Are Their Lips Moving?

The title for this piece is taken from an old joke or bit of sarcasm. It is the response someone is likely to make when asked if politicians are lying. Sadly, it is a joke with a good deal of truth. Politicians are not always truthful. If they were, their careers would likely be very short.

It is not that all politicians want to lie. In fact, it is probable a handful of the currently elected politicians in this country hate lying, but they do it anyway. In all likelihood, their veracity makes little difference to the electorate.  It seems most of the electorate does not want the truth. Or, to paraphrase a line from the movie A Few Good Men, they cannot handle the truth.

Most people simply want to be told what they think they want to hear. If it happens to be a lie, so what? That does not however, justify the level of obfuscation and misdirection present in politics today. Of course, politicians try to avoid outright lies, if possible.

Examples of a politician making misleading statements without actually lying are numerous.  The one that motivated this particular piece was a comment made by President Obama a few weeks ago.

The president was addressing pending changes in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. During his remarks, the president stated that the EPA was simply building on steps taken by the states to regulate environmental concerns. What he said was absolutely, for the most part, true. He was not lying. However, he was not telling the whole truth.

It is true that many states have enacted legislation and developed regulations to limit the environmental impact of modern society. It is also true that much of that was done under duress.  To be as fair as possible to the sitting president, much of the duress did not come from his administration or during his presidency. However, it did come from the federal government.

There are a handful of states in this country with populations foolish enough to impose some of the current EPA regulations on themselves. Likely, California leads the charge when it comes to this form of economic suicide.

One can argue some other states are not far behind California in this regard. Yet, most states want business, and if they are truthful, they don’t care if the business is a polluter. They are interested in revenue streams, and industry provides revenue streams. If an elected official in your state tells you he or she is more interested in clean air than tax revenue from industry, just remember the title of this piece.

The truth of this matter is simple. Most states which have adopted stringent or more stringent environmental regulations did not do so out of their concerns for the environment. They did so because the United States government completely understands the carrot and stick approach to leadership.

The EPA in conjunction with other federal agencies made it clear there were grants and other funds available to states who passed laws or regulations which met certain environmental goals. They also made it clear those who did not bow down to Washington would receive the government equivalent of a sturdy stick across their metaphorical backsides. In most cases, the sturdy stick was the threat of removing federal aid they were already receiving or withholding future aid. It is likely some state officials would have preferred a whipping. Still, they generally caved to Uncle Sugar.

Governments at all levels throughout history have included a spoils or rewards system of favoritism and control. Kings and other rulers maintained control through a system of rewards, threats and force. In more modern times the force has been somewhat minimized in advanced countries, but the spoils system is still fully in place.

It is this spoils system, the modern equivalent of feudalism, that allows a president to say the federal government is simply building on what the states have already done. A president, current or past, is not lying when making a comment of that nature. The president is simply ignoring the amount of palm greasing, arm twisting and other shenanigans that were required to keep the states in line long enough to make the statement at least partially true.

© S. E. Jackson

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