Our family has a cousin who, when he worked at the Federal Attorneys’ Office, was the co-lead-prosecutor on Martha Stewart case. When I asked him on what basis Martha Stewart was deemed worthy of prosecution, cousin Michael explained that his office had incontrovertible evidence that Martha Stewart had lied in her deposition, breaking what, for him, was the cardinal rule of “You’re in trouble now”, that rule being,
“You do not lie to me.”
A Congressman behaves foolishly, then lies and says he didn’t. This is not one of those situations where we don’t know for sure. We know he lied, because the Congressman later admitted that he lied.
A Congressman admits he lied, acknowledging that the thing he previously claimed he didn’t do, he actually did. In contrast to similar cases, where the “stonewalling” never surrenders into a confession, we are grateful for the clarity in this situation. If for nothing else.
But it’s not enough.
On this point, I am in full concurrence with the aforementioned cousin Michael. You do something foolish, you do something foolish. What are you going to do? People do foolish things. But here, in accordance with the dictum set down by cousin Michael, is where I also draw the line:
“You do not lie to me.”
The Congressman lied to me in my house. No, he didn’t actually drop by my house and heap falsehoods on my carpet. He lied on my television. My television is in my house. Ipso facto, he lied to me in my house.
Everybody lies. Point uncontestingly conceded. But lies come in ascending degrees of potency, like Tylenol. There are white lies, prevarications offered to spare someone’s feelings. But as the late, great Lakers announcer Chick Hearn used to say concerning such trivialities: “No harm – no foul.”
There are “lies of omission.” You deliberately leave things out to create an effect other than what was intended, which can be verified by putting the things that were left out back in. In politics, the “leaving things out” strategy is called “spin.” For engaging in “spin” the top political “spinmeisters” earn honor, respect and millions of dollars, rewards normally reflective of a culture’s saying, “Way to go!’ rather than “You really shouldn’t be doing that.”
It would appear then that “lies of omission” are “business as usual.” And the better you are at them, the better your business.
We now come to the big lies – the self-protecting whoppers whose rationalization falls under the “umbrella” explanation:
“If I told the truth, it would be bad for me.”
The Congressman told a big lie. Which obviously affected his life. But that lie also affected my life. My erstwhile certainty has been infiltrated with confusion and doubt.
Not unexpectedly, the conservative media who oppose all the policies the lying Congressman champions, enthusiastically piled on, reaping as much shame-inducing mileage out of the situation as they could. They were eager to shoot this guy down. And, fortunately, the Congressman generously supplied them with the gun and ammunition.
It turned out, however, that, in this case, they were right. Which really threw me a curve. Having found conservative commentators and their guests the opposite of truthful on so many issues – “death panels”, the president’s place of birth – and being suspicious of their “knee jerk” accusations, which at the time lacked the corroborating advantage of a subsequent confession, I leaned heavily towards dismissing their latest outrage against the truth as bogus and disreputable.
Events have proven my prejudgment to be incorrect. Though I do not take total blame. Too many transparent falsehoods on their part had made the truth look like a lie.
That also works the other way as well: Too many transparent falsehoods can make a lie look like the truth. Or at least a less unlikely possibility.
The Internet is teeming with what seem like wild and exotic “Conspiracy Theories.” These extreme accusations don’t seem like they could possibly be true. But with people in authority lying all over the place,
Lying is the counterfeit money of human interaction. It plants doubt in the system. “It looks like a ‘twenty’, but is it?” Suddenly, you lose trust in the ‘twenties’, and you don’t know what to believe.
I try not to tell lies. At least not the big kind. I wish we could band together and spearhead a national groundswell in that direction, like how they got people to stop smoking. But with the stakes being so high, the culture so unswervingly “results oriented”, and the sanctions against lying a lip-servicey joke, I really don’t like our chances.
Of course, I have to acknowledge that not lying may be easier for me than for the lying Congressman.
I’ve never aspired to be Mayor of New York.