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Why Leaders Lie

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

WNYC

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's a Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago discusses his new book, Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics.

John Mearsheimer dug up all the lies by leaders he could find (good and bad) and picked them apart. He says, there's a big and important difference between lying and "spinning," both of which we see in political rhetoric and strategy.

Lying is where you say something that you actually know is not true. Spinning is where you exaggerate the positive aspects of a situation and down play the negative aspects. If you were to ask President Obama, what's the state of the American economy, he would spin like crazy. He would tell you all the good things that are happening and he'd downplay the negative things, but he would not lie to us because if he did the consequences would be very great if he was found out.

Lying for selfish reasons is obvious, but lying in the name of national interest was an interesting discovery, he said. He gave an example from the last administration during the run-up to the Iraq war.

I think they told a few lies in the process of trying to take us to war, but I don't think they were doing that for selfish purposes. I think they believed that it was in the American national interest to go to war against Iraq...and they were willing to do almost anything to get us into that war.

According to Mearsheimer, George W. Bush isn't the only President who's lied to get us into war. FDR did it during World War II.

I would argue that Roosevelt was doing the right thing. He was faced with a country that was incredibly isolationist at the time and yet it was necessary for the United States to get in that war against Nazi Germany.

During his research, Mearsheimer found that leaders lie more to their public than they lie to each other.

Great powers just don't trust each other very much, so it's hard to lie because there's not a lot of trust. When it comes to leaders and their own publics, most publics trust their leaders. I think that's certainly true in the United States.

He remembered his own trust in American leadership when Donald Rumsfeld announced there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the U.S. had located them.

So, I trusted Rumsfeld. That may sound foolish now, but I did. My basic gut instinct was that the administration wouldn't lie to us like that. One could argue I was foolish given what I've written in the book, but I think that explains in good part why you get more lying to a leader's public than you do to other countries.

And, even though some lies have been to a positive end, if leaders lie too much to their public they could get themselves into trouble. He calls this "blowback."

If leaders lie a lot to their own publics about foreign policy issues, it's not long before they're lying to their own publics about other kinds of issues as well, and I think for a society to function, it's impossible to have a culture of deceit... I think the less lying that you have in society, the fewer Bernie Madoffs that you have, the better off the society is. I think you have to be very careful not to go overboard in appreciating the stategic virtues of lying.

 


 

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Comments [9]

Why would Leaders Lie, the following may help explain.

The Wondering Whiz-herd of Washington

Sometimes it’s easy to relate an allegoric story and its characters to its intended subject. Sometimes it’s not even recognized that the characters in a story are meant to be symbolic representatives of anything. So when attempting to use a story or its characters to convey an allegoric relationship to another context there is the potential for the misapplication of the intended dimension of the character’s quality with the perceived dimension. Despite the hazard of such mismatched meanings between writer and reader, the attempt is justified on the “nothing ventured” principle.

As we journey down the crumbling brick road to the infamous ‘Embattled City’ of DC, we encounter many tales about the denizens of that city and of the strange and damaged creatures that inhabit the land of US. The citizens of US look to a collection of individuals collectively known as the Whiz-herd of Congress to provide the solutions to all their problems. These Whiz-herd representatives of the people are themselves characteristic of the creatures in US, and we gain an understanding of the US by understanding these Whiz-herds themselves.

What personalities, abilities and attitudes then do we find amongst the Whiz-herds revealing the explanations for the failures, dysfunction and problem producing actions that they impart upon the nation?

The Whiz-herd includes a number and a variety of scarecrow types. They range from those whose standard persona are the harbingers of doom to those who, like the reeds that famously stuff their heads, bend and twist with every wind that blows through the political fields. There is not much difference between the motivations at work within these effigies of political ineptitude that burn so brightly within their Party. Whether these Whiz-herds are fanning the flames of fear or of hatred or are simplistically following from the front of their constituencies’ anxieties about and toward the future and change, they are doing so with the intelligence and rationality that would be expected from someone with a brain made of desiccated pasture fodder. It is this deficiency in insight, comprehension and reasoning that most informs us about these Whiz-herds’ inability to serve the public and accomplish productive, efficient and important service to the nation. Can we really be astonished about the non-functioning of Congress when considering the composition of the compost that most assuredly is fermenting within their cranium and which, like its gardening counterpart, will only be useful when deeply buried within the ground and far out of sight.

The scarecrow dimension of the Whiz-herds is not the only or even necessarily the dominant characteristic among our members of Congress. There are plenty of Whiz-herds with the tin-man property incorporated into their construction. ...

The rest can be found at now4yourconsideration

Mar. 10 2013 12:46 PM

Why would Leaders Lie, the following may help explain.

The Wondering Whiz-herd of Washington

Sometimes it’s easy to relate an allegoric story and its characters to its intended subject. Sometimes it’s not even recognized that the characters in a story are meant to be symbolic representatives of anything. So when attempting to use a story or its characters to convey an allegoric relationship to another context there is the potential for the misapplication of the intended dimension of the character’s quality with the perceived dimension. Despite the hazard of such mismatched meanings between writer and reader, the attempt is justified on the “nothing ventured” principle.

As we journey down the crumbling brick road to the infamous ‘Embattled City’ of DC, we encounter many tales about the denizens of that city and of the strange and damaged creatures that inhabit the land of US. The citizens of US look to a collection of individuals collectively known as the Whiz-herd of Congress to provide the solutions to all their problems. These Whiz-herd representatives of the people are themselves characteristic of the creatures in US, and we gain an understanding of the US by understanding these Whiz-herds themselves.

What personalities, abilities and attitudes then do we find amongst the Whiz-herds revealing the explanations for the failures, dysfunction and problem producing actions that they impart upon the nation?

The Whiz-herd includes a number and a variety of scarecrow types. They range from those whose standard persona are the harbingers of doom to those who, like the reeds that famously stuff their heads, bend and twist with every wind that blows through the political fields. There is not much difference between the motivations at work within these effigies of political ineptitude that burn so brightly within their Party. Whether these Whiz-herds are fanning the flames of fear or of hatred or are simplistically following from the front of their constituencies’ anxieties about and toward the future and change, they are doing so with the intelligence and rationality that would be expected from someone with a brain made of desiccated pasture fodder. It is this deficiency in insight, comprehension and reasoning that most informs us about these Whiz-herds’ inability to serve the public and accomplish productive, efficient and important service to the nation. Can we really be astonished about the non-functioning of Congress when considering the composition of the compost that most assuredly is fermenting within their cranium and which, like its gardening counterpart, will only be useful when deeply buried within the ground and far out of sight.

The scarecrow dimension of the Whiz-herds is not the only or even necessarily the dominant characteristic among our members of Congress. There are plenty of Whiz-herds with the tin-man property incorporated into their construction. ...

The rest can be found at now4yourconsideration

Mar. 10 2013 12:46 PM
Joe B from BROOKLYN

Your guest so casually accuses George Bush of lying to get us into war. If so, then unlike FDR, Bush's lies succeeded, resulting in total catastrophe in terms of human lives and our nation's integrity.

So if Bush lied as you say, and the ramifications of his lies were so severe, then why aren't we talking about legal action against members of the Bush administration?

By the way, this guest was a chump.

And Brian, I wish you'd drop the poppy tone. I can't take your show seriously anymore.

Jan. 20 2011 09:24 PM
Gaetano Catelli

your guest is no stranger to "spin" (as you seemed obviously aware).

Jan. 19 2011 09:37 PM
Susan Lee Schwartz from Suffern, NY

A society cannot function, suggests your guest, John Mearsheimer, when lies determine policy. The public school system is failing because this is true, and no one in the media, including your station will talk truth to power. Here are some Essential Questions ( the EQ leads the way to genuine solutions).

Why are the administrations of schools lying about the reasons for the failure of the schools?This is THE question that no one in this country explores?

The answer is simple. They need to point the finger of blame away from their enormous mismanagement. Teachers are their fall-guys, and the media everywhere never really investigates the truth, although all the reformershave contacted the media with the truth.

It is administration's criminal mismanagement of the schools and their removal of the genuine professional practitioners from the schools-- by the thousands-- which have left our future citizens bereft of the LEARNING SKILLS they need. Klein and Rhee for example, spin the truth and lie when they can, because they know YOU and the press will let them lie, and put them forth as 'experts,' with no rebuttal by the genuine professionals who know what learning looks like. There is a TOTAL blackout of any authoritative voices that would counter the lies.

Essential Question 2: How can the bureaucrats who run the schools get away with the lies they put out about those 'bad' teachers, or the need for 'tests' to meet the real standards? The media gives these 'experts' the airtime, and the bully pulpit, and never tells the incredible stories of administrative shenanigans, easily available in NY Teacher, for example. The media never publishes or airs the important conversations about learning that must take place. THAT is why the internet will be the go-to place for truth. These powerful administrators, often from the business world, with no real education background, slander and lie with impunity with no accountability for their actions or words, and worse, are rewarded for lying.
Listen to the interview with Perdaily site's creator Lenny Isenberg on Uprising, for the answer.http://archive.kpfk.org/parchive/mp3/kpfk_110118_080030uprising.MP3., or the interviews today and tomorrow. Perdaily.com is new, but it is building the 'architecture' for a 'clearing-house' where educators can link to each other, and come together to hear what is being said-- a piece of 'cyber-real estate' where our voices can be accessed by the people, by educators and by the media. Go to perdaily.com and read my essay A National Scandal which deals with the lies that have deprived Americans (who happen to be teachers) of their Constitutional right to due process.

Jan. 19 2011 06:52 PM
Jonathan

Wow, this guy is extremely naive!!! You have to be kidding me, he believed Rumsfeld et al? And he's a prof of political science...go figure.

Jan. 19 2011 10:59 AM
Marc from Brooklyn

A mere two names from antiquity should answer this question: Themistocles, and Alcibiades. The former lied because the people were too cheap to see to their own interests. Ultimately he was driven from power. The latter lied because he was by nature a slimy SoB. He was accepted back, and screwed the Athenians a second time. In short, leaders lie because the people are stupid.

Jan. 19 2011 10:49 AM
Hugh Sansom

Interesting that WNYC titles this section "Everybody Lies". That's a lie, of course, but it's the kind that mainstream, knee-jerk media make in order to excuse the lies of those they normally treat as never lying, like US government officials. Was it last week that Brian Lehrer had David Brooks equating right-wingers' hysterical advocacy of assassination with progressives' charge that Bush and Cheney lied and conspired to get the US into the Iraq war? Bush did lie. People charging him with lying are telling the truth.

-----
In general, I support the privilege people have of remaining anonymous in web forums. 'Martin Chuzzlewit' puts that to the test. As often, he is on -- hiding behind a false front -- to libel a guest with whom he disagrees.

Mearsheimer and Walt compiled facts and synthesized an already well-established case regarding the crippling effect on US standing in the world of US government groveling to the Israel lobby.

'Martin Chuzzlewit' should speak with greater care, and honesty. His libelous screeds against critics of Israel, or the Israel lobby, are actionable.

Jan. 19 2011 10:15 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Oh, wow, this is too rich !!

THIS author talking about THIS activity is surreal.

This author has inflamed anti-semitism around the world in the last three years and his work is cited repeatedly by bigots to support their case.....not just against Israel (the usual disclaimer).....but Jews in general.

However, unlike the lefties who whine here about allowing conservative guests on the show, I do not object to his voice being heard. Let it speak for itself.

Jan. 19 2011 09:57 AM

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