July 2, 2006  ·  Lessig

The most extraordinary exchange at the McCain event last night was an exchange with McCain prompted by a question by Jonathan Zittrain. Zittrain had asked whether McCain had ever changed his mind. McCain answered that his core philisophies hadn’t changed, but that he had made mistakes that he had acknowledged. He then told the story of his debacle in the South Carolina primary in 2000, when he had said that the use of the Confederate Flag by South Carolina was a matter of states rights.

McCain said that after he lost the primary, he realized this was a mistake. More than a mistake, it was, as he said last night, a “bald face lie” that had ruined him in South Carolina, even though he had told it because he thought it would help him win South Carolina. And he described how he had returned to South Carolina to apologize for the mistake after the election.

What was so striking about this was, of course, not that he had made a “mistake.” But that his mistake was in telling a “bald face lie.” Had Z had a chance at a follow-up, I would have loved to hear the answer to: “So were there any ‘bald face lies’ that worked out for you? Or are you still open to telling ‘bald face lies’ that might help elect you?”

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    “Or are you still open to telling ‘bald face lies’ that might help elect you?”

    Hee hee … I suppose the honest answer would be “Sure! I might be running for PRESIDENT. I’ve got to appease hard-core theocrats, homophobes, reactionaries, xenophobes, war-mongers, racists, and robber-barrons, while not alienating too much of the rest of the country. You can’t do that and be really truthful at the same time”.

    I think a good (if still blunt) non-trivial question would be better phrased as:
    “What kinds of ‘bald face lies’ do you anticipate being necessary in future electoral campaigns?”

  • http://b Paul M

    His “mistake” wasn’t making the bald-faced lie, it was that it didn’t work for him. Lying is an integral part of politics, and he who posseses this art is a better-tooled polititian. Any totally honest and ethical person cannot compete in the political arena, and thus all the corruption problems. I was taught to be honest, tell the truth, and thats what I do. My not cheating in life has absolutely put me at a diadvantage and I have accepted this. But I also chuckle when I read articles like the ex-NY city Police chief who now has been caught and convicted of commiting crimes. In the long run, this corruption will bring this 250 yr old country down.

  • Rand Fitzpatrick

    It’s a shame the spam filter isn’t working well.

    In any case – it’s a very mixed bag when a politician admits to lying like this. On one hand, it points to something that everyone assumes, but hopes isn’t true, namely that politicians lie like fish swim. On the other hand, it is a moment when the politician in question has admitted wrong-doing, and has a chance to redress his actions (and possibly apologize). A bit of a crisis evolves, however, as the politician who admits lying is suddenly the only one who admits to it… and while this lie might be less damaging than those of his compatriots, it is an *acknowledged* lie, and therefore potentially far more damaging to him.

    How can we clean up corruption in the political milieu if we crucify those politicians who start to come clean about the un-truths they’ve traded in?

    Sometimes the whole system just depresses me.

  • http://www.dress4moments.de Brautmode

    now it is half a year later and a lot of things changed in the political scene in the United States. I`m watching it here from germany, but as I see now that a lot of people also changed here mind (even if they did not change their core philosophie too ;-)) I think it was also a very famous american who said in the past: only a very stupid man will never change his mind (Al Capone ;-)) So let us watch the development in the next time, it seems to be very interesting.
    Greetings from Germany