In response to an earlier post I did about Obama’s habit of lying about easily verifiable events, beliefs and associations in his past, echeccone made the statement, one we’ve often heard, that “every politician lies.” There’s a kind of sweeping truth to that statement, but its very broadness hides the fact that not all lies are created equal. I was just going to leave a responsive comment to echeccone, but it got so long that I decided to use my blogger privilege of elevating my response to its own post. So here is my little riff on why all lies are not created equal, and why Hillary’s and Obama’s lies fall into the worst category.
As any of us who have children or who remember our own childhoods know, lying is an integral part of the human condition. There is no toddler who hasn’t stood before Mom and Dad, staring at the paint on the living room wall, and then glancing down at the paint all over his hands, only to announce without shame, “I didn’t do it.” Said child is always punished, and the punishment comes along with a lengthy explanation about the value of truth and the danger of lies. As a society, we don’t tolerate it well when people deny wrongdoing.
However, at the same time we teach children not to tell these baldfaced, punishment-avoiding lies, we also encourage them to be nice — and to do so even when that involves a lie. “If Tommy asks why you won’t play with him, don’t say it’s because he smells bad. You can say it’s because Mommy wants you home Wednesday afternoons.” These social lies easily continue into adulthood. To the question “Does this dress make me look fat,” the answer is always “No,” regardless of truth.
We also learn as we get older to use lies to protect someone else’s secrets or security. Imagine, if you will, that you’re 10 and your best friend has just confided that she loves Billy. If another classmate asks, “Does your best friend love Billy,” the answer is an emphatic “No.” We don’t betray our friends’ secrets unless someone’s safety is at stake.
Many of these things hold true in political life as well. Of course politicians are going to say they love babies and are for truth justice and the American way (or, if they’re Lefties, for the un-American way). We don’t question them too hard on these things, since we understand that the answers will be generic, just as they are with the “fat dress” question. Likewise, we expect politicians to lie if they’re being pressed about matters that are state secrets. “Hey, Pres. Truman! Are you planning on dropping the Bomb on Japan tomorrow?” That’s another “No” answer.
We also are willing to give favored politician some latitude on broken promises. Thus, the question in the voters’ collective mind when a politician breaks an promise is, “Did s/he, at the time s/he made that promise, have any intention of keeping it?” If people believe the answer is “yes,” they’ll listen with some respect to the politician’s excuses for failing to keep that promise. If the answer is “no,” or if it is apparent that no person of reasonable intelligence should have made such a promise in the first place, then voters will be much less forgiving.
And then there are the lies that Hillary and Obama tell, likes that hark back to the toddler years: They get caught doing something bad, and they simply lie about. Hillary confines herself to denials and accusations. In the face of her intransigent denials, when the truth finally emerges, she tends to look awful. Obama is more clever. His first instinct is to deny, and then he starts leaking out the ugly truth. And by leaking it out slowly, he defuses the impact of the fact that, yes, he did engage in wrongdoing or, yes, he did associate (fairly closely) with terrorists or, yes, he did know all along that his preacher is an anti-American racist kind of guy.
The thing is that, no matter how Hillary and Obama spin it, whether through denial and accusation, or a slow, deflecting acknowledgment, they’ve engaged in the types of lies that most people find unforgivable — the kind of lies that have no social utility but that are just used by the liar in a craven attempt to deflect punishment or humiliation. That is, these aren’t lies to be kind, or lies to protect someone or something (other than the liar), or statements that time proved to be untrue. These are out and out squirrely lies aimed at deceiving people about negative aspects of the politician’s conduct, personality or associations.
And that’s why it’s simply not enough to excuse Hillary and Obama by saying that all politicians lie. All lies are not equal and some are definitely worse than others.
UPDATE: Wolf Howling has an excellent analysis of Obama’s little (and big) Wright lies.
UPDATE II: And here’s another example of Obama’s ever spiraling lies, this one about ex-adviser (or not?) Robert Malley. I mean, he’s definitely an ex something, but Obama has been spinning like crazy about whether he is now or ever was an adviser.