.
    If you are told that it is inaccurate, you factcheck it, find you are wrong, and apologize honestly and without any conditions for any inaccuracy you may have spread, you are probably not a politician.

    So, for example, President Obama claims that Libya somehow poses a threat to the national security of our country. This is an inaccurate claim, it’s easy to factcheck, and he repeats it. He is being a liar in this example.

  20. Nelson Spear,

    Your final question is a good one. We need to look at the context, circumstances, and the purpose of any statement. People make harmless mistakes all the time. (I do, but some of my opponents are likely to claim that I am only faking humility.) I address Obama’s “57 state” as an error in a context and under circumstances which fair-minded people would readily forgive. In addition, Obama had nothing to gain by such an error; on the contrary, as an unusual candidate, he had much to lose by such an error. We do know the stereotype, do we not?

    The errors which I point out were avoidable. Palin’s error about Reagan reflects a disregard of facts and, I think, disrespect to her presumptive hero; her falsehood about “death panels” reflects an effort to misrepresent the truth of the matter to serve political interests. So, Bachmann’s error shows either a disregard of the truth or a desire to make an self-advantageous political appeal to her audience–or, more likely, both. Huckabee’s statements are very different; they are his calculated falsehoods to discredit Obama, to portray him as alien and even frightening (Mau-Mau association). Note that although he later claimed a sip of the tongue, he began his narrative with the claim to “know” about it.

  21. Sorry, Dr. J., but my description of Mencken as anti-Semitic is not ad hominem any more than saying he was anti-anti-intellectual is ad hominem. Get over the righteous rhetorical posturing that every time someone is accurately described in ways not to your liking the description is therefore ad hominem.

    Your importation of material from Wikipedia, unacknowledged, does not change the facts. Mencken’s anti-Semitism has been much debated because it existed. Whether you like others want to dismiss by discounting it as a part of the prevailing anti-Semitism of his times, or whether you like others want to dismiss it by diminishing it as part of Mencken’s almost anti-everything posturing, the facts of his personal prejudices and his published smears are readily available.

    Frankly, I do not care. I adduced Mencken because you accept his authority as proof on one subject, and I wanted to score the silly idea of thinking that proof of an idea can be provided by citing people as authorities, in this case by putting you in a bad position when their authority runs to discreditable views . (Shall I assume that you are not an anti-Semite? I can, but you should dispense with the backward idea that Judaism is a race. I grant that you may know better but wanted those who do not to accept your charge that I used a “racial slur” in describing Mencken as anti-Semitic).

    Moreover, I had nothing to say about his views of government, so your gratuitous suspicion that my disliking his views of government motivated my “ racial slur.” So what you say about my motives is the usual conservative fabrication to discredit anyone with whom they disagree. Now that is ad hominem and deceitful. You are proving my point.

    BTW, Gore Vidal himself has been charged with anti-Semitism; I have not pursued the issue, but I would not be surprised if one anti-Semite should attempt to use his or her fame or authority to exonerate another anti-Semite.

    As for your concluding question, there is no law against citing authorities so long as their words are not taken as proof of anything except that they spoke or wrote on the subject and, a Hemingway nicely puts it, merely express one’s thoughts more felicitously than one can.

  22. FreddyV,

    As I recall, when Joe Biden ran for President in 1988, he withdraw after it was discovered that he had been caught plagiarizing a paper in law school. I think that he was his first year. Biden claimed in 1988 that he had misunderstood the assignment; nonetheless, his law school transcript reflected the honor code violation.


    I did not independently verify this information regarding Joe Biden, I just remember the event being reported in the media. This event was quite memorable to me since I was in law school at the time of the election and the issue of the honor code violation was a big issue with myself and other law school students.

    I don’t think that I am wrong. But if I am wrong about Biden’s plaiarizing past, does that make me a liar, a person with bad facts, a person with a bad memory, or does it make me something else?

  23. DJ uses the usual retort that I hear whenever I point out a particularly nasty action on the part of a Republican– “Oh, they are all the same. They all do it. there’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats” (And then these types go vote straight Republican.)

    NMRDC digs up Obama’s mention of “57 states.” What a big difference between that slip (and there WERE 57 PRIMARIES, you know, or should know) and Palin’s appropriation of the “death panels” lies. Obama made a minor mistake, while Palin was deliberately trying to do harm.

    In case NMRDC is truely ignorant about the 57 primaries, here they are: There were 57 2008 primaries. 51 states (Washington, DC is counted as a state) plus Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and Democrats Abroad.

    FV’s comment about Biden “lifting an entire speech” is itself a lie. According to,_1988, Biden rewrote three sentences from Kinnock’s speech. He did not use the same words, just the same theme. The fact that he withdrew from the campaign anyway just goes to show that Democrats have scruples.

  24. This article is so silly it almost needs no response. However, for the record, I would like to offer Exhibit 1: Joe Biden. Joe Biden ran for President in 1988, and was discovered to have lifted a whole speech from Neil Kinnock, the then leader of the British Labor Party. And it wasn’t just a word or phrase or sentence here or there, it was pretty much the whole speech. And it wasn’t plagiarized policy points, it was actually about his personal background and family history. Let me say that again: Joe Biden stole, and repeated, a speech that (allegedly) told about his family and background. He ended up withdrawing from the race because of this.

    Fast forward to 2008: Joe Biden again runs for President, but never really gains traction, with many people harkening back to the 1988 plagiarism incident. However, Barack Obama sees this same Joe Biden as worthy to become Vice President, and possibly President. Does Obama not care about the truth?

    You say that Obama’s noted gaffes (of which there are more than the “57 states” remark) and Joe Biden’s voluminous gaffes are just “slips-of-the-tongue” and not the same as the conservatives you cite. That’s just partisan blindness.

    In fact, the whole article reeks of partisan hate, and, as I started with, is really so silly it doesn’t reach the level of seriousness of the articles that I come to this website to read.

  25. It seems politicians will do whatever it takes to ensure their own political stability and party loyalty whether it’s lying, deceiving, making false promises, etc., and for sure, these things are common across party lines.

    George Washington­ said, “. . . political parties are organizati­­ons that exist to obtain political power. That’s the goal: political power in government­­. Ideas, ideals, promises and principles will be sacrificed if they interfere with expedient party politics.”

    Today’s politicians haven’t learned anything in over 200 years except what’s good for themselves and their party, and the people be damned.

  26. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using quotations. As one of my favorite writers Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century essayist, wrote: “I quote others only in order the better to express myself.”

  27. Thank you Dr. Hays, I always hate to disappoint my fans. As for your ad hom attack on H. L. Mencken (I suspect you dislike his views of government so much, that lacking a coherent argument you use racial slurs against him, a typical liberal tactic of failed debate), it might interest you to read what other authors have to say about him:

    “The progressive writer Gore Vidal defended Mencken:

    Far from being an anti-Semite, Mencken was one of the first journalists to denounce the persecution of the Jews in Germany at a time when the New York Times, say, was notoriously reticent. On November 27, 1938, Mencken writes (Baltimore Sun), “It is to be hoped that the poor Jews now being robbed and mauled in Germany will not take too seriously the plans of various politicians to rescue them.” He then reviews the various schemes to “rescue” the Jews from the Nazis, who had not yet announced their own final solution.

    As Hitler gradually conquered Europe, Mencken attacked President Franklin D. Roosevelt for refusing to admit Jewish refugees into the United States:

    “There is only one way to help the fugitives, and that is to find places for them in a country in which they can really live. Why shouldn’t the United States take in a couple hundred thousand of them, or even all of them?””

    And I plead guilty to using famous quotes that help convey and amplify my opinions and ideas, is that a literary rarity and crime these days to you?

  28. NMRad_Dee_Cal, thank you for bringing up instances of nothing more than slips of the tongue. Conservatives are obsessed with Obama’s mid-campaign, off-the-cuff, slip of the tongue, a one-time occurrence. Biden’s off-the-cuff slips are the butt of jokes, but they do not rise to the level of political significance.

    By contrast, Palin’s mistake occurred in a prepared speech before a college audience. Bachmann’s error occurred in a prepared speech and was repeated on two consecutive nights. Huckabee’s mistake occurred in a scheduled interview and was fully elaborated in a narrative: four, not one, mentions of Kenya, falsehoods about Obama upbringing implicitly influenced by grandfather and father not met in his youth, and historically accurate mentions of Mau Mau and the British. Huckabee’s later claim that he had s slip of the tongue under these circumstances is just another lie.

    Any equivalence must be prepared speeches or scheduled interviews to prepared speeches or scheduled interviews. And do not go for matters of opinion instead of facts. Then, bring it on. My mission is accomplished.

  29. While I think that pieces like this are bad for cultivating partisan rhetoric, it is important to establish that some politicians lie, constantly, and pay little political price for it. Are there more of these politicians on one “side” than the other? I don’t know, but I do know that in some arenas of lies that the right has a monopoly, while in some arenas the left has a monopoly. The question is how do we make it so that neither side tolerates these fictions.

  30. The Republicans’ Big Lies About Jobs (And Why Obama Must Repudiate Them)
    Robert ReichFmr. Secretary of Labor; Professor at Berkeley; Author, Aftershock: ‘The Next Economy and America’s Future’
    Posted: March 22, 2011 09:28 PM

    “What worries me almost as much as the Republican’s repeated big lies about jobs is the silence of President Obama and Democratic leaders in the face of them. Obama has the bully pulpit. Republicans don’t. But if he doesn’t use it the Republican’s big lies gain credibility.”

  31. Dr. J., you continue not to disappoint me. I can count on you to make unsupported statements and deliver personal jabs; for instance, “NO politicians care about the truth, are you kidding or just blind?” The absurdity of this statement should have been self-evident, but the mote in your eye blinds you to it.

    I shall gladly consider any comment of yours in which offer comparable examples which, by definition, are not incidental, but typical. You will note that I picked my examples from the national and the state/local scenes, from politicians and ordinary citizens. You need to cover the same ground–and not offer up differences of opinion as errors of fact. All of this is a polite way of saying, “put up or shut up.”

    I rule out support from quotations; they provide only “authority,” not evidence. Quotations from authors in accord with your prejudices cannot persuade others not of your prejudices. You cite Mencken. Mencken was a notorious anti-semite and said things anti-semitic. Does your regard for Mencken’s views on politicians extend to Mencken’s views on Jews? If not, then you are simply cherry-picking writers whose words happen to agree with you on the subject du jour. Or fess up your sympathy with his anti-semitic prejudices.

    Otherwise, as it stands, this comment of yours is more of the vacuities offered up by conservatives in their efforts to discredit truth and rational discourse.

  32. You talk about gaffes as Conservative lies. You do not talk of gaffes as Liberal lies. Joe Biden has had many gaffes yet I don’t recall your having called him on it. Obama referred to the 57 states…would you tell me the other 7 states PhD Hays? If you are going to nail people for gaffes, then at least be across the board with it and nail both sides. Your hypocrisy and bias are quite apparent.

  33. I don’t think the problem is just restricted to, or predominately “conservative”. There’s plenty to go around and to pin it on one side makes it a political issue. As such it helps fosters the distrust we should, as you point out, not accept. Regardless of the truth telling evaluation of Palin, Bachman and Huckabee, plenty of people disregard them anyway. I’m a conservative republican and I don’t have much use for them.

  34. I’m not sure “conservative” is the precise term for the people you are talking about. We’re all conservative in some of its senses, including “conservationist” and “preservationist.” I think of myself as a “fiscal conservative,” in the sense that I think government should collect as much as it spends and should conduct its spending efficiently.

    “Reactionary” is closer, but it doesn’t necessarily have the sense of intentional obfuscation. It would apply more to those who believe the doom and gloom espoused and espewed by Faux News. I don’t think Jerry Ford was trying to obfuscate, although he was revealing astonishing ignorance, but I do think Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman and Mike Huckabee are all practiced liars without moral restraint, and that’s ever so much worse.

    So I nominate “liar” as the appropriate word. If you want to see a string of lies proferred without a shred of shame, watch the hour-plus House debate on defunding NPR that took place on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s easily found on CSpan’s wonderful archive site.

    Later today I will be posting an article on that debate, with lots of quotes, on my blog:

  35. This is such a silly piece of “stuff”. Politicians are the same, R or D, left wing or right, conservative or liberal. A person who sees only one side is blind to the whole truth about them all. Please, NO politicians care about the truth, are you kidding or just blind? H.L. Mencken said it best, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
    “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”
    “Each party steals so many articles of faith from the other, and the candidates spend so much time making each other’s speeches, that by the time election day is past there is nothing much to do save turn the sitting rascals out and let a new gang in.”
    “Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.”
    And, finally:
    “Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.”

    Luckily, no trees were harmed in the writing of this drivel.

  36. These politicians use DOUBLETHINK as depicted in George Orwell’s 1984. DOUBLETHINK is “to tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”

    I recommend reading Orwell’s 1984. Americans need to stand up to the DOUBLETHINK politicians and their lies.

    This is an excellent commentary by Dr. Hays.

  37. George Orwell, famous author of 1984, describes these deceitful politicians the best – their “political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”