Blogs > Cliopatria > Fictions We Live with

Aug 2, 2004 6:41 pm

Fictions We Live with

Bob Herbert in today's NYT professes to be shocked that it appears that "candidates can't tell voters the truth and still win."

Is he kidding? Did he miss the 1984 election? Dick Cheney says Reagan proved that deficits don't matter. What Reagan really proved was that facts don't matter and that voters don't want the facts, particularly unpleasant facts. Mondale told them taxes would have to go up. They gave him the boot.

I saw Mondale the other day on TV. A reporter asked him if he considered his promise to raise taxes a mistake. Mondale, appearing a bit incensed--he obviously has heard this question before--stood his ground and insisted he was proud of his promise. It was the truth.

After 1984 there's no excuse for any politician or pundit thinking the American people want the truth.

I give a lecture devoted to this theme and it can't be summarized in a short blog entry. But the gist of my comments is that Americans are beholden to myths about themselves and their place in the world for the simple reason that myths are what define who we are and the values we cherish. Unlike the French or the Germans we are not united by a common ancestry. So we huddle around the fireplace at night and tell each other stories: that all men are created equal, that America is a shining city on a hill, and on and on.

The stories are inspirational. I wouldn't want us to give them up in favor of a hard-nosed cynical approach to life. But a little appreciation of the truth would be helpful. But truth is hardly high on the list of national values, despite what Republicans said during the Lewinsky affair when they were shocked--shocked!--that a president would lie to them.

Presidents tell us what they think we want to hear. When they tell us the harsh truths we recoil.

Bob Herbert -- where have you been all these years?

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