Saturday, June 14, 2008

Reply to Scott McClellen - But all presidents, nay all people, employ truthiness

A friend of mine asked me recently what I thought about Scott McClellen's recent tell all. After hearing a couple interviews of him on various npr shows, my conclusion is fair in his assertions, but wrong in his analysis. Interviewers found him to be gentle toward the president, not blaming him, so much as the culture created by the president's advisers.

And specifically, the culture was that instead of communicating with the public through truth and dialogue, instead, communication was strategic.

Joel Stein quotes David Mamet in a recent Time article, who said the key to writing, is "People say things only because they're trying to get something." That is the type of communication McClellen accuses the administration of. This type of strategic speech is against what Habermas considers moral communication. Habermas argues that only scoundrels (credit JP for this term) and economists speak strategically all the time, and instead, people should speak the truth, in an effort to build consensus.

Yet you'd think academic liberal post-modern relativists should be fine with the idea that there is no truth, only truthiness. And it is naive to think there is one truth that the White House should have been conveying.

More practically, every president lies or plays with truthiness. The one time I heard Bill Clinton speak in person as president, I was an intern, and he was spewing lies about economic policy (he was saying tax cuts are a bad idea because they overstimulate the economy, the government should spend the money instead on healthcare; the problem is that high school macro should teach you that governmening spending stimulates the economy MORE than tax cuts). They weren't so much intentional lies, as simplifications, of a valid economic argument for why healthcare spending is better policy than tax cuts, but the president decided to use a version truthiness to get his point across.

Even in times of war--going back to my US history from high school, 15 years ago, scary!--the sinking of the Lusitania was a false pretext to enter WW I, the sinking of the Maine was a false pretext to start the Spanish American War, the Mexican American war had similar sketchy beginnings, and even some accuse FDR with some shady stuff with WW II. People are so quick to forget history when they start throwing out hyperbolic accusations of Bush's perfidy.
penny power

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