Remember that movie “Liar Liar,” where Jim Carrey plays a lawyer who is magically forced to reveal whatever he is really thinking and it turns his life upside down? Mitt Romney suffered from a “Liar Liar” moment when we got to hear what he says in the privacy of his own base.
But Democrats had their own peek-behind-the-curtain stumble a few weeks earlier, at their convention, when they pretended that their delegates voted to put references to God and Jerusalem back in their party platform. “The motion is adopted,” the convention chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, declared nervously on national television, even though everybody with ears could tell that the ayes failed to get a clear majority, let alone two-thirds of the vote.
These are just two examples, among many, that illustrate the slippery relationship that modern political campaigns have with the truth. What’s the right reaction when we are faced with such bald-faced fibbing? Last Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law proposed a solution: We should form a new political party – the “Keeping It Real” party – that would be totally honest about its shamelessness. It wouldn’t make any false promises or give any feel-good justifications. It would just tell the cold, naked truth.
Instead of claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Keeping-It-Realers would say: “Of course Saddam Hussein can’t really hurt us. But let’s show that jerk who’s boss.”
Instead of professing our concern for the deficit, even as we push for lower taxes, Keeping-It-Realers would carry signs that say: “Let’s just borrow more and stick our kids with the bill” or “Americans Against Our Own Spoiled Brats!”
Keeping-It-Realers would not pretend the U.S. economy would function without undocumented workers: “That tomato isn’t going to pick itself.”
Of course, starting a whole new political party is no small matter. So I called Brad Blanton, founder of the Radical Honesty movement, for help.
Blanton, who describes himself as “white trash with a PhD,” advocates getting rid of all forms of dishonesty, including the “No-you-don’t-look-fat-honey” variety. Blanton spent 37 years as a psychoanalyst in Washington, D.C. – “the best place in the world to study lying,” he said – and concluded that his patients were depressed and anxious because of all the falsehoods they had to tell just to get through the day.
“When I started coaching people to start telling the truth, and let the chips fall as they may, they had some rough going in the beginning,” Blanton said. “But then they went ahead and had the conflicts they were going to have, and their depression went away.”
If refusing to face the facts causes depression in our private lives, imagine what it does to our national politics. So Blanton ran for Congress, against Representative Eric Cantor in Virginia, to bring his blunt talk to the capitol.
Blanton says he never lied on the campaign trail.
“I admitted that I have been smoking marijuana for 47 years, and that I still do every once in a while and that I’ve been married 5 times, and I’ve had sex with men as well as women and that I don’t really give a [bleep] what people think about it.”
“How’d that work out for you?” I asked.
“A lot of people thought it was interesting,” he said. “I got 25 percent of the vote.”
But Cantor won anyway. Which brings me to the question: If we want more candid candidates, why don’t we ever seem to elect them? One reason politicians take creative license with reality is that we don’t want to hear the truth. When we go to war, we always want to believe it’s about protecting liberty, rather than getting our way with military power. When it’s budget time in Washington, we want be told that we can still have it all: lower taxes and less debt, without cuts to Medicaid or military. Political fiction lives on, in part, because we demand it. This election cycle, the Keeping It Real Party would not stand a chance.
Contact Stockman, a columnist for the Boston Globe, at firstname.lastname@example.org.