Why We Should Go Monty Python on Presidential Candidates

There’s a famous scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where a band of feckless knights come upon a troll-like bridgekeeper who challenges them to truthfully answer three questions before they can proceed across the “Bridge of Death.”

One of the big laughs in the bit comes when Terry Gilliam (playing Sir Galahad) gives an untruthful answer to the question “What is your favorite color?” He’s instantly flung high through the air into a smoking volcano.

Wouldn’t it be great to add a feature like this to all of the upcoming presidential debates? Lie, even a little, even about your favorite color, and into the caldera your sorry lying carcass goes.

I suggest this because there’s altogether too much lying these days, especially in politics. Both sides have been guilty of it, but Mitt Romney and his team are really running up the score in both how often they lie and how egregiously they do it. They also take the prize for how little they seem to care when it’s pointed out that they are lying.

They probably lie so much because there’s no ruler across the knuckles for lying. Maybe that’s because our cultural sensitivity to lying has been dulled by the tidal wave of nonsense from outlets like Fox News and the entire internet. A study conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University showed that Fox News is so indifferent to or careless with the facts that watching it actually subtracts from the sum total of what you knew before you started watching. The longer you watch, the dumber you get.

Anyone with internet access can find themselves engulfed by wave after wave of anonymous emails telling you about how Congress doesn’t have to pay in to Social Security (they do) or that Barack Obama is a Muslim (he’s not). As a culture, we seem to be getting more gullible about what we’re told and less scrupulous about what we say.

So I say we stage the presidential debates à la Monty Python. We make the candidates stand on small spring-loaded platforms, and if they lie, they get launched.

On a show like that, Romney could be in for a rough go. He’s been in the habit of repeating some pretty big lies. Politifact, the non-partisan, Pulitzer Prize-winning factchecking organization, has called Obama on a number of statements and given him a “Pants of Fire”—the worst rating—for 1 percent of his checked statements. But Romney has earned a “Pants on Fire” rating for 9 percent of his checked statements. Plus, 17 percent of his statements have been rated “False” and another 16 percent “Mostly False.” Those ratings total 42 percent, almost half, so if Romney is moving his lips, it’s pretty much a coin toss as to whether or not he’s telling the truth.

Historically, humankind has advanced because of our innate curiosity, driving us to discover the truth about the world around us. It was a big help to figure out things like gravity and that the Earth revolved around the sun. But to many of Romney’s folks, it appears that figuring out the truth just makes them mad. Point out that taxes are now at the lowest rate they have been in 30 years, and they treat you like you shot their dog. Point out to one of his supporters on Facebook that numerous factchecking organizations have found that Obama didn’t gut the work requirement in Welfare reform, and they act like you dropped the F-bomb in church. This shunning of the truth and those who tell it is not good, adaptive behavior for our species.

So that’s why I think we need to take a page from Monty Python. Let’s create some real consequences for lying during the debates. And just think of what it would do for the ratings. I really think I’m on to something.