Democratic Party National Chairman Tim Kaine’s insulting, damaging and dumb performance before the media in the days leading to the election warrant a brief revival of a monthly award regularly handed out on Ethics Alarms’ predecessor, The Ethics Scoreboard. It is the David Manning Trivial Liar Award, and since I handed the last one out here almost exactly a year ago, I may have to make it a yearly tradition. As I wrote on November 3, 2009, shortly after this blog debuted,
“The David Manning Trivial Liar” highlights the public lies nobody could possibly believe. It was named for Sony’s “defense” when it was revealed that the movie critic, “David Manning,” whom they advertised as raving about lousy Sony films like “The Animal” (Starring Rob Schneider as a guy who accidentally has animal DNA grafted…oh, never mind…), was a fake invented by their marketing division. Sony said, in essence, that it was no big deal because everyone knows those critical raves in movie ads are mostly lies anyway. I didn’t carry the feature over to Ethics Alarms, because the kind of transparent, shameless, “I’m going to say this anyway even though it will have America rolling its eyes” lie the feature was designed to condemn didn’t come around every month.”
It sure came around this month.
Tim Kaine went on every news show he could and told every reporter that predictions of a Republican wave sweeping Democrats out of office were grossly exaggerated; that his internal figures showed lots of enthusiasm among Democratic voters, and that he was confident that the Democrats would hold on to both the Senate and the House.
He was lying through his teeth. His interviewers knew it. Anyone who had been awake during the last few months knew it. Everyone, but everyone, knew that a Republican takeover of the House was inevitable, and that the only question was by how much. The G.O.P. picked up 60 House seats last night. If Kaine was telling the truth when he said he was “confident” Democrats would lose fewer than the 36 seats that would give Republican control, then he is an incompetent and a fool, meaning that the Democrats were led by an incompetent and a fool, helping to send them to defeat. But Kaine is no fool. He lied, and lied publicly and repeatedly, even though he had to know that while he was lying, everyone would know it.
His logic was the same as Sony’s excuse for putting out David Manning reviews. Nobody expects a party chairman to come out before an election and say, “We’re toast. The polls I’ve been reading show we’re going to get our clocks cleaned.” So Kane knew his cheery message would be taken as optimistic spin, not as a literal attempt to fool anyone. If nobody is deceived, then it isn’t a lie, right? It’s only a lie if someone believes you…right?
In a word: ARGHHHHHHHH!
This is why American democracy is at a nadir. This is why the public distrusts its institutions and elected leaders. A man like Tim Kaine goes on TV over and over again to assert something he knows isn’t true. If he doesn’t want people to believe him, why do it? If it’s an ineffective lie, then all it accomplishes is to tell us this: our elected leaders and political figures have so little respect for the truth that they will lie for no reason at all, and so little respect for the public that they think it won’t matter to us.
That message does real harm. That message kills trust. And when trust is dead, so is democracy.
Tim Kaine didn’t have to lie. We knew he was Custer, surrounded by the Sioux; we expected him to talk bravely and hopefully. He could have said, in response to questions about whether Democrats were facing a massacre,
“Well, we have a lot of good candidates running, and we feel we can be competitive. We’ve fought hard in these campaigns, and it is always difficult when economic conditions are in a slump. The public usually will blame the party in power, even when, as in this case, it has done the best job possible. But we’re not throwing in the towel. American democracy is a wonderful thing, and the Democratic Party is determined to honor the process and respect the will of the people, whatever November two brings. We certainly hope we can surprise those pundits who have written us off.”
Would that have been so hard, Tim? Instead, you had to insult my intelligence by saying that you expected that surprise, that you really believed the House would stay blue. You still lost the House, and you lost any reason for a citizen to believe what you say in the future. It was so pointless and stupid, and because it took one more chunk out of America’s trust in its leadership, it was irresponsible as well as dishonest.
Meet David Manning.