Which politician lied the least?

«Are we politicians supposed to be the ones who lie the most? That's fake news! "

SP Councilor of States Anita Fetz and CVP President Gerhard Pfister talk to each other about their relationship to truth and lies.

Mrs. Fetz, are you a good liar?

Anita Fetz: Others have to judge that. But I certainly don't always tell the whole truth in everyday life. These are courtesy lies. Instead of telling someone that I don't feel like going to their boring event, I'm putting forward other commitments. But I think that's legitimate, it's social cement. You don't always have to brutally tell the other person everything.

And you, Mr. Pfister?

Gerhard Pfister: I also know these kinds of lies. I just fear the unpleasant. Then I am - sometimes too much - ready to say nothing or only the half-truth. I think Max Frisch said that you could put the truth over the other person's shoulders like a coat or slap the face like a wet towel.

And you take the coat?

Pfister: Yes, also because I cause less problems for myself.

Well, lying should be written in both of you genes. According to the Stapferhaus Lenzburg survey of the Swiss population, politicians are the profession that lies most often.

Pfister: I think that's a cliché, a cliché for which we politicians are also responsible. Often your political opponent will say: "You are lying!" He just means that you have a different point of view. And the public makes the mistake of taking election promises literally, even though they have been expressed in a more nuanced way. Especially today it is incredibly difficult as a public person to maintain a falsehood for a long time. We are so under surveillance.

Fetz: Are we supposed to be the ones who lie the most? That's fake news. This is no more true than the claim that all managers are rip-offs.

Aren't you making it a little easy for yourself now? Christoph Blocher once said: "There are situations in politics in which you have to lie."

Fetz: There are times when you can't tell the whole truth. There are moments, for example in commissions, when things have to be withheld from the public. I am in the Commission for Economic Affairs and Taxes in the Council of States, which made this deal between the tax reform and the AHV reform. We couldn't say anything for weeks because we weren't allowed to jeopardize the solution.

"I don't have the courage to say something and know that it is a black lie."

Gerhard Pfister

When was the last time you uttered a political lie, Mr. Pfister?

Pfister: I don't have the courage to say something and to know that it is completely a lie. When I keep something secret, I always ask myself beforehand whether I can justify it if it should come to light. A simple example: I judge everyday mistakes differently. That's why I never drive when I'm drunk. I would find no argument to justify this. And something else about Christoph Blocher: He can afford to lie from time to time because of his secure position of power and his financial independence.

Isn't it a lie to deliberately hide part of the truth in front of the media's microphones?

Pfister: No.

Fetz: Especially not today when you have to say everything in 20 seconds in the media. You can only deal with the topics in keywords.

Pfister: There is a tendency to make gestures of sincerity in public. There are parties that conclude contracts with the people. But that's not how politics works. Of course you have to have firm principles, but in order to find a solution you have to be able to deviate from them a little.

Above all, Swiss politics works according to this principle of equalization.

Pfister: Yes, but the populists think they are the simple, honest people who deviate not an iota from their principles. And then those who do this for a solution are the liars. That is a simplified concept of truth. But of course something that is not a lie quickly becomes a lie.

Is this new?

Fetz: It is exacerbated by the extreme mediatization of politics. But also in the 1980s there were sharp clashes in Switzerland. At that time the introduction of the federal police and the fishing scandal were discussed. I had also been monitored and found myself on an extremist file. That gave my relationship with the rule of law a crack. No, I think in politics selective perception and silence are more the issue than lies.

Well. In this survey, people also say that they most want truthfulness from their profession. The greater the disappointment. How do you deal with that?

Pfister: I won't let the bad image get to me. Because I experience it differently. I can see it in the surveys, but on the street, in contact with people, I experience a lot of appreciation. That's why I don't care about the bad image.

Fetz: I can confirm that. I prefer to go out into the streets and meet people, this nagging in the social networks, I save that. I'm not on Twitter or Facebook. And many people in the street tell me that they are happy that there are still people going into politics these days. The effects on the personal environment are huge. I mean, our bad image is an expression of a general perplexity - and one expects from politics the solutions for this confusion, which one does not have oneself.

Pfister: The politician is just a projection screen - and thus an excellent target for frustrations.

Fetz: These frustrations are also fed by the life lies that every country has. One of Switzerland's lifelong lies is its claimed independence. We have thousands of multinational or bilateral contracts, and most large companies have long been owned by foreigners.

Pfister: I do not think so. For me, on the contrary, this is an achievement by the small state of Switzerland, which has an astonishingly high level of independence. But, as you can see, I'm not saying to Anita: "You are lying!" I just see it differently. We should say this sentence more often in politics.

Fetz: Exactly.

Pfister: There is no truth in politics. Politics simply assess facts differently.

“Today we have a total culture of indignation. Instead of talking to each other, we yell at each other on the screen. "

Anita Fetz

In the survey, 83 percent of those questioned see the increased occurrence of lies and false news as a threat to democracy. They also?

Pfister: This is again a mix-up of the medium with the message. Today everyone can express their opinion much more easily to a large crowd. That's good for now. Of course, this also leads to exaggerations. But in ten years we will also have developed a digital culture of conversation. We still have to practice a lot. I'm also a passionate twitterer. It is an excellent medium for arguing - if not for arguing. The social networks by no means threaten democracy.

Fetz: For me it's more ambiguous. We have a total culture of indignation today. Instead of talking to each other, we yell at each other on the screen.

Maybe that's what people mean when they say democracy is under threat. Perhaps they see the community threatened by this new conversational unculture.

Fetz: Well, I think that's dangerous for democracy. If you have all turned against each other, it is relatively easy to win political majorities with a lot of money and populism. We know that from group psychology. And the algorithms of Facebook and others are designed in such a way that they generate outrage because this generates the most traffic and therefore the most advertising. These algorithms are private, they belong to large corporations. I am convinced that in the next ten years these tech monopolies have to be smashed - just as the oil industry had to be done.

Mr. Pfister, is that a left-wing conspiracy theory?

Pfister: As a conservative person, I'm not so culturally pessimistic. You shouldn't be too impressed when something is strange to you. With the boys in particular, I see that they are much more experienced in the media than we are. The embarrassments in social networks tend to happen to the elderly.

Ms. Fetz, the survey found that “well-educated people and those on the left are increasingly of the opinion that there is a 'right' solution that cannot be implemented due to a majority of 'ignorants'”. Is that how you feel?

Fetz: No. But I don't just travel to the left.

Pfister: I find that interesting. There is this type of person who thinks that everything is a question of education. And anyone who is not so educated is an idiot who doesn't know any better. And this type is more likely to be found on the left. The left might have a more optimistic view of man than I do. He believes that he can convince people of the right thing simply by imparting knowledge.

Is that wrong?

Pfister: It's not realistic.

Fetz: Unfortunately it does not work. Until my mid-thirties I also believed that everyone was good - and that everything was just a question of social conditions and education.

How do you feel the erosion of dialogue in politics?

Pfister: An example. When I came to the National Council in 2003, I always reserved the right to make decisions in the commissions on the basis of the discussion. Today the committee meetings in the National Council are anticipations of the plenary meetings. Each delegation discusses beforehand who is speaking, the rest of them retreat behind their laptops. The opinions are already made before the meeting, no one deviates any more. In practice, people no longer listen, let alone weigh the arguments. In the National Council itself, dialogue has long been a thing of the past.

Fetz: It is different in the Council of States. That also makes it a lot more interesting. But the Council of States lies in the slipstream of the media. And there is no one in the Council of States who regrets that.

And is it only the media to blame for these conditions in the National Council?

Pfister: Swiss democracy was a negotiation democracy until the 1990s. The suburb, the unions said something, and then you did it. This was broken up by the SVP, which questioned this tacit negotiating consensus. It became particularly difficult for the central parties, because the one-hand-the-other program is in the center. But with such an attitude you lose your profile today.

"As party president in particular, it happens to me much more often that I speak more clearly than it really is."

What is the solution?

Pfister: Especially the middle has to show more edge in this medial thesis competition - and at the same time know that the truth is more differentiated. This is of course a big balancing act.

I would say that's perverted. Switzerland is actually the country of the conservative center.

Pfister: That was the way it used to be. One can regret that. The fact is that the majority of voters prefer those who pretend to be unambiguous. As party president in particular, it happens to me much more often that I speak more clearly than it actually is.

Doesn't that give you a stomach ache?

Pfister: No. I simplify reality - so that you can at least hear an opinion. I have to endure this ambivalence.

Fetz: It is no different with my president. Sometimes he says things, I just swallow hard. I'll tell him in the next session. Take the state recognition of Islam that he proposed. I have a completely different opinion.

According to this survey, the right lie more than the left. Is that correct, Mr. Pfister?

Pfister: I can't believe that, the American presidency has to play a role in that. But what is true is that the ideals on the left are easier to convey than the ones on the right. The left have the advantage that they are for justice. The left political vocabulary knows nicer words. As a commoner, I'm sometimes jealous of that.

Is President Trump, who speaks the truth about six times a day, a problem for your profession?

Fetz: Naturally. And it's not just Trump. With him you are just particularly alarmed because he represents a world power. It's just that all of this is also an expression of a general feeling. Whoever you talk to, everyone thinks something is fundamentally out of balance.

You nod, Mr. Pfister?

Pfister: We live in a time when many axes are shifting. The world is changing in a very dramatic way. Hence this mistrust and the need for orientation. You hardly trust anyone anymore.

Fetz: And rich and poor are drifting further apart. In Switzerland it is not that bad because we are a rich country where redistribution still works to some extent. Then there is digitization, which reminds me of the first industrialization. Back then, the pace frightened people. It's even faster today. Then there is the climate change. All of this unsettles people enormously.

And this feeling leads to the fact that in this survey, more than one in five Swiss believes that the towers in New York were blown up by the Bush administration in 2001 to justify the invasion of Iraq? That's absurd.

Fetz: That didn't surprise me. I don't think it was the CIA though. But I don't rule out that it wasn't just al-Qaeda who was involved. The Saudi probably also had their hands in the game. And if you know what the CIA has already done, such as secret prisons or government coups, then you can't rule out anything.

Pfister: There is a book by Umberto Eco about conspiracy theories. In it he coined the term "infinite symbiosis". If you play around long enough, you can find a pattern behind everything. You can see a devil's mask in the dust of the collapsing Twin Towers. The people who make up reality like this have always existed.

A fifth of the population? I ask you.

Pfister: They just haven't shown themselves publicly. Now these theories are public - and can therefore also be taken to the point of absurdity.

Fetz: One of the worst lies in recent history came from President Bush who said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and then struck. The Middle East would look different today if no one had believed it back then. But if you lie like that, you have a lot of confidence.

Pfister: These are really lies.

Now many people struggle to distinguish truth and lies on the Internet. How do you do that?

Pfister: I'm very classy there. I don't believe anything in social networks. And even a Wikipedia entry is not a trustworthy source for me. So I'm glad I have books. I believe the printed word.

Fetz: If I don't know the source on the net, I don't trust it. When it comes to moving images, however, I too am often at a loss. So much is being manipulated.

Pfister: Just as our culture has learned to read and write, it will also learn to deal with digitization.

So we come to the oh-so-forgiving conclusion that we have to invest in education.

Fetz: I'm not a pessimist, but I don't know if we can be so relaxed about that. The speed of digitization is overwhelming for all of us. Education will always lag behind technology.

Pfister: The technology also opens up possibilities. The teacher will have to worry more about the analog, the physical and the social. It is telling that all these Silicon Valley billionaires send their children to schools where cell phones are banned. The deficits today lie in the natural, in the authentic, we have to take care of that.

Fetz: I always say that high-tech needs high-touch. If a person has nothing tangible, he cannot stand the world.

Fake: a poll and an exhibition

PT. · How do the Swiss relate to truth and lies in times of fake news? To this end, the Zurich research center Sotomo carried out a representative weighted survey of 8,640 people on behalf of the Stapferhaus Lenzburg in July of this year.

The results are worrying. 83 percent say that spreading untruths and false news has become a threat to democracy and society. At the same time there is a widespread yearning for truth and honesty. And this longing is disappointed most lastingly by politics. Politicians have the worst image of all professional groups - there is great agreement across all political rifts and levels of education. At the same time, however, there is a particularly high demand for conveying the truth in this area. “This creates a particularly high potential for disappointment,” the study sums up. The Stapferhaus Lenzburg is dedicating its first exhibition in the new building near the train station to the topic of “Fake. The whole truth".It opens on October 28, 2018.

The present conversation appears in a longer version in the volume accompanying the exhibition.