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Cary Brunswick

September 8, 2012

Calling Ryan's words 'lies' is an understatement

It's no shock to learn that our presidents lie. Nixon did it. Clinton did it. And George W. Bush did it. What is shocking is that they are so easily forgiven, or that we so easily forget.

You'd think, though, that we might expect, and get, a bit more honesty from the candidates running for president. I mean, if you know somebody's a liar when he's still trying to win votes, you have to wonder what will happen if he's elected.

Granted, just about everybody tells little white lies now and then, often with honorable motives such as not hurting other people or saving them or ourselves an embarrassing moment. But lying to millions of people is different.

President Nixon did it to save himself from being connected to the Watergate cover-up. President Clinton wanted to avoid the embarrassment of people knowing he had a sexual encounter with a White House intern. President Bush lied to justify a war that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

The impacts were certainly different, but they all lied.

And so did Rep. Paul Ryan, vice-presidential candidate, during his speech last week at the Republican National Convention. His motive was to try to discredit President Obama, who along with presidential candidate Mitt Romney, also has been caught stretching the truth on occasion.

Ryan's lies were so blatant that they had the media and commentators scrambling to find other words for them, such "political dishonesty" and "deceptive statements," because the falsehoods were stated with millions of witnesses.

But whatever you call it, a political convention venue should not be justification for dishonesty and deception _ and certainly not outright lies.

By now, you've likely heard some of the examples of Ryan's untruthfulness: Blaming Obama rather than Bush for the closing of a GM plant; blaming Obama instead of Bush and the Republicans for exorbitant deficits and the U.S. credit downgrade; and saying that the GOP ticket would "make the safety net safe again" when Ryan's own budget plan would slash social programs.

Jonathan Cohn, writing on The New Republic website, may have had the best reaction.

"Think of it this way," he wrote. "A Martian who came down to Earth and heard Ryan speak last week would conclude that Obama had abandoned the auto industry; that Romney and Ryan would never cut spending from Medicare; that Obama is to blame for high deficits and the credit downgrade; and that Romney and Ryan are out to save the safety net. This poor Martian would have it exactly backwards."

Even Fox News, which rarely has a bad comment about Republicans and conservatives, criticized Ryan's speech as "an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech," according to commentator Sally Kohn.

So, while the media may have taken note of the lies and deceptions, it is disheartening that so many people and would-be voters seem to shrug them off as just more of the same political rhetoric they are used to hearing every day.

In a way, I guess it is understandable, given the sour and vindictive communication that has crippled the government in Washington. I mean, why would one expect candidates to have an honest dialogue on the issues during a convention and on the campaign trail?

However, in this 2012 election the differences between the two major parties are as stark as ever, referring to taxes, the debt, the deficit, abortion, gay marriage and global warming. In fact, partisan polarization on basic policy questions is at its highest point in 25 years, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

So, based on that, you would expect there to be plenty of reasons to tell it like it is rather than stretch the truth to suit your agenda. Facts are facts, and not rhetoric.

Let's hope the die has not been cast for the remainder of the campaign. It should not be too late for the candidates, especially Rep. Ryan, to stop lying and twisting facts to support their positions. The voters deserve better, and it's past time that they demand better and hold candidates accountable for their false statements.

Correction: I made a mistake, which is not the same as lying or trying to deceive, in my last column. I referred to a book by A.J. Ayer, which should have been "Language, Truth and Logic." I incorrectly mentioned "Language, Logic and God," which actually was written by Frederick Ferre.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor of carybrunswick.com. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net.

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