The Art of Political Lying

Jonathan Swift wrote Satire, the use of humor, irony and exaggeration to expose, criticize  and ridicule stupidity and vice, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and current social issues. One of his essays is titled The Art of Political Lying. One remembers Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals, Rule No. 5“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.”

Satire is the perfect literary vehicle for stinging, well-deserved ridicule. Chief Justice Roberts picked a fight with Trump by declaring there are no Obama judges, “…only Judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.” This bit of buffoonery by Roberts is known to be egregiously wrong by millions of people who have been paying attention to judicial rulings over the last few decades. At least whenever the issue for their decision has the slightest twinge of a political nerve ending. That will inevitably lead to a political pronouncement with the attempt to disguise it being based on the rule of law.

Robert’s effusive retort to Trump’s  complaint that Judge Tigar in San Francisco based his ruling on politics and not on the law would be perfect for satire is we had a Jonathan Swift among us today.

What we do have is Swift’s essay, The Art of Political Lying, that appeared in The Examiner in November, 1710.

Here is the part of Swift’s essay on political lying that I find of pertinent interest to our present day:

I have been sometimes thinking, if a man had the art of the second sight [i.e., detection] for seeing lies, as they have in Scotland for seeing spirits, how admirably he might entertain himself in this town, by observing the different shapes, sizes, and colors of those swarms of lies which buzz about the heads of some people, like flies about a horse’s ears in summer; or those legions hovering every afternoon in Exchange-alley, enough to darken the air; or over a club of discontented grandees, [Swift here refers to the Whigs who have just been turned out of power] and thence sent down in cargoes to be scattered at elections.

There is one essential point wherein a political liar differs from others of the faculty, that he ought to have but a short memory, which is necessary, according to the various occasions he meets with every hour of differing from himself, and swearing to both sides of a contradiction, as he finds the persons disposed with whom he hath to deal. In describing the virtues and vices of mankind, it is convenient, upon every article, to have some eminent person in our eye, from whom we copy our description. I have strictly observed this rule, and my imagination this minute represents before me a certain great man [Thomas Wharton, who had been one of the most influential Whig leaders for twenty years] who had now been one of the most influential Whig leaders for twenty years.  famous for this talent, to the constant practice of which he owes his twenty years’ reputation of the most skillful head in England, for the management of nice affairs. The superiority of his genius consists in nothing else but an inexhaustible fund of political lies, which he plentifully distributes every minute he speaks, and by an unparalleled generosity forgets, and consequently contradicts, the next half hour. He never yet considered whether any proposition were true or false, but whether it were convenient for the present minute or company to affirm or deny it; so that if you think fit to refine upon him, by interpreting every thing he says, as we do dreams, by the contrary, you are still to seek, and will find yourself equally deceived whether you believe or not: the only remedy is to suppose, that you have heard some inarticulate sounds, without any meaning at all; and besides, that will take off the horror you might be apt to conceive at the oaths, wherewith he perpetually tags both ends of every proposition; although, at the same time, I think he cannot with any justice be taxed with perjury, when he invokes God and Christ, because he hath often fairly given public notice to the world that he believes in neither.

Some people may think, that such an accomplishment as this can be of no great use to the owner, or his party, after it has been often practised, and is become notorious; but they are widely mistaken. Few lies carry the inventor’s mark, and the most prostitute enemy to truth may spread a thousand, without being known for the author: besides, as the vilest writer hath his readers, so the greatest liar hath his believers: and it often happens, that if a lie be believed only for an hour, it hath done its work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, [emphasis added] so that when men come to be undeceived, 15 it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: like a man, who hath thought of a good repartee when the discourse is changed, or the company parted; or like a physician, who hath found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead.

Makes you think of present day Democrats, yes?  How little things change.

I wonder if Chief Justice Roberts agrees that Federal Judge Bernard Friedman was correctly applying existing law and Constitutional principles when he recently ruled that the Federal law against Female Genital Mutilation is unconstitutional.

Judge Friedman said he was basing his ruling not on the horrendous practice of female genital mutilation but on principles of Federalism. It’s a matter for the states, said the judge, not the Federal government. OK, he could be right. I’m not sure. But I do know that the arguments over what is within the Federal jurisdiction and what is for the states only often depend a lot more on politics than any consideration of federalism. I’d love to see the federal government stick to only those 22 things the Constitution says belong to the Feds. They haven’t done that in a long while, so I’m suspicious that the judge’s allegiance to federalism is the true basis for his ruling.

If Judge Friedman were sincere in his explanation for this ruling it would seem that he should have stayed the effect of the ruling until this matter were more fully briefed and perhaps reviewed by a higher court. Maybe he did, maybe I missed that in his 28-page ruling.

In any event, if the federal government has the power to jail a farmer for growing too much corn on his property, if the federal government has the power to mandate same-sex marriage and to regulate abortion, even to mandate the practice or partial-birth abortion which is actual infanticide, I don’t see how it lacks the power to stop the abominable practice of female genital mutilation, a horrific act exclusively carried out for no legitimate medical reason.

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