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Jewish World Review May 23, 2003 / 21 Iyar, 5763

Tom Purcell

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Consumer Reports

Liar, Liar | So the study confirms it: politicians lie.

A political scientist at Britain's University of Strathclyde has determined that lying is an important part of politics in modern democracy. He said voters expect to be lied to and sometimes even require it. What he didn't tell us is that Bill Clinton funded his study.

Now I know what you're thinking: of course politicians lie. When negotiating with thugs around the world we want our guys to outwit them, and that usually requires deception. When waging war, we want to hear the good news, not the gory details. And during elections, we hardly ever vote for the guy who tells the truth; we want the guy who tells the most colorful yarns.

The truth is lying is one of the great cottage industries in America. We all do it.

When your girlfriend asks you if you like her new haircut - one that gives her the look of the Chihuahua in the Taco Bell commercials - do you tell her the truth, as I made the mistake of doing only once, or do you smile and say she is more gorgeous than ever?

The fact is she wants to be lied to and your level of skill is a measure of how much you care for her. My old comedian friend Chris Ciardi has a great line about that. He got home late one night half in the bag. His wife demanded a reason. He told her it was best he get a good night's sleep and in the morning come up with an excuse they both could live with.

We expect the same from our politicians. When Clinton was president, we didn't want the truth. We didn't want to know about all that boring government stuff, such as the failed attempts to capture Osama Bin Laden when we had him clear in our sight. No, for much of Clinton's presidency all we wanted was a guy who pretended to keep the stock market high, so we could pretend his numerous mistruths and scandals didn't matter.

Though, of course, there is a line on acceptable political lying and Clinton finally did cross it. If only he heeded the old motto: You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but sooner or later Hillary is going to find out and throw a lamp at you.

That brings us to President Bush. People keep "mis-understimating" him, unaware of how clever the fellow really is. Take our war with Iraq. The president said it was about Hussein flouting the UN resolutions. He said it was about his weapons of mass destruction, which could end up in the hands of terrorists who could really do us some harm. He set out a few simple justifications for why we should invade, and stayed on message.

What he didn't tell us was all the other stuff he and his team were really up to: That they wanted to scare the bejesus out of the other dictators in the region, who only respect force and action. That the rule henceforth is we're going to shoot first and ask questions later, and that the head thugs will be the first to go. That victory in Iraq would give us a chokehold on Syria and others who sponsor terrorism, by cutting off billions in illegal oil dough. And, oh yeah, since we're in the neighborhood, we just might swing through Iran, since those morons are still harboring Al Qaeda wannabes.

So of course our politicians conceal, deceive and mislead. They are responding to our queue. We disdain complexity and conflict and punish any politician (Carter) who doesn't keep them away from us.

We prefer Santa Claus (Clinton), not the high school coach who makes us do wind sprints (Bob Dole). We want more free government goodies AND less government spending. We want bigger Social Security checks AND less withholding taxes. And anybody who is dumb enough to tell us we can't have everything is never going to get elected in this country.

Which brings us back to the study. The author concludes that politicians should be more honest about the necessity of lying. Now let's think about that for a moment. If our politicians were more honest about lying to us, how would we know they were telling the truth?

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05/16/03: Laffer all the way to the bank
05/09/03: My mother's house
05/02/03: Teaching the Iraqis how to protest
04/25/03: Iraqi TV
04/21/03: Explaining Democracy to the Iraqis
04/11/03: Major increases to the beer tax? That's a cheap shot right to the beer gut
04/04/03: War humor
03/31/03: Dolphins, PETA and the USA
03/21/03: Traffic Wars
03/14/03: Ronald Reagan's St. Patrick's Day
03/03/03: My Family's Tragic Secret: We're French
02/21/03: I'm worried about my people
02/14/03: George Washington Makeover
02/07/03: Making quiet sacrifices
01/24/03: "Gimme the, goo-goo, gah-gah, remote!"
01/21/03: "Misunderestimated"
01/10/03: Republican night life
01/06/03: Exercise pills
12/31/02: They provide unending joy to those who are wise enough to let them in
12/13/02: Hurried Man Syndrome
12/06/02: In DC, snowstorms have important ramifications --- or, at least, they should
11/26/02: Police advertising
11/15/02: An Interview with Osama
11/01/02: How to vote in America
10/25/02: On edge in Washington, D.C
10/11/02: Giving new meaning to "selling your body"
10/04/02: Bush's Angels
09/27/02: Conservatives, Liberals, Dick Armey and Barry Manilow
09/20/02: Are SUV drivers are the new GOPers?
09/13/02: Bubba is Dubya's man
09/06/02: The Freedom to Picnic
08/16/02: Ah, the $izzle of anti-terrorist pork
08/09/02: Vacationless prez and gutless Americans
07/26/02: Study gives women permission not to hide their emotions
07/15/02: Patriot food
06/28/02: Eavesdropping on a San Fran classroom
06/21/02: The crowded skies
06/14/02: Contemporary Father's Day: A conversation for the ages
06/07/02: Legal rights for animals?
05/19/02: Advice for prom goers this year: Hold onto your money
05/10/02: Don't take her for granted
05/03/02: Letter to the parents of a tubby teen
04/26/02: Zacarias Moussaoui gets expert legal advice

© 2002, Tom Purcell