The Phony Campaign

2015-10-11 Update

Pun Salad took a small hiatus to check out Nashville, Tennessee last week, but we're back again, and plenty of phoniness has gone on in the interim. There are no changes to our PredictWise-based lineup. Carly Fiorina proved to be a one-week wonder at the top of the phony charts; Jeb resumes his usual position in first, with Hillary nipping at his heels:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,110,000 +10,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 534,000 +52,000
"Carly Fiorina" phony 511,000 -1,959,000
"Donald Trump" phony 445,000 +78,000
"Ben Carson" phony 229,000 +121,000
"Joe Biden" phony 206,000 +53,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 178,000 +32,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 133,000 +2,000
"Chris Christie" phony 117,000 +1,000

Note: today's image is just one of the many results gettyimages returns when searching for "distrust". Something about it appealed to me… but I can't put my finger on it.

  • Phoniness is a perennial pundit topic; when you can't think of anything to write about, and a deadline approacheth, you can always write about authenticity at least once every campaign season. NYT writer (and Dartmouth prof) Brendan Nyhan grabbed that life preserver a few days ago: "Hillary Clinton’s Authenticity Problem, and Ours" Is Hillary really all that phony?

    In reality, all politicians are strategic about the image and behaviors they present to voters. Some just hide the artifice better than others.

    Prof Nyhan's article contains no points we haven't seen (and linked to) before, but it's link-filled as befits his even-handed academic take. He glosses over the particular manifestation of Hillary's phoniness: she does a very poor job of masking her lust for political power.

  • Another professor, Greg Mankiw of Harvard, illustrates our thesis with a concrete example: Hillary's recent flipflop on the TPP trade deal: for it before she was against it. Prof Mankiw notes that most economists favor freer trade, and a lot of them have come out in favor of TPP. But a lot of economists (especally in academia) are also Democrats. The obvious question:

    So, will those economists who like Clinton start to turn against her? I doubt it. My guess is that most of them don't believe what she is now saying. They expect that once she moves back into the White House, she will return to the moderate view of trade deals that her husband championed. In other words, they are counting on her being untrustworthy. If they had reason to doubt her mendacity, then they would start to worry.

    Possible new slogan for the paraphernalia on sale Hillary store: "Trust her, she's lying."

  • Jonah Goldberg's column is similar in theme and tactfully headlined: "Flip-Flops Show Hillary’s Long on Ambition, Short on Principles". I would have gone with the first-paragraph zinger: "little more than political ambition wrapped in a pantsuit." Jonah reminds us that TPP is just the latest:

    In fact, finding evidence that Clinton operates this way is like looking for evidence that fire is hot. In 2008, when it was in her interest, Clinton was against federal “blanket rules” on guns; now she’s making extra-constitutional gun-grabbing the centerpiece of her campaign (at least this week, while a recent mass murder is still fresh in our memories). She long opposed same-sex marriage on principle, until the times required a new position. She initially thought the undercover videos of Planned Parenthood were “disturbing.” But within 48 hours, she was a stalwart defender of Planned Parenthood. As more — and more disturbing — videos emerged, she grew more adamant that the outrage wasn’t the fetal organ harvesting, but the videos exposing them.

    … and that's just the start.

  • Fox news personality Greta Van Susteren offers: "Free debate advice for Secretary Hillary Clinton: don’t be a phony". Strikes us as advising water not to be wet, (as Jonah notes) fire not to be so hot, or uranium nuclei to try to get along with fewer protons. But:

    “Tell us your views without careful hairsplitting to avoid taking on President Obama where you disagree or where you might disagree with certain segments of your party. In other words, blunt, straight talk – whatever it may be.”

    Can you imagine what that would sound like? If she were restricted to "blunt, straight talk" revealing her inner thoughts and core values, ungilded, unframed? Here's my take:

    "I want to be president."

    I think that's about all she could say. Over and over, until her time was up.

  • Thomas Sowell has—count 'em—a one, two, three part set of columns written around the theme of "Charlatans and Sheep". Although none of our current candidates are mentioned, this is worth keeping in mind anyway:

    One of the secrets of successful magicians on stage is directing the audience's attention to something that is attractive or distracting, but irrelevant to what is actually being done. That is also the secret of successful political charlatans.

    Consider the message directed at business owners by Senator Elizabeth Warren and President Barack Obama -- "You didn't build that!"

    Assuming for the sake of argument that a man who owns a business simply inherited it from his father, what follows? That politicians can use the inherited resources better than the heir? Such a sweeping assumption has neither logic nor evidence behind it -- but rhetoric doesn't have to have logic or evidence to be politically effective.

    OK, those are the charlatans. The sheep? Those who are gullible enough to buy the spiel. I.e., way too many of today's voters.