To A Politician, Vocalizing Opposition To His Policy Is Lying

From Paul Jacob, always a fan of citizen initiatives and ballot measures*:

Lying is objectionable, of course. But only certain kinds of lies — perjury, or lies used to steal from someone — should be punished by force of law.

Some people, however, are forever seeking new ways to harass other people. Especially, it seems, when it comes to perfectly legal activities that these busybodies happen to dislike. For example, petitioning to post a question on an election ballot. A process already suffering a multitude of burdensome restrictions in many states.

Arizona has just passed a law to penalize petition circulators who deliberately misrepresent the content of a petition they’re passing around. Anyone who does lie about a petition is behaving badly. But how can this law be enforced without sending intimidating “truth squads” to follow petitioners around, making their job even tougher? And how does one distinguish between “lies” and the often very sharply different understanding of issues that we always observe in political debate?

Jacob, being a fan of citizen initiative, understands that this is a thinly-veiled attempt to intimidate or derail potential initiatives that politicians don’t like– such as term limits. As he points out, the definition of “lying” can easily be expanded from saying something contradictory to provable facts, to saying something contradictory to the government official’s interpretation of the purpose of a ballot initiative.

But I’ve got another idea. If it’s good for the gander, why isn’t it good for the goose? How about we start prosecuting elected officials for “lying.” Or, perhaps, for being duplicitous and deceptive enough about their true motives to be considered a lie by those of us who disagree with them. Like here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (for starters). We could even go back to the meaning of the terms “sexual relations”, “no new taxes”, or “I am not a crook” for the historical perspective.

I think politicians might want to reconsider making “lying” a crime, and stick to the known definitions of fraud. They have enough trouble keeping their noses clean as it is.

* There are some who absolutely love the idea of citizen ballot initiatives. We call those people “populists”, not “libertarians”. While direct democracy can often restrain government in ways that the government itself would otherwise refuse, it is often used for much less noble purposes. As with anything related to government, the methods used to arrive at a decision don’t mean squat if the decision itself is a poor one.

  • Dana

    We have a great “informational” ad here in Nebraska regarding these petitions.

    “Would you give your personal information to a total stranger just because they asked?”

    The concerned woman asks. Then goes on to explain that this is exactly what you are doing when you give your information to someone with a petition. No actual data about how often this is used to steal information, just fear in an attempt to stop these actions altogether.