Saturday, December 30, 2006

V.B. Price: Twisting truth

The idea that `all governments lie' is portrayed in posters

I. F. Stone

As the new year approaches, the warmth of a long thaw in politics and rationality seems to be commencing.

Our world is not one in which any kind of optimism, cautious or otherwise, can flourish without an addiction to denial. Still, we harbor hopes, grounded in age-old wisdom.

Living long enough to have exhausted the last shreds of political idealism, some of us realize the truth of what the greatest American muckraker of the McCarthy and Vietnam War eras, I.F. Stone, meant when he wrote that "all governments lie." We've see this through the lens of logic and common sense since the invasion of Iraq.

Myra MacPherson, in her new biography of Stone, tells how the dissenting journalist was hounded by the FBI, which collected a secret dossier on him. Comprised of thousands of pages, the dossier was compiled from years of surveillance and Dumpster-diving by agents of the executive branch who, like their various presidential bosses, were sworn to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution - but not from little guys with coke-bottle glasses and noses for truth, but from tyrants in disguise as public servants.

That all governments lie is a sobering and liberating reality to accept. And in the elections this November, we saw that it wasn't only I.F. Stone who comprehended the absurd falsehoods and ironies of selling candidates and ideologies like pain killers and suppositories, attacking enemies as if they were diseases.

With the Democratic victories, we saw that perhaps the greatest political propaganda machine ever devised in American politics, created and funded by the Republican Party, could actually fail to persuade people with its lies.

We can see the same lessons come to life in the setting of another political reality - in Latin America - at the National Hispanic Culture Center's Latin American Poster Show on display through March. "Public Aesthetics and Mass Politics," as the exhibition is subtitled, would make I.F. Stone feel completely vindicated, though, apparently, he never felt otherwise.

All governments and all political movements lie, and many of them justify the use of violent means to achieve their ends, spinning fear into tolerance for atrocities, a falsehood of the greatest magnitude.

In one poster, we see Augusto Pinochet, dictator of Chile, smiling like a saint at an adoring grandmother, as if he'd never been involved in the violent overthrow of an elected government.

In another poster, we see a haggard-looking Emiliano Zapata, with the quotation "Yo no lucho por ambiciones bastardos," translated as "I do not fight for ignoble causes," expressing a feeling that is shared by liars and truth-tellers alike.

If all governments lie, then it stands to reason that some lie more harmfully than others. In 2007, we'll have a chance for the first time in years to see distinctly if Republicans or Democrats are the most damaging liars.

E.W. Scripps Co.
© 2006 The Albuquerque Tribune