One of the most overused charges in the blogosphere is that someone has "lied." One of my scholarly projects (currently on hold) is a consideration of political lying and when the law might provide a remedy for it. In connection with that, I have given some thought to a taxonomy of political falsehoods.
In common parlance, we say that someone has "lied" when they say something that is untrue and know that it is untrue. This is what gives the charge its sting. It is - or it can be (are there "white lies"?)- immoral to deceive. We generally don't think its immoral to be mistaken.
I was reminded of this yesterday in discussing a collegue's paper on ethical limitations on rhetoric and by a link to Andrew Sullivan's list of Sarah Palin's "lies." I think you can put together a list like this for just about any politician, but my point is not to consider whether Palin is "better" or "worse" than, say, Joe Biden. Some of Sullivan's examples may be examples of a deliberate falsehood. Some of them may not even be false. A large number, it seems to me, are mistakes. Others are one view of contested facts and some are even matters of opinion or of Palin's subjective state of mind.
My point is not to engage in more talk about Sarah Palin (so commenters can forget about trying to provoke a response from me on that). There are many examples of people calling Obama a "liar" when the fact is that he was mistaken or taking a position that, in the writers' view, cannot be supported. My point is one that every lawyer understands. Mistakes are not lies. Opinions other than your own are not lies no matter how silly you think they are.
The hard cases are statements that might be literally true but seem intended to communicate - or have the effect of communicating - something that is false. (Yes, the ad at the heart of the Gableman ethics complaint may be an example of that.) Harder still are cases of wild hyperbole - Bush is a fascist, Obama is a communist. Are these lies or just silly exaggerations?