As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to take up the case next month of an Ohio law that makes it illegal to lie about a politician, the Cato Institute and P.J. O’Rourke are adding their voices to the debate through an amicus brief.
One suspects that the nation’s highest court seldom has encountered a legal argument that begins in this manner:
“I am not a crook.”
“Read my lips: no new taxes!”
“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
“If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it.”
While George Washington may have been incapable of telling a lie, his successors have not had the same integrity. The campaign promise (and its subsequent violation), as well as disparaging statements about one’s opponent (whether true, mostly true, mostly not true, or entirely fantastic), are cornerstones of American democracy. Indeed, mocking and satire are as old as America, and if this Court doesn’t believe amici, it can ask Thomas
Jefferson, “the son of a half-breed squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Or perhaps it should ponder, as Grover Cleveland was forced to, “Ma, ma, where’s my pa?”
In modern times, “truthiness”—a “truth” asserted “from the gut” or because it “feels right,” without regard to evidence or logic5—is also a key part of political discourse. It is difficult to imagine life without it, and our political discourse is weakened by Orwellian laws that try to prohibit it.
After all, where would we be without the knowledge that Democrats are pinko-communist flag-burners who want to tax churches and use the money to fund abortions so they can use the fetal stem cells to create pot-smoking lesbian ATF agents who will steal all the guns and invite the UN to take over America? Voters have to decide whether we’d be better off electing Republicans, those hateful, assault-weapon-wielding maniacs who believe that George Washington and Jesus Christ incorporated the nation after a Gettysburg reenactment and that the only thing wrong with the death penalty is that it isn’t administered quickly enough to secular-humanist professors of Chicano studies.