The 1960’s White House Press corps frustration with press releases, basically intentional lies told to the press, was a foundation for the acceptable but not-so-inside term that became a fad board game called “Credibility Gap.” Younger journalists sought evidence, often “leaks”, supportive of contentions that the administration was lying about activities not authorized by congress. All too regularly, the evidence turned up.
In December 1962, at the annual meeting of the U.S. Inter-American Council, Senator Kenneth B. Keating (R-N.Y.) praised President John F. Kennedy’s prompt action in the Cuban Missile Crisis. But he said there was an urgent need for the United States to plug what he termed the “Credibility Gap” in U.S. policy on Cuba.
What was called a Credibility Gap has turned into a modern-day Credibility Challenge, and the acceptability of press releases becomes a daily fact check by the media, bloggers and political operatives, often intent upon using the slightest factual inconsistency as the edge of a wedge to cry liar. “Gotcha” moments begin as slips in fact checking, the slight exaggeration of basically correct information or outright intentional lies. The power of facts is in the ability to bludgeon opponents with inaccurate use of basic truths by finding flaws in logic or having a spokesperson whose credibility has previously been proven tainted.
Today’s “Credibility Gap” has mobilized technology to fact check or “Truth Meter” the “Truthiness,” from Stephen Colbert, of candidates on almost every communication that comes from the candidate, supporters or committees. Unfortunately even the “Truth Meter” indicates that the majority of what the main political candidates claim does not pass a truth test at the highest level, often because of the way alleged truths are used or abused. All too often facts are stretched and credibility is abused because absolute truth as a two-edged sword that has destroyed too many campaigns.
George H. W. Bush’s words “Read my lips, No new taxes” was a selling point in the 1988 presidential campaign, but it came back to haunt him when he was forced to compromise in the 1990 budget agreement and raise several taxes. In the 1992 primaries, Pat Buchanan raised the issue and in the general election, Bill Clinton used it to his advantage in defeating Bush. Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, created a no-new-taxes pledge and encouraged Republican candidates to sign it. A large number of congressional candidates signed, as did Bush’s primary rivals Jack Kemp and Pete du Pont. Bush at first refused to sign the pledge, but in 1987 eventually acquiesced.
Norquist still urges politicians to sign his tax pledge and claims that almost 50% of congressmen have taken the pledge. The 1988 Bush campaign joined other candidates in using the tax issue to attack Senator Bob Dole, who had not been clear on the subject. The exact phrase “Read my lips: no new taxes” was used first in the New Hampshire primary, and throughout the primary Bush’s pledge not to raise taxes was a consistent issue. The eventual proof of lack of “Truthiness” may have been central to Bush’s undoing.
With Trump, the national Republican party has openly condemned him regarding his absurd foreign policy positions. From their own words, (Trump’s) “vision of American influence and power in the world is wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle. He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence.”
Credibility issues for Clinton has always been an issue that Republicans have not been required to work too hard to prove there were “Gaps in the facts.” Essentially, when it was convenient to use selective facts or omit critical pieces of a dialogue, it became a Clinton trait to chose the shortest path characterized by statements that created the best possible interpretation of an issue rather than to tell the whole truth, which often involved less favorable articles of truth. And as such we have evolved an industry of fact checkers and “Truth Meters.”
The ease with which Clinton critics have piled mountains of unfavorable historic foul detritus on the Clinton legacy can be easily interpreted as the forty-plus year Clinton political saga that began with a 27-year-old first-year Arkansas Law School instructor running for congress in 1974. In a heavily Republican district, running against a respected incumbent, the Nixon Watergate embarrassments, Ford’s pardon of Nixon and a rising tide for Democrats almost brought Clinton victory.
It was not meant to be in 1974, but the lessons learned may have shaped all future races as well as Clinton interpretations of truths and lines that may or may not be crossed. After their 1975 wedding, Bill and Hillary rode a tide of anti-Nixon sentiment through the Jimmy Carter presidential campaign and into the Arkansas Attorney General’s office. The lengthy path is lettered with failures, but never for lack of effort to make changes they felt would improve the greater public. Critics point to facts that always question motives, particularly personal benefits derived along the way.
Donald Trump never shied away from taking a path that always yielded great personal benefit, and his heroes were always flashy or successful entrepreneurs (One reason he wants to be a cheerleader like PT Barnum!). Trump’s mantra may have been written as one of his accepted heroes stated, “Never give a sucker an even break” !And Trump readily also admits that he’s always in it – Trump Profits, It’s what he does! So why is anyone the least surprised when words that come out of Trump’s mouth are anything to the contrary of this mantra? As his supporters quickly defend his off the wall comment as it’s just “Trump being Trump.” And from his own mouth: “”Rules are meant to be broken.”“
The lengthy record of Trump businesses that have been through bankruptcy should be no surprise to any businessman who is basically a riverboat gambler, often playing with other people’s money, where ever possible. Many Trump bankruptcies are the result of partnerships with others who license the Trump name. Trump always wants 100% of the profit and desires to give away 100% of the failure, except when there are tax write-offs to be had that personally benefit Trump. Trump failures are legendary in the gambling industry market.
Ask any business attorney or accountant abut the manner in which Trump plays the angles or facilitates the leveraging of capital. It’s often a maestro weaving an orchestra through complex pieces and ending up with beautiful music. However, all too often it’s a disaster, with lots of residual or collateral casualties. And Trump almost always makes out like the proverbial bandit.
The Trump use of the English language and the manner in which he casually castigates and berates anyone who stands in his way is also an art form. Sixteen Republicans who stood in the primary, knowing full well what Trump had accomplished in the business world, fell by the way as Trump labeled, destroyed and were thrown to the roadside, not to mention the hundreds who attempted to label Trump for the damage he has wrought to election But none have been able block his path, so far. The venom Trump spews has been lethal to challengers at all levels, and no one has successfully made a structural dent in his armor.
2016 may be labeled the year of “Twilight Zone Politics,” even more damaging to our democratic governing system than a zombie apocalypse. October Surprises from someone like Trump may be something we can prepare for as worst case scenarios and hope for a better outcome. We must learn to appreciate and temper political realities. Anybody can become angry, that is easy and Donald Trump has shown us how to unleash anger. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, and at the right time, for the right purpose, that is not within everybody’s power and it’s clear unbridled anger is driving too many voters.
It’s quite simple to proclaim: “The system is broken,” stick your head out the window and scream, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!”And proceed to punish all who work to make the governmental system better. Accepted, we have never had perfect leaders, yet we persistently strive to understand candidates as well as elected officials who spin the press and work the public with half-truths, many toward the improper ends. The mental scorecard we keep helps us determine our vote, regardless of the judgement scale, failures or having to choose the “lesser of the evils” – we MUST vote.