Most Americans consider themselves to be hard-nosed realists. The reality is something else.

Just look at US politics. Particularly at the national level, it is pretty much all about image.

Successful candidates are all tall, and, when they are women, well groomed and attractive-looking. The conventions at which they are nominated, like the one just held in Tampa, Florida to nominate Mitt Romney and his vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan, and the one coming up next week to renominate Barack Obama and his running mate Joe Biden, are professionally staged and choreographed entertainment events.

Romney's even featured a schlock cameo appearance by actor Clint Eastwood, shamelessly reprising his "Dirty Harry" role by leading the swooning delegates in a collective recitation of his famous line: "Go ahead, make my day!"

What actually was said at that convention was a pack of lies. Paul Ryan, who accepted his nomination as vice presidential nominee first, as is the tradition at these events, declared that President Obama had stolen $716 billion from Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, using it to fund his signature health care "reform" program, derogatively dubbed "Obamacare" by Republicans.

He said the president had allowed an auto plant in Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin to shut down. He said Obama had "done nothing" to enact budget "reforms" proposed by a bi-partisan budget commission he had earlier created. He called the $831-billion economic stimulus package of federal spending and tax cuts promoted and enacted by Obama in his first months in office nothing but "cronyism" and "patronage" that had "left out" average Americans. All of these assertions were bald-faced lies, and had already been exposed as such when Ryan and other Republicans had first made them earlier in the campaign.

The truth: That $716 billion was savings in Medicare payments to health care providers, not cuts in benefits, the auto plant had shut before Obama took office, while George W. Bush was still president, and Obama's stimulus plan was enormous and if it contained any grants that went to supporters, these were minuscule compared to the whole package; plus over 25% of the tax breaks in the package went to working people.

As for Romney, in his acceptance speech on Thursday night, which was largely composed of gauzy platitudes, he still managed to get in some whoppers, such as his claim that Obama as president had raised taxes on average Americans (actually Obama pushed through some tax cuts for middle-class Americans during his term of office for a net lowering of taxes for most people), his claim that Americans had lost income during Obama's tenure as president (he included 13 months of dramatic losses that occurred before Obama took office), his claim that there were more poor under Obama (true, but only because there are more people overall -- the rate of poverty is not at a record level), and of course by saying nothing, he endorsed the lies of his vice presidential running mate, as well as the lies of other speakers who preceded him.

But it's important to note that Romney and Ryan are not the only liars in this election.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are also prolific liars. Biden told a huge lie when he "guaranteed" to a bunch of people at a campaign stop in Virginia that there would be no cuts to Social Security and Medicare under a second Obama term. In fact, President Obama already told a budget cutting committee he had appointed during his current term as president that "all ideas" were on the table, including cuts in benefits for those programs, making it highly likely that he would do the same in future years if he is re-elected.

Obama of course, vowed while running for president to close down the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. It's still holding prisoners without charge, and shows no sign of being shut down any time soon. As for the military tribunals that candidate Obama said he would replace with trials in a federal court, that hasn't happened, and won't.

Obama also promised to end torture and to punish those who authorized it, but torture is still permitted, as well as the summary execution even of US citizens, on the president's orders (he's done that at least three times), and just this week Obama's attorney general announced that there would be no prosecution of the CIA agents responsible for torture in Afghanistan, the last outstanding case where there might have been a prosecution for torture that led to the death of captives. There was never any attempt to bring the real authors of torture - Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - to justice.

Obama has claimed that a year from now, some 30 million people currently unable to get health insurance will be able to get it, thanks to the health care law he pushed through Congress in 2010. In fact it won't be anywhere near that number.
Clearly, Americans are being lied to by both pairs of major candidates running for the White House. They're being lied to also, and often even more outrageously, by the hundreds of men and women running for the House of Representatives and the Senate. The astonishing thing is that they don't seem to know it, or else they don't seem to care.
The campaign teams know this, which is why they work so hard at creating an image of their candidates as warm, friendly people. They don't really worry much about policies, facts, or truth. It's all about image. So we see warm, gauzy adds showing the candidates with their families and talking with actors portraying supposedly average people, while so-called "attack" ads, not featuring the sponsor's candidates, are used to make the opponent look scary and dangerous. Again, facts are not important. It's the image that matters.

In 2000, when George W. Bush was made president in an election that was ultimately decided by the US Supreme Court's Republican majority of judges in a 5-4 decision, many people said they had voted for him over his Democratic opponent Al Gore, because they felt Bush was "the kind of guy you could sit down and have a beer with," while Gore was seen as stiff and pedantic. Ironically, Bush, a former alcoholic, was supposedly a tea-totaler who could not risk having a drink for fear of having a relapse into his alcoholism (some reports said he was drinking heavily as president, but that it was being kept hidden).

In the last election, Obama won largely on the basis of vague promises he made for "change" - promises that in the end never materialized as the new president ignored most of the things he said he would do, such as tackling global warming, ending the recession, breaking up the big banks, adhering to the Constitution, ending the practice of ruling by executive order, closing Guantanamo and ending torture, strengthening the rights of unions to organize workers, etc.

This time around, plenty of promises are being made by Republican and Democratic candidates. Again, most of these are abject lies or fantasies.

The only conclusion has to be that, contrary to the national mythology, there is a large number of gullible people among the American public who are willing to be lied to and misled, and who will in the end vote for one or another charlatan based upon which set of lies most appeals to them.

Meanwhile, the nation is continuing to slide into an economic hole of its own making, as jobs keep moving abroad, wars and military spending continue to vacuum up the lion's share of the national tax revenue, and what was once the most educated country on the planet continues to short-change its own children, who will eventually have to confront a terrifyingly challenging future in which the US will be just one very ordinary nation among many, all competing for a dwindling supply of critical resources.