The main focus in our discussion on Hannah Arendt was her seemingly racist views. We read “The Human Condition” to gain a better understanding of the vita activa which we then looked at in its relation to racism in Dr. Johnson’s paper “A barely conscience reaction: Arendt, South Africa, and Colonial Hearts of Darkness.” But I’d like to go way back to our first reading by Arendt, “Truth and Politics.”
In our discussion of “Truth and Politics” we asked whether truth-tellers can exist in politics to which there was a consensus of no: politicians have to lie in order to appeal to the public. But what exactly is lying? Is it as simple as being untruthful or are there degrees to which one can manipulate the truth before it’s actually considered lying? Is there a difference or should there be? This seems to be a very gray area, a faintly drawn line in the sand that is often crossed.
For example, the issue of negative campaigning was brought up in the presidential debate Wednesday to which both candidates acknowledged that campaigning has been tough. Both McCain and Obama have issued negative ads aimed toward the other but that’s nothing new in politics; it seems to be a good way of attracting attention. But by being negative have the candidates crossed the line between manipulating facts and lying? One of McCain’s ads criticizes Obama’s plan for sex education saying that Obama wants to teach sex education to kindergartners. However, the ad is full of quotes taken out of context to make this claim appear to be what Obama proposes. On the flip side, there are Obama ads that speak out of context in regards to McCain’s views on energy, immigration, and stem cell research. Do we consider these misused quotes to be lies or manipulation? If the ads are not truthful then they are lying; but if the information in the ads is truthful, only presented in a way that is untruthful, is that merely manipulation?
And how does this negative untruthful campaigning affect the American people? So much is taken at face value in today’s society that many who see these ads don’t make an effort to check the facts. They simply accept the message as truth whether it is or not. What does this say about Americans? Are we naïve or so lazy that we blindly believe what we hear without discovering for ourselves the validity of such ads? By not fact-checking are we admitting that the truth doesn’t actually matter? I find it scary to think Americans would rather believe manipulative ads because it gives them one more reason to dislike a candidate than acknowledge there is more to the issue.
Politics would be radically different if instead of having negative ads that often misrepresent their opponents politicians stated only the truth about their views and opinions as well as those of their opponent. It seems that entirely truthful campaigns would be most beneficial to the American people since the majority lack the impetus to discover truth for themselves. So why is negative campaigning used? What is so terrible about telling the truth? I think it is because negative ads stir up drama. They anger people and turn campaigns into he-said she-said games with no progress on actual issues. But that makes life interesting and gives people something to follow. If Americans want and respond to untruthful drama then what’s to stop the media from giving them just that?