Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As always the column here is dated by the fact that the syndication deal requires a wait of one week after its newspaper release)

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What is a lie? That should be an easy one. Dictionaries define the word as “an intentional untruth.” So here is the question: Why do politicians so often shy away from the word?
For instance, in response to Mitt Romney’s new charge that Barack Obama is getting rid of the “work” requirement in “welfare to work” because the administration is granting waivers to states that want to cut back on all the federal bureaucracy paperwork, Mitt Romney and his enablers are telling intentional untruths.
Romney knows that the dispensations require an increase in employment placements by 20 percent, and that in 2005, Massachusetts Gov. Romney was one of 28 state chief executives who requested them. So his new campaign, complete with TV ads screaming “Obama guts welfare reform,” are out-and-out lies.
But the Democratic push-back didn’t use the L-word. All Obama Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter could muster was “false and hypocritical.” Why not just call it a lie, and Mitt Romney a liar for saying it?
Maybe it’s because we’ve gotten so benumbed to such outright falsehoods. Many of us aren’t even sure the candidates use their real names. In fairness, it is probable that no one would make up “Willard Mitt Romney” or “Barack Hussein Obama,” but how about the Senate majority leader? Is “Harry Reid” a pseudonym?
After all, this is the man who is almost certainly making up the “Bain investor” he claims told him that Romney had not paid taxes for 10 years. Props to Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus for calling “aka Reid” a “dirty liar.” (Just guessing that Priebus is also not an alias.) Give him credit for being honest about the falsehood from what’s-his-face. Reid’s fellow Democratic biggies are simply ignoring the dishonesty. Priebus’ counterpart, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, cites the fact that Romney refuses to release years of tax records. “Mitt Romney could clear this up in 10 seconds,” she argued. By the way, if a child of Wasserman Schultz’s married another with a double last name, would they, for instance, be Mr. and Ms. Wasserman Schultz Smith Jones? That is a toughie, which we simply cannot leave for future generations.

As for the present, the politicians can use whatever words they want. How about “dishonest,” which so many are. They don’t care about facts. In the Republican ads about welfare to work, the blatant deceit doesn’t concern them. They are counting on the word “welfare” to so rile up conservative voters that reality is irrelevant. Let’s tell it like it is, then: They are counting on ignorance and prejudice to serve their purposes, since the word “welfare” always conjures, in so many stunted minds, an image of lazy freeloaders, usually people of color, who take advantage of the country’s flimsy social programs.
That portrayal helps justify the cruel GOP approach to eliminating social programs. Instead of appearing heartless with policies that would rip apart the safety net, they insist they’re champions of the American Dream. They handily overlook our other tradition, which is compassionate protection for the less fortunate.
Knowing that most people are scared to death about their futures, they manipulate the fear by coming up with scapegoats, like welfare recipients.
They also deflect attention from those who caused the frightening mess we’re in, who continue to prosper. They are the super-wealthy few who bankroll these fabrications. All that differentiates them from the “dirty liars” is their belief that they can step back and let their mercenaries and puppets immerse themselves in the toxic waste.
History, after all, shows that such divisive tactics can work for those with evil ambition and/or a lack of conscience. History also shows how they can lead to disaster. This deceit is worse than dirty, it is deadly dangerous. No lie.

© 2012 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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