What If We Put Lie Detectors On Politicians During Debates?

from the it-wouldn't-work dept

It's political silly season these days as we get closer and closer to election day, and with the various campaigns ratcheting up their attempts to win over voters, the inevitable campaign spin reaches the point where the connection between the message being pushed out and the truth often seems increasingly hazy. That is, politicians start lying about each other. Or, if you want to be generous, being extremely misleading in their characterizations. Some worse than others. This, in part, has resulted in the rise in popularity of various "fact checking" sites over the past few campaign seasons, as many people are fed up with campaigns lying and not being called on it.

Some challengers to an Indiana congressman have come up with an amusing suggestion for how to deal with this, with two challengers to the incumbent agreeing to wear lie detectors during a planned debate. The incumbent has refused, with his party chair calling it ridiculous.

Of course, it's all really a stunt to get some press coverage for the challengers. As polygraph experts well know, a polygraph in a debate setting would be useless. Beyond not always being perfectly reliable, polygraphs are designed to work under very specific circumstances, not in a public debate setting, where the results would be entirely meaningless.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Matt Bennett, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 8:26am

    It's worse than that. "Lie detectors" really just detect stress, with theory that lying increases your stress (and usually, it does). But I presume a debate is inherently stressful, so the data would be almost completely useless.

     

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    Murdock (profile), Oct 13th, 2008 @ 8:31am

    How about this idea...

    I've seen ads where one party says "The other party supported XYZ" What they fail to mention is that THEIR party also supported XYZ. I think that in ads they should have to report their vote on whatever issue they are discussing.

     

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  3.  
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    eleete, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 8:41am

    Re: How about this idea...

    You can find out that information, on every issue and who abstained.
    http://www.rvact.com/congressorg/issuesaction/vote/

     

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  4.  
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    Trevlac, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 8:48am

    Polygraphs should never be used to detect lies or deception. It never should have and even less so in today's high-stress society.

     

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  5.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Oct 13th, 2008 @ 8:51am

    Don't Lie - Parse the Truth

    The really good politicians do not lie, they simply use "fact" in a highly selectively manner to uphold whatever they claim.

    I have been somewhat surprised that the media has not picked up on this with statements made by Obama at the last debate.

    Obama has been saying that we need to pull of Iraq. Surprisingly he came out, at the last debate, to say that we need greater involvement in Afghanistan. Considering his position on Iraq, his Afghan statement appears to be out of place. I suspect that he is attempting to appear tough militarily while at the same time trying not to appear inconsistent with his prior statements.

    After the election, if he is elected, I would assume that a new study will magically conclude that we should not be involved in Afghanistan and Obama will "revise" his approach based on this "new" information.

     

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  6.  
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    James, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 8:59am

    Better idea - LIVE fact checking

    Actually a colleague and I had an idea that addresses this issue (sort of). Run the debates DELAYED (30 minutes?), and do the fact checking on their statements as they give them.. matching results could show in a green color, and misstatements in a red color (or some derivative).

    It might mean not watching the debates exactly real-time but they would be much more entertaining. I think a lie-detector due to the nature of how it works is a bad idea.

     

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  7.  
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    Richard Ahlquist (profile), Oct 13th, 2008 @ 9:03am

    EVEN Better idea!

    Convert political lies to energy and you would have an end to global warming and enough surplus energy for every human on earth to have a personal climate control device!!

     

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  8.  
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    Cory Zipperle, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 9:05am

    It would cause a lot of confusion, indeed, but it would be fun!

     

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    Cory Zipperle, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 9:05am

    It would cause a lot of confusion, indeed, but it would be fun!

     

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  10.  
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    Brooks, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 9:08am

    Where did all of the reasoning go?

    Whoa, everyone. There's lots of fallacious reasoning in this post. Yes, polygraphs detect stress, and results from a debate are likely to be less reliable than results from a controlled environment. But what people are missing here is that polygraphs detect *changes* in stress, not one's flat-out stress level.

    Consider the possibility that will all three candidates register as "super stressed" the entire time, one or more of them have spikes in stress level when putting forward particularly dubious arguments. Would you still argue that the data was meaningless, that it was just a coincidence, and that they believed what they were saying at that moment as much as they believed their other, more baseline-level responses?

    I'm not suggesting this is a good idea, or that the results would be meaningful. I am saying that jumping to the conclusion that the data would be meaningless may be premature. Is it not possible that aggregate data across an entire debate could give meaningful results through the inevitable statistical noise? It's not a great idea, but if we're going to dismiss it, let's at least think it through first. It would be a *different* application of polygraph, and *traditional* analysis would likely be less useful... but does that mean it can't possibly be done right? I'm not convinced.

    And Steve R., plenty of us see Iraq and Afghanistan as separate issues and hold different positions on them. I for one would like to believe that Obama's one of us folks who evaluates each conflict based on its necessity and likely outcome rather than just whether or not military action is "good" in some abstract sense. It's possible you're right, of course, but even if he *is* lying here, there are many Americans who support the escalation of a war that we see as critical and strategic even while we advocate withdrawal from a war that we see as misguided, unethical, and counterproductive. Rational analysis often leads to different decisions in different contexts, and there's nothing wrong with that.

     

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  11.  
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    Maxillarypun, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 9:29am

    Politicians and lie detectors...

    We all know that for the most part, you really can't trust campaign ads because ALL politicians lie. Oh, excuse me, misrepresent facts, withhold information, spin, pander, etc. Long gone are the days that any politicians and journalists expounding on politicians have had any sort of integrity.

     

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    Ragaboo, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 9:31am

    I'm sure this is obvious, but...

    www.FactCheck.org. I'm sure you all already knew about this site, but for the few of you who didn't...

     

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  13.  
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    Guerra, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 9:48am

    it wouldn't work being as no one in politics are lying... they're just that blatantly ignorant.

     

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    Duane (profile), Oct 13th, 2008 @ 9:51am

    If you want to get real high-tech

    Provide the candidates with a real-time opinion poll of their performances during the debate. If you think it's a circus now...

     

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    PassinThru, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 9:53am

    If I were a campaign manager...

    ... I'd be really interested in this, not to determine what statements my opponent makes that stress him out, but which statements my side says that stress out my opponents!

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 10:00am

    Re: Better idea - LIVE fact checking

    i think there is something very similar in place.

    its called the daily show and the Colbert Report.

     

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  17.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Oct 13th, 2008 @ 10:06am

    Re: Where did all of the reasoning go?

    People are entitled to change their opinion based on facts. So it may be legitimate to say one thing when campaigning and then switch after the election is over. It is unfortunate that we won't know the truth, whatever that is, until after the election.

     

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  18.  
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    TX CHL Instructor (profile), Oct 13th, 2008 @ 10:13am

    Re: I'm sure this is obvious, but...

    Factcheck.org... brought to you by the folks at Annenburg... Now, just where have I heard that name before?

    I would trust their "fact check" on anything having to do with Obama about as far as I can toss my car.

    I don't believe there is ANY unbiased information source in this campaign. None, nada, zip. The rhetoric is just too heated for that. I follow several Liberal (capital L), Conservative (capital C) and Libertarian (capital L) blogs, and they ALL have significant difficulty sorting out the facts. Without exception.
    --
    www.chl-tx.com Without the 2nd Amendment, the rest of the document is just wishful thinking.

     

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  19.  
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    Liquid, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 10:15am

    Still wouldn't matter

    No matter what candidate we elected at the end of all this I really wouldn't matter, because we all know that they would all go back on one or more things that they campaigned on. It's a simple fact. No one single person will ever get into office, and do exactly what they said they were going to do.

     

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  20.  
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    nasch, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 10:24am

    Truth Machine

    For a novel about a perfectly reliable lie detector, read The Truth Machine by James Halperin. It explores the changes that would happen to our society if we could definitively tell when someone is lying. Good book.

     

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  21.  
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    Dave, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 10:29am

    I dont think so

    You have obviously never taken a polygraph test before. The questions must be phrased in a way to be 'yes' or 'no' answers in order to return anything near accurate results. Additionally, they are easily passed if you know what you are doing. I know this firsthand.

     

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  22.  
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    Charming Charlie, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 10:32am

    Long gone are the days that any politicians and journalists expounding on politicians have had any sort of integrity.

    Ah, the halcyon days when the press kept FDR's disability a secret from the people, or overlooked Kennedy's infedelity, or parroted LBJ's administration's Vietnam optimism.

    The reality is that for centuries the press erred on the side of cooperation with politicians over burning bridges to print the truth. Today's news is more in-depth and critical than ever, because journalism students of today no longer feel a risk in printing something unfavorable to a politician, or a patriotic duty to ensure consensus. Today, to be popular you need to have the appearance of being critical, otherwise you'll be ignored. This was NOT the case in your imaginary past.

    You may feel journalists have a long way to go as sifters of bullshit, but that does not automagically correlate with them doing a better job in the past. As fact-checking critics of politicians journalists have generally been worse because media access was more limited, and thus patronship imperative in securing access.

     

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  23.  
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    ReallyEvilCanine, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 10:40am

    OH HAI! I FIXT UR ARTIKUL!

    Beyond being utterly useless while pretending to have some scientific validity, polygraphs are supposedly designed to work under very specific circumstances, not in a public debate setting. The results are, as always in the case of polygraphs, entirely meaningless.

     

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  24.  
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    BO, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 10:47am

    The Politics of Personality

    Can we stop this non-sense about truth in politics and get back to the important issues at hand, which is Change, I'm all about change, big change, far reaching change, pocket change. If you can think of any other adjectives to go with change, I'm about that too.

     

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  25.  
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    TruthInAdvertising, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 10:56am

    Judgement Night

    If you want truth from a politician you are going to have to put them under oath, Oh wait, Bill Clinton already proved that statement wrong.

    But seriously folks, it wouldnt matter if they were fitted with lie detectors. These people are professional liars, not your garden variety fibbers. These people have made entire careers out of misleading the public, avoiding issues, and misrepresenting facts. Some of them have been doing this for so long they are starting to believe their own lies.

    The only people worthy of elected office are those that refuse to run. Simply wanting the power is enough to corrupt even the best-intentioned candidate.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 11:02am

    Re: Re: I'm sure this is obvious, but...

    "Factcheck.org... brought to you by the folks at Annenburg... Now, just where have I heard that name before?"

    Annenburg was that the readers digest guy, the conservative right wing nut job?

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 11:04am

    "If you want truth from a politician you are going to have to put them under oath, Oh wait, Bill Clinton already proved that statement wrong. "

    Yeah ever since Presidents refuse to go under oath now (I wonder why?) and they even claim thier staff cant be put under oath (hmmmm?). Well, just one president . . . Bush.

     

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  28.  
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    DS, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 11:31am

    Re: Re: I'm sure this is obvious, but...

    So, is your displeasure of Factcheck.org based on your reading of the site, or your uninformed opinion? Because some conservatives say that Factcheck.org is in fact, too liberal for their tastes.

    I say if it pisses off both sides, it can't be half bad.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 11:53am

    Re: Re: Where did all of the reasoning go?

    Woah. An intelligent and reasoning debate on the internet. GTFO guys.

     

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  30.  
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    Sam, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 11:56am

    .

    I personally think that candidates shouldn't be able to talk or debate at all. If you want to run for president, drop your name in a box. Then everyone will be forced to ACTUALLY read the candidate's voting record.

     

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  31.  
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    ThinkCube, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 12:03pm

    The Truth?

    Truth in politics is an interesting subject. Dictionary.com describes politics in many ways including using the words artform, maneuvers, opinions and principles. Considered to be the use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control. The very idea of politics is the science of influencing others to believe what you believe or support your beliefs. Truth by definition doesn't enter this equation. We as a people simply would like to believe or desire that those we elect to govern us would be a truthfull person or at least truthfull to us. Truth is a desire of the people not the candidate when looking at it in election terms. Lying or bending the truth as a method to sway the votes is simply a calculated gamble by the politician. If they are found out they may do themselves more harm than good.

    For sake of arguement though lets say that there was a way to do some kind of lie detection in a debate. Some way that it could be a paraphrased answer rather than just yes or no and measured accordingly. What would you learn? It is said that a lie detector can be beat if the person truly believes what they are saying. I firmly believe that in any given election a candidate firmly believes at that time that they intend to do what they say even though their actions may have telegraphed something different in the past. I also believe that many politicians simply understand the system of give and take. They may have voted one way which was against their public persona but down the road they are then able to pass legislation on something else that maybe more important. On the surface the system seems messy and dishonest but when you dig deep it's much larger system of give and take and some good politicians understand that in order for themselves to get into position to do the good things they intend they have to vote a few times for the other side along the way to get there.

    This is a great time in history where the voting public has at their fingertips the use of the internet as a resource. Of course be careful of the resources and make sure they are bipartisan but get informed. I would have hated voting during the great depression with little to no information except the occasional speech on the campaign trail. You can watch the speeches, commercials and debates all you would like but I urge every AMERICAN to do the research for themselves and vote. I don't care who you vote for as long as you are an informed voter. Don't damage the country by voting party lines while never doing the research on where your candidate actually stands. That goes double for the midwest swing states! Be informed about your vote and feel content that you did all that you could for America in this election.

    This may change how you feel about what I said but I grew up Republican and quickly realized that gun control, abortion and stem cells have nothing to do with running a government. I'm registered Independent because I don't want either party gaining the use of my statistics for any kind of arguement.

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 12:05pm

    The needles will go so crazy the lights would go out!

     

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  33.  
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    Liquid, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 12:08pm

    Re: .

    Seriously... How in the heck would someone vote on a candidate with out knowing anything other then voting records? How will a candidate get a voting record if they are no longer able to talk or debate?

    That would be like stating that people should wrestle or play a game of russian ruelet in order to get into office. I honestly see the world moving to the likes in Idocracy but I dont want it to be while I'm still alive.

    No one would be able to campaign for a seat any where... or are you stating that people can go out and campaign for local legislature, senecate, etc... but when it comes to the presidency no one is able to campaign or debate?

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 12:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: I'm sure this is obvious, but...

    "I say if it pisses off both sides, it can't be half bad."

    That was really my point

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 12:32pm

    You want a debate? Get rid of the moderator! Give each candidate a clock with 30 minutes on it, tied to their microphone. When one person's clock and mic are on, the other is not. Let the two debate whatever they want, for as long as they want, until their time runs out.

     

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  36.  
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    mike, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 12:32pm

    Re: Where did all of the reasoning go?

    chiil out dude, this was tongue and cheek!

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 12:40pm

    Re:

    "You want a debate? Get rid of the moderator! Give each candidate a clock with 30 minutes on it, tied to their microphone. When one person's clock and mic are on, the other is not. Let the two debate whatever they want, for as long as they want, until their time runs out.
    "

    This wouldnt help, actually losing the moderator would only hurt the debate. In your situation the candidates would simply repeat the same 30 minutes of talking points and slogans over and over, which admittedly is pretty much what they do now.

     

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  38.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 12:42pm

    Re:

    I think they should bring audience cheers and jeers back . . . made for better soundbites (Karl Roves added laugh tracks always sounded creepy to me - dead people ya know)

     

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  39.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 1:30pm

    Re: Re:

    CoughPalinCough

     

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  40.  
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    staples, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 3:33pm

    Why not real time fact checking

    Ok - so maybe polygraphs are a bit absurd BUT..why can't the candidates stand in front of a large movie screen that displays the accuracy of their statements within seconds of their point. Anywhere I bet you could find a team of librarians, newsies and bloggers that could quickly validate or shoot down the claims. If it's a tricker point..display 'research in progress' and display the final findings a the end. Drives me crazy the news channels are fact checking after..do it DURING and SHARE DURING the debate. My two bits...

     

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  41.  
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    Celes, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 4:04pm

    Re: Why not real time fact checking

    Heh. "Pop Up Video" for politics. Actually, it sounds like a good idea.

     

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  42.  
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    DS, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 4:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: I'm sure this is obvious, but...

    Yes, it pisses off both sides, AT THE SAME TIME. Or what was your point?

     

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  43.  
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    Sos, Oct 13th, 2008 @ 7:56pm

    The Worm

    I believe 'The Worm' or 'Reactor' used in Australian political debates is a much better tool.

    http://www.freedomtodiffer.com/onlinepolitics/2007/10/the-worm-in-the.html

    http://www.ro ymorgan.com/products/the-reactor/the-reactor.cfm

     

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  44.  
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    TD Reader, Oct 14th, 2008 @ 7:32am

    Here's an interesting thought:

    What would happen if, at election time, nobody voted? At all.

    As broken as the system is, it still depends on the facade of democracy in order to function, the core of that democracy being our vote. If we rescind that power from them, the entire system would screech to a halt, and an investigation into why would be almost inevitable, thus exposing the brokenness of the system for all to see.

    Or we could always just rig the lie detectors with electrodes, so that everytime a politician says something that isn't completely (and factually) true, they'd get a shock. Just a thought. ;-)

     

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  45.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2008 @ 2:27pm

    Re:

    Or we could always just rig the lie detectors with electrodes, so that everytime a politician says something that isn't completely (and factually) true, they'd get a shock. Just a thought. ;-)

    I think it should be implanted into them when they start campaigning to enter any office.

     

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  46.  
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    Rekrul, Oct 14th, 2008 @ 9:24pm

    There's a much easier and more reliable way to tell when politicians are lying; Watch their mouths. When their lips are moving, they're lying.

     

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