Lying People Of The Year, 2013

Pope Francis Person of the Year?  And Edward Snowden Runner-Up?  No quarrel from me.  They shared a knack for inviting everyone to think again about how we frame big issues like faith and freedom, and for prodding us to consider anew our obsessions and biases, our risk aversions and mental shortcuts.

Let us thus turn our attention to lying liars, a target-rich environment every year I suppose, but 2013 had at least its fair share.  Politifact’s Lie of the Year has been health law-related four out of five years  since 2009: first “death panels”; then “government takeover of health care”; then in 2011 a Democratic Campaign Committee claim that “Republicans voted to end Medicare” (I think Paul Ryan’s plan would in fact have sabotaged it, but on we go); to 2012 with a non-health Mitt Romney interlude–so many options here!; and to President Obama this year: “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”

That was true for about 98% of Americans with health insurance, so I read, but 2% is still a lot of Americans to mislead, especially on such a serious and nerve-racking issue.  Even so, I would say Obama’s blithe assurance back in June that NSA surveillance amounted to “modest encroachments” might have been an even bigger whopper.  It has not reassured me about whatever else he says.

General Keith Alexander, soon-to-retire head of the NSA, lived in the shadows for almost all of his career, but found himself obliged to prevaricate, mislead, evade, and misinform in public this year.  I am not sure how many lives he may have saved.  Nor do I have a clear sense of how many outright lies he uttered–perhaps fewer than the unpersuasive James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence–but Alexander’s public Congressional testimonials qualified him in my book for scary-good virtuoso performance artist of the year.

Am I unfairly neglecting Vladimir Putin?  He capped off the year with an attack on “genderless and fruitless so-called tolerance.”  Pooty Poot (President W. Bush’s nickname for him) apparently noticed that the new Pope seems incapable of rendering proper judgments, and is stepping into the breach, taking up the white man’s burden and defending conservative values lest civilization fall into what he called “chaotic darkness.”  With which he is well acquainted.

P.S.  On Thursday John Boehner, who seemed to some to embody the conservative white man’s burden as he bowed low to the right-wing astroturf groups, seems to have snapped, going off in a big way on those very pressure groups as treacherous liars.  Such a topsy-turvy year! And so sad that, I fear, neither Boehner nor Putin, let alone General Alexander, can bring back the happy conservative values days when Dick and Jane and Spot were just Dick and Jane and Spot, and their problems were real and serious.

Update later Friday 12/13/13: The Guardian reports that the White House-sponsored review of government surveillance will recommend minimal changes, and will not recommend stopping bulk collection of Americans’ phone data.

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