The case of George Santos exposes an interesting contradiction in our treatment of what is acceptable in the promotion and advertising of a candidate for public office.
On the one hand we have fairly explicit laws about truth in advertising. This is generally the area of operation of the Federal Trade Commission, charged with the enforcement of these standards.
When consumers see or hear an advertisement, whether it’s on the Internet, radio or television, or anywhere else, federal law says that ad must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.
This agency actually has teeth and can take heavy enforcement actions when it sees fraud.
When the Federal Trade Commission finds a case of fraud perpetrated on consumers, the agency files actions in federal district court for immediate and permanent orders to stop scams; prevent fraudsters from perpetrating scams in the future; freeze their assets; and get compensation for victims.
But what about political campaigns? We as the consumers of political messaging have no such protections.
This report from CBS News examines this problem very well:
It has been a long-standing problem that the Supreme Court has equated political speech with the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. That problem was magnified exponentially by the 2010 Citizens United decision which opened the flood gates for corporate funding of political campaigns. This essentially changed campaigns into a numbers game of which candidate could assemble the biggest money war chest—and who owed the most favors to their corporate donors.
Thus we arrive at our current state of affairs where candidates like George Santos can get elected on a raft of pure lies broadcast by a well financed campaign. That he is now about to be sworn into Congress despite being called out on these lies shows how deeply flawed our system currently is.
Manipulating the course of elections based on flagrant lying in campaign ads and materials is something that should give us all deep concern. A contemporary cautionary tale is the campaign run by American political operators Arthur Finkelstein and George Birnbaum to secure the election of Viktor Orbán to the presidency of Hungary. Finkelstein and Birnbaum created a false narrative about George Soros as an almost universal enemy which is still being recirculated in conspiracy theory operations and Republican campaigns to this day.
It might be interesting to reexamine whether modern political speech isn’t really commercial speech since the general public is now really being sold a candidate. Not likely since the current composition of the Supreme Court— partially installed by a master political liar—would like laugh themselves silly rejecting it.
So what do we as “consumers” of political speech do?
First we have to understand both our role and our power. We are the consent holders. No matter what the attitudes of political candidates and office holders, they govern by the consent of the governed—us. We are the seat of government in this country. Pumped up liars know this and want to court our consent to give themselves a concept of “mandate.”
The second point is that since there is no requirement of truth in political campaigns, we just have to assume at the outset that we are being lied to by everyone and literally ignore all campaign advertising. Just assume the ads are lies, change the channel and move on. If nothing else it will do wonders for your sanity.
The healthiest and smartest thing to do is look up the actual voting records of candidates, look up who financed their campaigns, who they are being lobbied by, etc. All of this data is publicly available.
We as the voting public must understand our jobs from a responsible viewpoint. And yes, it is a job. Like any job, it has requirements, not the least of which is to disallow some bullshitter from lying to us. Refusing to take any candidate at their word is a very healthy attitude. Assuming someone is trying to con you is the first step to not getting conned.
So let’s all tune up our bullshit detectors before the next flood of excrement comes rolling across the media landscape.
Political ads need to be more like this one. Not likely, but it would be fun.
Marty Kassowitz is co-founder of Factkeepers. As founder of Interest Factory and View360, he brings more than 30 years experience in effective online communications, social media management, and platform development to the site. He is a writer, designer, editor and long time observer of the ill-logic demonstrated by too many members of the species known as Mankind. After a long history of somewhat private commentary on a subject he totally hates: politics, Marty was encouraged to build this site and put up his own analyses as well as curate relevant content from other sources.