Lying and the Undermining of Democracy

The previous post commented on one of the absurd reactions to the Clinton vs. Obama campaign in the blogosphere. Fortunately there are also numerous excellent posts which show that some liberals really are in the reality based community. One which is well worth reading comes from Obsidian Wings. Hilzoy begins by noting, “I think it’s more or less beyond question that Hillary Clinton, and her husband, have told a series of lies about Barack Obama.” The post proceeds to discuss how this undermines democracy:

Lying in an election is basically a way of saying: we know how you ought to vote, and if we can’t get you to vote that way by presenting you with facts and arguments, or even with truthful but emotionally shaded appeals, then we will get you to vote our way by telling you things that are not true. It’s hard to see what could be more profoundly disrespectful of people’s right to decide for themselves whom to vote for.

It is also, needless to say, at odds with one of the basic principles of democracy: that people have the right to decide for themselves whom to support.

But it also undermines democracy by placing intolerable burdens on citizens. As I said above, I think that the assumption that most people are not following the news closely enough to be able to tell who is telling the truth and who is lying is probably correct. In part, this is because (in my humble opinion) many people are not sufficiently politically informed. I think that it is our duty as citizens to learn enough to cast informed votes, and that this requires both following the news to some extent and also acquiring enough background knowledge (e.g., of economics) to be able to assess what people say.

However, I do not think that it ought to be our duty as citizens to become complete political junkies, the sorts of people who follow each and every twist and turn in a Presidential campaign. Some of us are like that (she said, bashfully), but I cannot see any reason at all why everyone should be.

But when candidates tell the kinds of lies that the Clintons have been telling, they place citizens in a position in which the only way to know what is going on is to become political junkies. Being merely informed is not enough: you have to be the sort of person who actually remembers the article from 2004 that Bill Clinton was referring to when he said that Obama had changed his position on the war, and so forth.

The post concludes with a round up of several of the major lies being spread by the Clinton campaign.

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