Truth be Told, Book on Lying Could Not be More Timely
When Ralph Keyes says his new book on lying in America is doing well, he might be telling the truth.
Then again, Keyes, a Yellow Springs author and social commentator, also implied that it is wise to tell curious journalists that one’s book is 16th on the best-seller lists. The two most-quoted tabulations publicize only the top 15.
Keyes’s publisher, St. Martin’s Press, was wise to bring out The Post-Truth Era in the desperate, dwindling days of a take-no-prisoners presidential race.
“I’ve been doing all of these call-in talk shows,” Keyes said last week. “All anybody wants to talk about is who is the bigger liar, Bush or Kerry.
“The point that fascinates me is the lengths to which voters will go to defend their candidate’s lying. ‘My guy’s lie is understandable, but your guy’s lie is contemptible.’ ”
Lying has become such an immutable part of political vernacular that the only accepted premise in a discussion on the subject is who lies most. “To politicians,” Keyes said, “the question ‘Will it fly?’ is much more important than ‘Is it true?’ ”
The author ventured, “Democrats are more likely to be dishonest about their persona. Republicans, on a broader scale, are more likely to deceive us on policy: their intentions in Iraq, the numbers involved in the tax cut and Medicare benefits.”
Although Democrats have lied through their teeth on matters of great moral consequence — “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” — Keyes said the Dems seem to have a penchant for what he calls “dippy, little lies.”
When Hillary Clinton was introduced to mountain climber Sir Edmund Hillary, she boasted that she had been named for him, even though he was an obscure New Zealand beekeeper six years away from Mount Everest and fame when she was born in 1947.
Al Gore kept repeating a story about being sung to sleep in his childhood with a particular union lullaby until it was pointed out that the ditty was not written until he was 27.
Keyes rated Bill Clinton a “genius-grade” flimflammer on marijuana, the military and Monica as well as on small-potatoes prevarications, making one wonder if the former president told the dippy lies to keep in practice for upcoming whoppers.
Keyes said of the current state of lying in America, “In the post-truth era, we don’t just have truth and lies but a third category of ambiguous statements that are not exactly the truth but fall just short of a lie. Enhanced truth, it might be called, neo-truth, soft truth, faux truth, truth lite.”
Among his many insights:
* Americans tell an average of 13 lies a week.
* The most common two lies are “I’m fine” and “I’m sorry, I can’t come to the phone right now.” Somewhere in the top 10 is “No, that dress doesn’t make you look fat at all.”
* Men lie to impress; women, to oblige. Wrote Keyes, “Men specialize in self-aggrandizing lies” such as ” ‘I just swung a big deal — huge’; women in charitable ones” like ” ‘Love the dress’ or fibs that are self-protective” including ” ‘I eat mostly low-fat foods.’ ”
* The most commonplace lies often are told to protect the liar as well as the lied to. We answer the offhand inquiry about our health with “I’m fine” because no one wants to know the vivid particulars of irritable bowel syndrome.
In his research, Keyes heard lying euphemized in many ways, though long after the book is history, he likely will recall a psychiatrist who said of a habitually lying patient, “He is someone for whom the truth is temporarily unavailable.”
Mike Harden is a Dispatch columnist