You Lie!

In an article on why it's wrong to call someone whose accuracy is deeply questionable a liar is out of bounds, Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal goes full Godwin:

The Obama campaign's resurrection of "liar" as a political tool is odious because it has such a repellent pedigree. It dates to the sleazy world of fascist and totalitarian propaganda in the 1930s. It was part of the milieu of stooges, show trials and dupes. These were people willing to say anything to defeat their opposition. Denouncing people as liars was at the center of it. The idea was never to elevate political debate but to debauch it.

The purpose of calling someone a liar then was not merely to refute their ideas or arguments. It was to nullify them, to eliminate them from participation in politics. That's what is so unsettling about a David Axelrod or David Plouffe following accusations of dishonesty and lies with "whether that person should sit in the Oval Office." And that is followed by President Obama himself feeding the new line in stump speeches without himself ever using the L-word.

For those who are new to the idea, Godwin's law has it, on one corollary at least, that one loses an argument as soon as one compares one's opponent to Hitler.  What's ironic about this employment of it is that there is a much easier argument against the "liar" accusation: it's not true. 

Sadly, that is a road Mr.Henninger has not taken.  He can't, of course, because that road is closed.

5 thoughts on “You Lie!”

  1. When repudiating his previously stated policy of lowering taxes on all Americans, Mitt Romney said,

    I know that you and your running mate keep saying that, and I know it’s a popular things to say with a lot of people, but it’s just not the case. Look, I got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it — (scattered laughter) — but that — that is not the case, all right?

    Any response from Henninger?

    It’s okay to call somebody a liar as long as you do so implicitly? And if he’s going to go the “Nazi” route, it’s okay to call the President – the African-American President – a boy as long as you do so by implication? There’s a bit of history to that sort of verbiage that hits closer to home than tropes about fascism.

    Even giving Henninger the undeserved benefit of the doubt, has he not heard of John Sununu?

    Keeping John Sununu on staff – and at this point it’s reasonable to infer that he’s kept on because he’ll make statements like that (or that the President is “un-American”, “lazy”, “disengaged”, a product of “the Chicago political slash felon environment” and the like) – isn’t much different from giving Joe Wilson a high five.

    When Romney backers engage in “liar” rhetoric, their supporters go around giving them rhetorical “high fives” (similarly, Joe Wilson became a Tea Party / Ann Coulter hero) and people like Henninger are (un)suprisingly silent. It’s also the political right, not the left, that embraces people like Ann Coulter and turns them into unofficial proxies for its campaigns. I’m not accusing Henninger of hypocrisy here – he knows exaclty what he’s doing. It’s gutter-level partisan “politics as usual”.

  2. Aaron found some good pieces, and Wonkette also rounded up some gems:
    I think my favorite parts of Henninger's argument are the suggestions that, 1) there is no way of determining whether a charge of "liar" is true or not, and 2) that no politician ever called another a liar before the 1930s.  I imagine the Founding Fathers, not to mention the ancient Greeks and Romans, would be amused by that assertion…

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