Last week saw two notable political actions that show a very disturbing trend in what passes for acceptable in the political world.
The first was the admission by the Conservatives in Canada that there had been an organized phone campaign against Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, where Conservatives made phone calls to his constituents indicating that he was leaving politics and that a new MP may need to be elected in the near future. This, of course, is a complete fallacy and Cotler has no intention of leaving politics. In a remarkable move, Peter Van Loan admitted the action and defended it as free speech. It seems that conspiring to phone a rival politicians supporter and purposely giving them incorrect information is now considered an expression of free speech.
It is very similar to the Romney move in the U.S., where he took an Obama quote out of context and used it as a sound bite in an ad to imply that Obama had said something that was directly the opposite of what he actually said. Again, this deliberate misdirection of information was defended as “free speech”.
Orwell had a word for this sort of thing. He called it “double think”, where people were trained to believe that a statement involving two contradictory ideas was still sensible. Everyone knows that politicians routinely engage in dirty tricks and questionable tactics. Now, however, it seems that it can be done out in the open, with impunity and no need for accountability or apology. Lying has become a form of free speech. And politicians must have some kind of special ethical status in this, because I think if anyone else tried to suggest this they be laughed out of the room. Imagine lying to your boss, or a student lying to their parents or teacher, and then claiming that their lie was just an expression of free speech. I’m not sure it would be a very successful or popular defense, but to deliberately mislead a nation or a constituency is, it appears, OK.
If politicians get the idea that lies can be hidden in plain sight and easily swept away with lame excuses, where will it end? Accountability is already a fragile concept for politicians. Removing it completely is a potential nightmare.
Even if all of the Occupy protesters did not have any specific policy concerns (which of course they actually did), for them to have protested as an act of sheer outrage would have been totally warranted. People need to wake up and realize that we are being made fools of by politicians and businessmen who are increasingly believing that they can act without consequence. The biggest lie of the past few years cost the world over three billion dollars, which now the banks are turning into huge interest profits. There are few who don’t feel that at least something fishy was at work there, even if they don’t totally understand it. It is a lie hiding in plain sight, -and the more the people in power see that they can get away with it, the bolder they will become.