What Do We Do When Our Leaders Lie?
Probably the first lie we ever heard was the one about George Washington and the cherry tree. Some call it a legend; others dub it a myth. But the truth is: It is a lie.
Lies abound, and liars are rampant. In fact, anyone who says he or she never lies is usually lying. Of course, there are lies we refuse to call lies. Like the response you give your wife when she asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Only a tiny white lie can avoid trouble.
None of the above, however, excuses lying. All the blubbering mea culpas we are accustomed to hearing from high-ranking government people should never get them off the hook. The problem is, we have become inured to the likes of Bill Clinton and Charlie Rangel, who have flat-out lied and gotten away with it.
The latest example, of course, is Congressman Anthony Weiner, who can best be described as creepy. The stuff he pulled on the Internet was akin to the antics of high school sophomores. Yet, as this is written, he is still a congressman.
What really baffles me is why his lewd shenanigans got him so much press. Newspapers put it on the front page; network TV newscasts led with the story. What story? Have we become so anxious to be titillated that we demand this fodder? Do our lives center on pretend sexual escapades of celebrities? Aren’t we better off to follow the fortunes of “Dancing with the Stars”?
No wonder so few pay attention to whom they should vote for.
The biggest problem with lies is that they breach trust. Catch a person in a lie, and you no longer trust anything he says. This is especially burdensome when the liar is in the government.
Trust is mandatory with our government leaders. We have to assume they have inside information beyond our ken so when they tell us we have to invade a country or raise our taxes, we have to trust their reasons. But can we? Haven’t we been fooled too many times by too many leaders who lie?
We should not be fooled. Most of the big lies of politicians occur on national television. If they are caught, they simply say they “misspoke” or that their words were taken out of context. If they are finally pinned down, they become contrite and ask for forgiveness.
This has been the ploy of the Weiners of the world since day one. The word “lie” is never spoken; disingenuous is the preferred explanation based on the belief that we all know what a lie is, but big words sometimes have other meanings.
If the liar happens to be president of the United States, we run into a thicker brick wall. The assumption is that an officeholder this high would never dare utter an untruth. The reality is that presidential lying is more common than we care to admit. This causes problems at home and reduces our influence overseas.
The media tend either to sweep presidential lies under the rug or to highlight them, depending on the bias of the reporter. Thus, a president gets away with some lies that are real while he is accused of others he never made. We, the people, can only be confused and wary of trust.
What about broken promises? Are they a form of lie? How often did President Obama assure us that he would fill out his term as a senator and would not run for president? How often did he promise total transparency, with all bills placed on the Internet for five days before he signed them? How often did he deny knowing shady characters when there were pictures of them grinning before the camera?
Isn’t it time we stopped excusing and tolerating lies? Isn’t time we taught the Weiners of Congress a harsh lesson? Isn’t it time we took our presidents out to the woodshed to learn the same lesson?
Allan Jefferys, a former New York theater critic and newsman, lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at email@example.com.
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