The Beanstalk

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by David N. Townsend

Elsewhen

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January 11, 1999
2:14 AM

 

Lying

Wow, is it Sunday again already?  What did I say, a column every week?  Well, what I meant by "every" was, um, "some OR most", at least that was my interpretation . . . 

Besides, I haven't got time to nitpick.  I've got to get back to doing my small piece of the Business of America. 

Okay, here is one of my multiple opinions on the <yawn> Scandal:  We are a nation weaned and bred on Lying; we accept it, however grudgingly, in all facets of our daily existence, with the resigned understanding that, if push came to shove and we tried to call anyone a liar directly to their face, they'd have a loophole, and we'd look cruel for being so insulting.

You see, the whole premise of the Impeachment, and of the anti-Clinton crowd in general, is the common sense realization that "of course he lied, everyone knows he lied," and hence all the hair-splitting just makes his defense all the more outrageous.  And that's entirely correct on one level.  But it's also entirely inconsistent with everything we've come to expect from not only politicians but every aspect of our media saturated, commercially inundated society.

Case in point, a commercial I saw yesterday for 1-800-CONTACTS.  They sell contact lenses over the phone.  The commercial said, without a hint of exaggeration, "we have over 3-million lenses in stock, and we ship 50,000 every day".  This information, of course, is to reassure the tentative viewer that everybody buys their lenses this way, so there's nothing to be worried about.  The problem is, it's complete hogwash!  I don't know anything about the contact lens industry, but I know how to do simple math.  And 50,000 contact lens shipments per day equals over 18-million per year, which would be enough to cover just about the entire contact lens wearing population of the country, I'd venture to guess.

But of course, if you hauled them before the Federal Trade Commission on false advertising charges, they'd have their lawyers ready with all the disclaimers and explanations: Well, 50,000 lenses means actually only 25,000 customers, and we were actually rounding up from 46,000, and anyway what we mean is, we're affiliated with X, Y, and Z wholesale distributors, which ship lenses to optometrists, so the commercial is really just letting customers know that it's okay, in general, for lenses to be "shipped" . . .

This would surprise or shock no one, nor would it lead to any sanctions, because Everybody does it.  How often do you bother to try to read the tiny fine print at the bottom of the screen every time an advertiser makes a bold claim about his product compared to his competitor, or about the "Free" this or "Lowest Price" that?  You know basically what it's going to say -- that this is all subject to various provisos, qualifiers, caveats and emptors.  In other words, it's baloney.   "We charge the lowest price in the world, and we guarantee that!"   Except if you find a lower price.

We live with this.  We have no choice but to accept it.  Commercial, capitalist, free enterprise America has gradually succumbed, over the decades, to the very same evil habit of which President Clinton is now so piously accused: the legalism, the technicality, the treatment of "Truth" as a maleable, flexible, manipulable concept.  The right to tell endless lies, as long as there is some way to twist the meaning of the words, or some little peephole to crawl through, that permits the Great Calculator to determine there is a non-zero probability that the statement could be characterized as valid.

"A new Ford Pinto for under $15,000!!"  And sure enough, the price tag is $14,999.99, excluding tax and title and delivery charge plus all the extras you normally would expect to get as part of the deal, etc., etc.  No, this is not new, it goes back to snake oil salesmen, and a thousand years before that.  And it's been an absolute staple of the Art of Politics forever, as well.  (A few Republican examples, post-Nixon:  No new taxes of any kind.  There were no arms for hostages.   We've balanced the budget.)

So here we have a President who has done little more than exploit this practice which is truly at the heart of our soulless national culture more effectively and perhaps more brazenly than any of his peers or predecessors, and listen to the righteous indignation echoing from the mountaintops!  When it's pointed out how commonplace Clinton's actions are, we hear that this is the One Exception: lying "under oath", because it's "breaking the law".  Of course, these same opponents were after him long before the Monica scandal, for basically the same reason, his deceptiveness, when it wasn't "under oath".  Either way, it's profound hypocrisy to label one narrow, legalistic context of lying to be infinitely more "wrong" than all of the other daily and deliberately exploitative forms of lying that we are forced to suffer.

In the end, I think this is the main explanation for the phenomenon of Clinton's popularity in the face of his sins, which so confounds his opponents.  They sit around all day, griping to each other: "How has he deceived the public so completely?   Everyone knows what he did and what he said, and that he lied . . ." bla bla bla.  But supporting Clinton isn't about endorsing anything he's done.  It's about rejecting an even greater degree of hypocrisy, which is what the endless, tedious, pathetic ranting and preaching of the Republicans has become. 

There is nothing Americans loathe more than arrogant self-righteousness, no matter whence it comes.  The same public that will scoff at "politically correct" attitudes that take noble offense anytime someone utters an ethnic joke or hints at a stereotype (reactions that are misinterpreted as "conservative"), will just as quickly toss mud on any holier-than-thou public figure who presumes to tell them that they must cast out the unclean and unworthy.  Notice that the only people who see anything distressing about the election of Jesse "The Governor" Ventura in Minnesota are the traditional politicians.  That's because it signals, possibly a disturbing trend: candidates and voters alike who prefer straight talk to bullshit.  That would just ruin everything.


DT


  1999 David N. Townsend


Recent ramblings:         

Back again, and looking backward and forward (1/1/99) Library Time (6/17/98) Travel trivialities (5/27/98)
Okay, okay OKAY!  Man, you go silent for a few little months . . . The theme of this writing is reading. Ms. Kelly is retiring this week after more than 30 years as a librarian. . . La Paz. Here we go again. Precisely 72 hours after coming in, I'm heading out of Bolivia . . .

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