When last we met, I promised that future episodes of The Last Chance Democracy Café would emphasize what’s right with liberalism. Today’s episode will do just that. I also implied, I suppose, there might be some corresponding decrease in the amount of conservative bashing. Okay, so I lied on that one.
The Last Chance Democracy Café
Episode 21: Liberals are truth tellers: Guess who isn’t?
by Steven C. Day
It’s funny, really, how quickly emotions can change. How in just one second, a pleasant summer day can turn into a violent storm.
* * *
“That seems kind of harsh,” said Zach in a troubled voice.
Winston, who had been intently studying his bourbon on the rocks, looked up. “What’s kind of harsh?” he asked hopefully (Winston likes it when we’re harsh at The Last Chance Democracy Café, since it’s almost always directed against conservatives).
“That poster on the wall.”
“The one right behind you.”
“So what does it say?”
“It’s right there on the wall.”
Winston glared menacingly at Zach, as it became increasingly apparent that the young college student was disinclined to save him from the trouble of turning around. But Zach held his ground and — finally — with much huffing and scraping of chair legs, Winston reluctantly turned.
Here’s what the poster said: “Liberals Are Truth Tellers: Guess Who Isn’t?”
“What the hell is harsh about that?” thundered Winston in a disappointed voice.
Winston had a point. In a tavern that features dartboards made out of the photographs of leading conservatives, a Bush mocking “Bushspeak Machine” and a dinner menu made up of items like chickenhawk caesar salads, the statement in question was actually fairly tame.
” . . . Well, isn’t that implying that conservatives aren’t truth tellers?” said Zach tentatively. “I mean that’s how I read . . .”
“It implies nothing of the sort!” barked Winston.
“Okay . . .”
“What it implies is that conservatives are a bunch of two bit, lower than dirt, they wouldn’t recognize the truth if it walked up and kicked ‘em in the groin, liars. That’s what it’s implying.”
Molly, who was breezing by on her way to serve a platter of liberal burgers, paused at the bar long enough to flip on the Bushspeak machine:
Bushspeak: “This Compassion Shit Can Really Come In Handy Every Four Years or so.”
Horace chuckled as he watched Zach fence with Winston. A couple of mouths earlier, Horace would have rushed to Zach’s assistance. But Zach had now achieved the status of a full-fledged regular in his own right and as such, like the rest of us, he was now pretty much on his own — Winston wise.
Horace finally did say, “Zach, no one here is suggesting that liberals are inherently more honest than conservatives . . .”
“We’re not?” Winston feigned shock.
” . . . for example, I think we’d all admit that liberals are probably just about as likely as conservatives to lie about things like . . . oh, say, sex . . .”
“Well, now there’s a stupid example,” roared Winston. “Of course, liberals lie about sex as much . . . actually probably more than conservatives. Liberals have sex more than conservatives. I mean, really. Try thinking of a prominent conservative woman, like Ann Coulter. Now, try imaging having sex with her. See? You can’t do it, can you? It’s just too awful for the mind to conceive.”
Tom laughed, “What about James Carville? He’s married to a well-known conservative Republican.”
“I thought we were talking about sex. What the hell’s marriage got to do with it?”
“They’ve got kids.”
“You’ve never heard of artificial insemination?”
The conversation was plainly spiraling out of control. In other words, it was just another Wednesday evening at the café. Fortunately, we have Horace, who, ever faithful in his duties as unofficial den mother for the group, once again brought us back on topic.
“Zach,” he said, “the point here isn’t really who’s intrinsically more honest, liberals or conservatives: In fact, to suggest such an intrinsic difference would be rather, well, illiberal, wouldn’t it?” Horace cast a quick “I got ya” glance at Winston. Winston’s only response was a loud belch.
Bushspeak: “May The Best Liar Win.”
“The real point,” continued Horace, “is that whatever their level of honesty in their personal lives, when it comes to pursuing political objectives, conservatives tend . . . to a very significant degree, to be less honest than liberals. I know that may sound churlish. But, it’s true.”
“No brag, just fact,” said Tom.
Tom was quoting the signature line of Will Sonnett (played by Walter Brennan) from the short-lived late-60s television Western, The Guns of Will Sonnett. And if you knew that without my telling you, it probably means that like me you’re older than you care to admit and you spent way too much of your childhood watching mediocre television shows.
Zach had a pensive look. “I don’t know,” he said, “but that sounds like an awfully broad generalization to me.”
“Well, maybe so. I won’t deny I’m biased on the subject.,” conceded Horace. “But the truth is that when liberals describe their political goals . . . not always, but most of the time, they’re shooting straight with you.”
Bushspeak: “Getting A Purple Heart For A Minor Shrapnel Wound Is So Pathetic, I Made Absolutely Certain It Wouldn’t Happen To Me!”
Tom nodded his agreement. “For example, when a liberal proposes a program with the stated purpose of protecting the environment, you can generally be fairly certain that protecting the environment truly is the goal. Now, it may be a good idea or a bad idea . . .”
“Anywhere from brilliant to mind-numbingly stupid,” agreed Winston.
” . . . but it will almost certainly be sincere.”
“It’s the same deal with taxation,” Horace pushed on. “When liberals say they want to raise taxes on the wealthy, there’s no subterfuge to it. They really do want to raise taxes on the wealthy. Maybe that’s good . . .”
“Or maybe it’s bad,” Tom took over. “But one thing it’s not is insincere. Liberals really do think tax rates have gotten too low for the very wealthy. There’s no hidden agenda at work.”
In many situations, this lack of subterfuge in the liberal agenda Horace and Tom were discussing is painfully self-evident. There’s obviously no secret payoff to liberal politicians who oppose things like capital punishment and constitutional amendments to ban desecration of the flag and permit school prayer.
“I know it sounds self-serving,” said Horace. “But most of the time, when it comes to the policies they advocate, liberals really are truth tellers.”
Bushspeak: “If God Isn’t On My Side, Why Did He Let Me Steal The Election?”
“And I guess I already know what you’re going to say about conservatives,” said Zach.
Horace winked. “You bet you do. Now, in other respects, they may be as honest as the day is long. I don’t know. But when it comes to the true motivation for the policies they advocate, the fact is that they lie a lot. In fact, they lie more often than they tell the truth. Maybe not all conservatives, but certainly George W. Bush conservatives.”
“They’ve got no choice, really,” added Tom.
“Not if they want to win,” agreed Winston.
“And that’s the bottom line,” said Horace. “It’s about tactics. It’s about a willingness to do whatever it takes to win . . .” Horace frowned, clearly searching for the right words. “How do I explain this . . . ?” Then a light turned on in his eyes, “That’s it. Let’s look at it this way. Assume you’re trying to sell two cars: One of them is in absolutely pristine condition. The previous owner never had a lick of trouble with it, always brought it in for it’s 3000 mile service right on time and . . . let’s see, only traded it in because he had to give up driving as a result of injuries suffered in a freak stamp collecting accident . . .”
Bushspeak: “Maybe you can’t fool all the people all the time, but you can sure try!”
Zach laughed, “Extreme stamp collecting, huh?”
“Exactly,” smiled Horace. “Anyway, the story on the second car you’re trying to sell is very different. It was actually turned back into the dealership by its first owner under threat of a lawsuit because he claimed it was a lemon. Then it was wrecked five times by its second owner and finally ended up being used by its third owner as a mobile brothel . . .”
Zach smiled. “I think I may own that car.”
Horace returned the smile, but pressed on, “Now, let’s also say that you really, really need to sell both cars. It’s important to you. You’re under a lot of pressure. You with me . . . ?”
“Good. Then let me ask you. Do you think you’d be more tempted to lie to prospective customers about the first car or the second one?”
“Well, I hope I wouldn’t lie about either . . .”
“Right. And I’m sure you wouldn’t. But which one might tempt you the most?”
” . . . Is this a trick question?” asked Zach, showing appropriate caution, I thought, given the company he was keeping.
“No. The answer’s as obvious as it seems.”
“Well, then, of course, you’d be more likely to lie about the second one, because it’s by far the tougher sale. Right?”
Bushspeak: “Hey, Reading ‘My Pet Goat’ At The Same Time You’re Soiling Your Pants Takes Coordination!”
“Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” Zach shook his head. “You’re comparing conservatism to a car that starts out as a lemon, gets wrecked five times and then finally ends up being used as a mobile whorehouse . . . Have I got that right?”
“Well, that’s actually a bit overgenerous,” said Winston, “but, we’re liberal minded here, so what the hell. That’ll do.”
Horace’s point, while perhaps self-evident, is also something easily missed. Personal character is only one element relevant to judging the likelihood of deceit in a particular setting. Another important factor is motivation: Just how badly does the particular person or group need to lie in order to achieve his, her or their desired ends. In the case of Bush style political conservatives, this need is overwhelming. The economic policies they champion, when fully understood, have absolutely nothing positive to offer to the vast majority of voters.
“Think about this, Zach,” said Horace. “How well do you think the following would sell as a campaign issue — ‘Vote for me! I’ll cut the taxes of the wealthiest one percent of Americans and shift more of the burden onto the middle class!’”
Zach smiled mischievously, “Well, I can think of a few neighborhoods where it might sell quite well.”
“True, but I think Bush and the GOP pretty much already have those places locked up. How do you think it’d play in middle class neighborhoods?”
“Like gay marriage at a Southern Baptist convention?”
Bushspeak: “I Predict That A Large Percentage Of Black Americans Whose Votes Are Counted Will Vote For Me!”
But as Tom went on to explain, the tax policy Horace was describing was the very plan George W. Bush ran on in 2000 and then successfully pushed through Congress. In a report released this August, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that the net effect of Bush’s tax cuts has been to shift the tax burden away from the wealthy and directly onto the backs of the middle class. Under the Bush plan, the top one percent of households — those earning $1.1 million or more — saw their share of the tax burden drop from 22.2 percent to 20.1 percent. Meanwhile, households earning around $75,600 saw their tax burden jump from 18.7 percent to 19.5 percent.
“That son of a . . .” began Winston.
Horace cut him off in mid profanity, asking Zach, “So how do you think he pulled that off? How did he sell a plan that was so clearly contrary to the interests of the vast majority of voters?”
“He lied . . . ?”
“Bingo. Right through his teeth. He falsely advertised his tax initiative as representing middle class tax relief and pretended the deficit wouldn’t grow.”
“You guys sure seem to like the word bingo.”
“We’re old,” huffed Winston. “We’re supposed to like bingo.”
“So do you play very often?”
“Never heard of it,” said Winston as he downed the rest of his glass.
Bushspeak: “Leave No Child Whose Parents Make A Big Campaign Contribution Behind!”
“Let’s try another one,” said Horace. “How well do you think the following proposal would have sold to the American people, Zach? — ‘Let’s go start a war that will get a lot of Americans killed and cost hundreds of billions of dollars, because there are these really smart guys called neoconservatives who have this really cool theory that we can remake the world in our own image and create a new American empire.’”
“I’m guessing no sale.”
“Congratulations. Your political instincts are apparently every bit as good as the Bush crowd’s. Because they obviously didn’t think it would sell either. So they didn’t try to sell it that way. They . . .”
Zach finished the sentence. ” . . . They lied, right? About weapons of mass destruction.”
“And don’t forget the Axis of Evil,” added Tom, rubbing his hand on his forehead.
“Or the bullshit attempts to tie Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks,” concurred Winston angrily.
“Christ,” Horace sighed. “The excuse seemed to change by the day. Why attack Iraq? For this reason. No, for that reason. No, for whatever the hell reason it will take to close the sale.”
Bushspeak: “My Vice Presidential Candidate is Scarier Looking Than Yours!”
“It’s the same deal with the environment,” said Horace wearily. “I mean, what do you think, Zach, would this have sold well in the campaign? — ‘Increasing corporate profits is more important than protecting our children’s health through a clean environment. Does that sound like a winner?’”
“Not where I come from.”
Tom said, “Not where most people come from. Opinion polls show that the vast majority of Americans support protecting the environment . . .”
Horace broke in, “And the polluter-friendly conservatives who run environmental policy in the Bush Administration know it. That’s why they don’t play the game straight. So, for instance, when it came time to adopt yet another industry friendly, quote, environmental, close quote, policy, this time granting the logging industry the right to harvest more timber from National Forests, they gave it the green friendly name of the Healthy Forests Initiative.”
“I guess they thought using a more accurate name, like, say, the Deforestation Initiative, might not have the same ring,” sneered Tom.
Bushspeak: “If A Soldier Dies In Iraq And No One Hears, Does He Really Die?”
“And who could ever forget Bush’s wonderful Clear Skies Initiative, which was actually designed, of course, to make it easier for polluters to avoid having to help clear up the skies.”
Winston raised his eyebrows, “Ah, yes, the good old Clear Skies Initiative. Otherwise known as the Let’s Punt On Global Warming Initiative.”
“And we haven’t even touched on all of Bush’s wonderful environmental photo ops,” said Horace, his voice betraying a more cynical edge than usual for him. “Here’s W. posing in front of a pristine mountain lake. Oh, and here he is communing with a beautiful old growth forest. What we don’t see, of course, is next day in the office when he signs away even more of the legal protections helping to preserve these national treasures.”
“Okay, you’ve convinced me,” chuckled Zach. “Conservatives are good at the spin game. I’ll give you that.”
“Bullshit!” shouted Winston. “God damned, bullshit!” He smashed his fist on the table. His face was bright red. His voice was loud enough that people in every part of the lounge turned to see what was happening.
It was unnerving. The rage seemed to come from nowhere. Like a tornado striking in the dead of winter.
Poor Zach was turning pale, but Winston quickly waived him off. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I’m not mad at you.” But, clearly still upset, Winston stood up and walked away from the table. He was trying to calm down, I think. It was a good five minutes before he came back.
“I’m truly sorry, son,” he said quietly to Zach. “But this isn’t about spin and it isn’t a game. It’s about lies . . . cold blooded, premeditated lies. And thousands of people have died in Iraq because of them. Millions of people in this country have suffered immeasurable harm from them. To write all that off as just part of the good old political spin game is to disrespect truth itself. It’s to make a mockery of democracy. And I won’t stand for it.”
“I’m sorry . . .”
“No, no, no. It’s not you. You have nothing to apologize for. And I’m sorry I acted up the way I did. You don’t deserve that. Not for a second. It’s the media. It’s our leadership. It’s our whole political culture. I just don’t get it. How can people forget so easily? There’s nothing more valuable . . . nothing more important than American democracy. Nothing. And it’s dying right in front of our eyes. And maybe I’ve had too much to drink. Maybe I just need to sleep it off, but it hurts. It hurts so badly I feel like a part of my body has been torn off. My God how it hurts.”
* * *
Like I said, it’s funny, really, how quickly emotions can change. How in just one second, a pleasant summer day can turn into a violent storm.
I guess that’s why we have friends. To enjoy the sun with, but also to help us through the storms.
Zach is Winston’s friend. The next morning he drove his broken down Chrysler over to Winston’s apartment, walked up and knocked on the door. They ended up watching a game together — the old man and the young man — sharing a pleasant summer day.
* * *
When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 25 years. Contact Steven at scday(AT)buzzflash.com.
© Copyright Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001
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