Should Lies In Politics Be Illegal?


The Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus next month. The case pertains to an Ohio law which makes it illegal to “post, publish, circulate, distribute, or otherwise disseminate a false statement concerning a candidate…if the statement is designed to promote the election, nomination, or defeat of the candidate.”

The Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life group, ran a billboard in 2010 accusing incumbent Democrat congressman Steve Driehaus of voting for “taxpayer funded abortions,” a claim they based on his support of Obamacare. Driehaus complained to the Ohio Elections Commission which took his side against the group.

P.J. O’Rourke, working with the Cato Institute, wrote a hilarious amicus brief on behalf of the Susan B. Anthony List defending “lies, insults, and truthiness,” but all joking aside this is a serious issue.

There is no question that there is a lot of lying, insulting, distortion and fabrication in politics. The problem is, who gets to decide what the truth is and is not?

Did Obamacare provide taxpayer subsidies for abortion? I think so, and could certainly make an argument that many would agree with. But many would also disagree, and therein lays the rub. Am I lying by stating that it is my opinion that Obamacare funds abortion? Or that Social Security is bankrupt? Or that Medicare is on an unsustainable fiscal trajectory?

Many would say no. Many would say yes.

The question is whether or not there should be a law that basically appoints a branch of the government to decide for us what political statements are and are not true, at least when they’re made in the context of a political campaign.

I don’t think that’s right. As imperfect as it is, better that citizens be exposed to all sides of the debate (even those sides we may find less than honest) than to have the government picking and choosing what we are allowed to hear.

It’s not a question of whether or not we want to lie. It’s a question or whether or not the government gets to decide what the truth is.