In an election year that has serious ramifications for the future of our country, is it too much to ask for candidates to tell the truth, or a reasonable facsimile thereof?

The just-ended Republican National Convention may have set a record for spawning the most articles on the general theme of intentional artifice — most of them inspired by vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s high-energy peroration that had fact-checkers competing to see how many half-truths, mistruths, and no-truth statements they could find (just a few: Ezra Klein and Dylan Matthews for the Washington Post, Joan Walsh at, three reporters at, among others, plus blogs galore). Even the famously conservative Fox News has a columnist (Sally Kohn, admittedly, a minority voice) who said that while his presentation was dazzling, “Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.” 

Presidential nominee Mitt Romney was less mendacious than Ryan in his acceptance speech, but even so, a New York Times editorial was entitled “Mr. Romney Reinvents History.”

Now, I don’t want to suggest that Republicans are alone in the practice of fabrication for effect. Democrats are not immune to the temptation to stretch the truth, and when their national convention rolls around next week, you can bet the fact-checkers (America’s new growth industry?) will be watching closely to see if the convention’s typical puffery and posturing is also punctuated by prevarication. And if Democratic speakers are as willing to twist, torture, or totally disregard the truth, I’ll be just as disappointed in them.

Every national political candidate naturally talks about “what America deserves.” What America deserves is leaders who will tell the truth, not only about themselves and their plans, but about their opponents and their opponents’ plans — yet honest information seems to be in short supply.

What strikes me as particularly sad is that so many Americans prefer to believe what they want to be true rather than what is really true, prompting one political pollster to confidently boast “We won’t allow our campaign to be dictated by fact-checkers” — as if acknowledging that truthfulness doesn’t matter.

Campaigns based on falsehoods may be effective in energizing the base and possibly even winning an election — but one who would lead the nation will need all the credibility he or she can muster — even in the campaign.


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