Ahead by a nose

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HOLLYWOOD 2016 146 VANITY FAIR www.vanityfair.com nn Romney gave the game away four years of the Republican presidential contender in 2012 spelled it all out in a way that should have been embarrassing to everyone involved in politics. A Democratic political operative named Hilary Rosen had commented publicly in a CNN interview with Anderson Cooper that Ann Romney never worked a day in her life. This overlooked the fact that, as a homemaker, Romney had successfully A ILLUSTRATIONS BY BARRY BLITT AHEAD BY A NOSE Donald Trumps whoppers have turned the media focus from gaffesthe fuel of election coverage pastto lies. But all that fact-checking wont keep a liar out of the White House TRUMPERY The statements of one man above all have pushed the media to call a lie a lie when rst reported. raised five nearly identical, Wasp-perfect sons. Five out of veit almost dees the laws of physics. Republicans leapt on Rosens remark as an insult to women who had chosen to stay home and raise a fam - ily rather than pursue a career in the work- force. This is a substantial bloc of voters, especially in the Republican Party. It was Ann Romneys role in this staged melo - drama to be deeply oended and hurt by Rosens remark. But she missed her cue and instead she called Rosens comment an MICHAEL KINSLEY HOLLYWOOD 2016 147 www.vanityfair.com VANITY FAIR early birthday present. This was a gaffea word that barely exists outside the world of politics but has come to be the principal mechanism by which politicians and the press keep things moving along. Hil - ary Rosens comment, which led to Ann Romneys comment, was also a gae. As we all know, a gae is when a politician tells the truth. (If I hear that line one more time, Ill scream, says Arianna. A pause. Darling, she adds.) Or, more subtly, a gaffe occurs when a politician or someone in the political world departs from the script and acciden - tally says whats really on his or her mind. Ann Romney revealed that she was not hurt or distressed but delighted that a prominent Democrat had committed a gae. A feigned dynamic is central to the gae-o-rama that American politics has becomewhich in turn plays to the growing role of umbrage in many corners of American culture. A variant on outright umbrage is the sor - supposed victim of a gaffe is not enraged but deeply saddened. Saddened suggests a certain dignity and seriousness: You are far too big a person to take oense at your opponents offensive remark. You are just - ity should drive him or her to such depths of depravity and gaery. T his election season, a rival has arisen to challenge the gae as the essential fuel that keeps politics chugging along. Its known as the lie. A lie is a much more straightforward matter than a gae. In recent elections, gaes have been given far more atten - tion than lies: John Kerry saying he was for the Iraq war before he was against it; Mitt Romney eectively dening 47 percent of the electorate as freeloaders. But in the past year, fact- checking, which had begun to get real traction in 2008, has become all the rage among the of analy sis, comes along. (Analysis is newspaper code for this is the real skinny just ignore all of our earlier stu.) But there are lies and then there are lies. Magazines have always had fact-checkersover - worked, underpaid, and often amaz- ingly attractive (its best to stay on their good side)who excel at nding mis- takes by a writer before an article appears. But it isnt even their job to correct delib- erate lies by the subject of a piece. A ny analysis of lying and its role in democracy must pause to consider what is probably the greatest lie ever to grace our politics: Bill Clintons magnificent I did not have sexual relations with that woman, of 1998. Its worthy of study by anyone with political ambitions (though not just anyone could pull it o). This lie had ev - erything. Above all, it was an actual attempt to mislead people on a concrete question of factand, for a time, it even worked. Most po- litical lies are not intended to actually change anyones mind. Its usually too late for that. Ordinary political lies are merely intended to sow confusion and sprinkle a bit of doubt. If lying politicians can supply a reed to their own supporters who are grasping for one, the job will have been done. A great political lie should not be com - plicated. Subject matter is important. A run- of-the-mill lie may concern itself with some minor or ancient indiscretion. A somewhat grander lie will be about a matter of policy, such as saying you have always supported Medicare when as a governor you opposed it. Taking the hard waythe eastern ascent of Everestis what turns a good lie into a masterpiece. The subject will return from policy to the personal. At its best, it will in - volve sexor, rather, as Clinton would have it, it will not involve sex. Orand this is the truly glorious part of his liewhether or not it involves sex will become the very issue. A great political lie, when it works, performs triple duty. It deceives people about the sub - ject at hand. It deceives people about the character of the politician in question. And it provides a distraction. It is good to be focusing on lies again, be - cause our next president will be a liar. How do I know? Every candidate who survives into election year is a proven liar. Maybe Lincoln Chafee or (is it possible?) Rick Perry has never told a conscious, knowing lie. Where are they now? But Hillary Clin - ton has, and so have all those Republicans, including, of course, Donald Trump. Still, I would rather have a congenital gaer as president than a congenital liar. It would be nice not to have to make the choice.  media. This is an excellent develop - ment, which I am not here to mock. But if I were here to mock it, I might point out the triviality or irrelevance of many lies that become issues in the campaign. Does it really America in 1959 (eeing Castros revolution in Cuba, as he claimed for years) or in 1956 (well before the revolution, as he eventually admit - ted)? Well, yes, it does matter, though only be- cause if he lied about this, then it says some- thing about his character. But does it say enough to justify the time taken away from discussion of what to do about Iranian nukes or income inequality? As coverage of cam - paign mechanics and triing details becomes more pervasive, coverage of issues a president will actually have to deal with is crowded out. Publications such as Politico (confession: I used to work there; its a swell place) and an innity of Web sites and cable-TV shows have all raised the importance of trivia. So, the role of the gae is receding. The old-fashioned lie is making a comeback. Question for today: Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Its actually a puzzle to me why anyone takes gaffes seriously at all. Why shouldnt the words that a candidate has carefully crafted be considered a more accu - rate reection of actual opinion and charac- ter than the words uttered by accident? This must arise from a belief that, while a lie is by denition purposeful, a gae has accidentally bubbled up from some unattractive (or in - which his campaign manager has no control. A deliberate lie is worse than an accidental gae. Lies by politicians are inevitable, and it has taken Donald Trumpwith his claim that thousands of people in New Jersey (with its heavy Arab population) cheered the de - struction of the Twin Towers; with his claim that 81 percent of white murder victims are killed by blacks; and with a lot moreto push the American media to call a lie a lie when rst reported, rather than let it sit there uncontested until the second wave, that KINSLEY CHORUS LIE As gaes recede in importance, the old-fashioned untruth is making a comeback. celebrate?

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