10 October 2018

Is Honest Politics Possible?

The kind of lies that get spread in hardball political campaigns can get over the top.

For example, one of the groups backing Walker Stapleton (the Republican candidate) for Governor in Colorado, created a fake 9News story and distributed it to voters. Florida Governor Rick Scott, running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican in Florida, is similarly running nine ads all promoting lies.

In the interest of the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech, we have very little legal regulation of political speech, even though precedents are well established that intentional fraud is not entitled to free speech protection. We worry about judges using the power of the state to decide what is or is not true.

But, on the other hand, in the business world, where false commercial and investment related speech is regulated much more rigorously, it isn't as if the sky is falling.

Is it so hard to imagine that the accuracy of political discourse might improve markedly, with only infrequent actual imposition of sanctions, if fraudulent political statement were subject to sanctions in some way?

Take that one step further. What if actual sitting politicians faced consequences for making false statements while in office?

Perhaps, the first time a falsehood was uttered by a politician, the sanction might simply be a warning that the statement was false so that we could know that when the politician does it again that he knows that it is false. After that, more serious sanctions might kick in.

The sanctions wouldn't have to be terribly great. Envision it more like penalties in football or basketball. The sanctions would be something that would put the politician at a disadvantage, but not something that would ordinarily be outcome determinative by itself.

The sanctions ought to be severe enough that someone who lied pathologically, like Donald Trump, would eventually be removed from office. But, not so severe that an isolated fib would end a political career entirely.

It isn't impossible to operate like that. Lawyers are held to these standards, and lots of politicians were or are lawyers. It would be interesting to see how it would work out in practice.

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