As the 2012 election approaches, the two opposing camps have been stepping up their attack ads and deploying their minions, spinions, surrogates and proxies to do their dirty work.
One of the stock attack tactics in politics is to lie. Naturally, there are various types of lies. For example, one way to lie is to engage in intentional distortion of a person’s position, as was done with Obama’s remarks about building businesses. There is also the option of just saying something that is an outright falsehood, as Obama did regarding Romney’s position on abortion.
This sort of deceit (or error, if one wants to be excessively kind) would make some sort of sense if the candidates did not have plenty of legitimate grounds on which to criticize or attack each other, thus leading me to wonder (once again) why people lie in such matters when the truth should suffice.
Romney could have restricted himself to legitimately and truthfully go after Obama about the weak economy, morally dubious drone strikes and so on. Likewise, Obama had plenty of legitimate points to bring up about Romney (mining the Republican attacks on Romney would have provided him with plenty of material).
I suspect that one reason why such lies are told (as opposed to mere errors) is that they are essentially attempts to use the straw man fallacy that slide from being mere distortions to actual lies. The appeal is, of course, that the straw man works quite well as a rhetorical device and a lie that is a distortion would inherit this persuasive power.
Another reason such lies are told is that they are easy. After all, while politicians will make gaffes, getting a good one is often a matter of luck. As such, making one by distortion or just making one up is far more reliable. Since people are rather inclined to consume appealing lies hook, line and sinker and ignore unappealing truths, such deceit can generally be conducted safely. Weirdly, while politicians seem to have a ticket to lie, if a company is misleading about the health value of a chocolate spread, then they can be forced to pay a settlement. This suggests that, just perhaps, politicians lie because they can.
I also suspect that some of the lies are told because the person actually believes what they are saying. As such, they are saying something untrue, yet think it is accurate because of their political bias. That is, it feels true to them so they assume that it is. As I have discussed in other posts, people tend to suspend their rational faculties when it comes to politics-they feel their way rather than thinking their way.
Another possibility is what could be called the story-teller effect. When people get talking and telling stories, they have, (as Aristotle noted in the Poetics) a natural tendency to embellish the story to make it more pleasing to the audience. Also, (as Hobbes noted) people like to speak well of themselves and poorly of their competition and this leads to a natural tendency towards exaggeration of one’s virtues and the other person’s vices. These tendencies seem to be so natural that people probably do not even realize that they moving away from the truth, especially when they get caught up in the emotions they are trying to inspire in the audience.