Campaign: What’s Different This Time

Political campaigns have for years been full of negative advertising and personal attacks. That’s normal.  What I’m seeing for the first time this year is a growing resentment among the electorate about being lied to. Accusations of candidate lying are rampant on both sides. The feeling that emerges is bitterness.

I’ve heard bitter complaints about lying from both the left and the right: people feel violated and ascribe willful deceit to the guy they don’t like. It’s become personal. The anger runs deep, anger that is consistent, bipartisan and borders on hatred.

Hatred, of course, is entrenched anger based on a history of perceived violation. Most of us don’t hate often, but once we do it’s awfully difficult to give up the feeling, especially during a campaign where these perceived violations continue.

The irony here is that people decide whether to believe what one person says on the basis of what another person says. We choose to believe one and claim the other is lying.

How are we so sure? Especially if we get our news from sources that have a political agenda, how can we sort out the subtleties of content and context on so many complex issues and get to deeper truth? On many issues we can’t. So we believe what we want to believe, and following the lead of our agenda-driven source, we are quick to call whomever we didn’t like in the first place a liar.

I can say with confidence, and independent truth checkers confirm, that both candidates have told their share of lies. They are trying to win and will stretch the truth to make their case. If we want it to be any different, we’d have to redesign the nature of campaigns, a daunting but not impossible task.

In the meantime, ordinary citizens could suffer less by not taking this race so personally. Even if we care deeply about the result. Politics is a high-stakes game where the players spin the truth and simplify their message to maximize their chance of winning. Emphasis slips easily into exaggeration and something less than the whole truth. If candidates play dirty, it’s because the unwritten rules of the game encourage dirty play.

In the long run, the game could be changed by instituting enforceable penalties for lying. In the short run, relax. Don’t let the pain of hatred poison your life with bitterness during this election season.

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One Comment

  1. Mike Steinberg
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    “If we want it to be any different, we’d have to redesign the nature of campaigns, a daunting but not impossible task.”

    There is the key, Stu……Our system is broken and has to be fixed!!!! …..term limits…..time limit on campaigns……spending limits……..to name a few….the problem is that the people that have to fix it are the people that are the misusing!!!

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