Politicians should have as many words for lying as Inuits have for snow. To tell the truth in politics requires only the inverse of the courtroom oath: I promise to tell some of the truth at least some of the time, so help me Fox News. Now a right-wing political group has asked the Supreme Court to make lying in politics a First Amendment Right. And you thought nothing got done in Washington.
Politicians are already entitled to taxpayer-funded cars, junkets, pensions, and full-time salaries for part-time jobs. Now the Supreme Court is weighing whether politicians are entitled to their own truth as well. No wonder a recent Rasmussen poll measured a puny 6% approval rating for Congress.
There’s no crying in baseball, but it’s hard to imagine politics without lying. Denying a politician the pleasure of the dodge, the shade, the evasion, and the verbal wink would be like wanting a world with only one shade of blue. Still, giving political lies constitutional sanction would complete our journey from not being able to lie about chopping down the cherry tree to denying the tree was there in the first place.
Any politician can lie. I once had a client caught in a massage parlor of ill repute. He claimed he was there to interview a witness, admittedly without his pants. In the old days, that was a scandal. These days, that’s amateur hour.
We are at the dawn of a new age of political lie, the falsehood that unashamedly proclaims the ridiculous as self-evident. This next-level lie claims that the smoking gun was just having a cigarette if indeed the gun existed at all. Not just any politician can tell a lie of such towering ambition. Only the most accomplished of the next generation of political prevaricators can even attempt a feat of such daring and skill that it leaves us in gasping admiration.
That is how Texas Republican Greg Abbott makes me feel. In a state over-populated with politicians fluent in hooey, Abbott deserves special acclaim for what he recently did when he rolled out his education plan. It’s actually a privilege to be the one to tell you what he did. It’s that special.
Abbott, who is running for Texas Governor against Wendy Davis, opposes universal pre-K. Instead, he wants to improve early childhood education with what he calls “gold standard program” that will direct state funding to pre-K programs showing the greatest success.
He ran into a bit of a problem on page 21 of his plan that lists three ways to measure the effectiveness of a pre-K program: having the teacher observe, judging the student by his or her work, and “Direct Assessments, norm referenced standardized tests”.
Texas is where the Education Spring rebellion against high-stakes testing started. A grassroots group of angry mothers known officially as Texans Advocating for Meaningful Assessment and unofficially as Mothers Against Drunk Testing convinced the legislature to roll back the number of tests required to graduate high school from 15 to 5, and a recent poll found that 56% of Texans want to get rid of the rest of them. Making kids put down their crayons so they can take standardized tests plays as well in Texas as advocating the abolition of tackle football.
Despite clearly stating in his plan that he wanted “assessments at the beginning and end of the year” for pre-K students who don’t now take standardized tests, Abbott denied that he was advocating increased testing.
“Suggestions to the contrary are absurd,” said his spokesman, whose future in political lore should be secure for then claiming that the proposal that 4-year-olds take “norm referenced standardized tests” was “there for informational purposes only.”
It almost makes one weep with wonder. Claiming that one’s proposals exist without meaning or context brings us closer to a more perfect union. We truly live in the golden age of political deceit, thanks in part to pioneers such as Abbott. With humble respect, I bow down to my betters, and that’s the truth. You can believe me. I’m in politics.
On Apr. 23, 2014, Cagle Cartoons syndicated this column.