National Commentary

The ‘Grasstops’ & Mendacity


Since it is the month of the 100th anniversary of Tennessee Williams’ birth, it is apropos to note what Williams suggested in his Memoirs was his favorite single word: mendacity.

Since it is the month of the 100th anniversary of Tennessee Williams’ birth, it is apropos to note what Williams suggested in his Memoirs was his favorite single word: mendacity.

Mendacity is a noun, and is a nice way of saying “a lie.” Since it has almost a lyrical sound to it, no wonder it was preferable to the man who firmly qualifies as the greatest American playwright ever.

The propensity of people to resort to mendacity in one form of another, and his uncompromising resolve to stand for its opposite, the truth, was the subject of much of what Williams wrote.

Perhaps nowhere in society is the art of mendacity more prevalent than in politics, which means that a place like the nation’s capital may well have lost the capacity to tell the truth from a lie. And don’t ask the major media to help, since they’ve fallen into the habit of simply parroting one form or another of what the political world dishes out.

Take the guarded term, “grasstops.” It’s not one of those commonly-used “insider pundit” phrases you hear bantered around on all the TV blab shows and blogs, largely because it is more like a dirty little secret. But political pros know exactly what it means.

It means that something which appears to the unwashed masses as one thing is, in fact, another thing entirely.

“Grasstops” is the term for creating – to use another dirty insider term – “Astro-turf” movements. Both terms refer to the process of creating and manipulating something which is supposed to appear to be “grassroots,” or something arising spontaneously from among the average people.

What is made to look like a ground-up, or roots-up, phenomenon is actually created through the use of clever organizing and use of cash in the right places. It gets marketed and presented to the public, through major media accomplices, as the “will of the people,” when, in fact, that is a big lie. Mendacity.

In the current political environment in the U.S., the most obvious product of “grasstops” organizing is the so-called Tea Party. It was created out of whole cloth by a Washington D.C. “grasstops” firm, Dick Armey’s “Freedom Works.”

The Tea Party is nothing but a crafted, marketed manipulation of a profiled and targeted segment of the American public that voted against President Obama in 2008, and was susceptible to being herded into angry mob-like behavior against Obama’s health care reform issue in the summer of 2009. They are just retread, radicalized Republicans who are the delight of Wall Street as they plunder any and all government regulations and restraints they can get their hands on.

Why aren’t the politicians of one or another party (given the Tea Party has been unleashed against them both) howling about this? Why not the media? The reason, once grasped, is depressing. It is because both parties use the “grasstops” tactic, and to blow the whistle on this little game is seen by each as self-defeating.

It is like the Electoral College matter. There is a reason the Electoral College has not been abolished in favor of a one-man (or woman), one-vote determination of presidential elections, even when it leads to the election of a man with fewer popular votes, as with George W. Bush in 2000.

Again, it is because both major parties see themselves benefiting by the perpetuation of this antiquated institution, even if one gains a major advantage of it in one particular election. Under the Electoral College system, the major parties need only to target their states of choice and hone in on those to achieve their goals. They can ignore voters in states they don’t think they can win.

That works to the advantage of the parties, but to the disadvantage of the voters, whose votes for all practical purposes don’t count. Thus you wind up with the abomination of Bush winning in 2000 even though he received fewer votes than Al Gore. But where’s the outrage? Both parties grin slyly and agree, “Well, whatya gonna do?”

The tragic thing is that in Washington, D.C. this is simply considered playing the political game. That may be, but it is also something else: mendacity.

Nicholas Benton may be emailed at