When Leaders Lie
How many lies does a man have to tell before we can call him a liar?
The Ancient Romans said only one, when they gave us the legal dictum Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.
That was a pretty stringent requirement. Most of us are not George Washington and one wonders if even George was perfect in his honesty, the cherry tree fable notwithstanding.
Barack Obama is another matter. According to Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith (normally a loyal member of the administration’s media claque), no less than thirty-eight documented falsehoods in the president’s memoir Dreams from My Father were revealed by David Maraniss’s new book Barack Obama: The Story.
What’s interesting about those falsehoods (can we call them lies?) is that they were unprovoked. We are used to presidential lies, most notably from Nixon and Clinton, but we know full well why those men were lying. In fact, in their cases it was obvious. In Obama’s, we do not.
Why was he lying? Self-aggrandizement? To sell books? For political purposes? Dreams from My Father was written before Obama supposedly had presidential ambitions. Or was there a hint, dare I say it, of pathology?
Maraniss almost farcically excuses him by saying the young author’s motivation was to make literature. The historian differentiates between memoirs, in which he says untruths are permissible, and autobiography. As a recent author of a memoir, permit me to say that is utter nonsense. Whether you are writing a memoir or an autobiography (not that there is much difference in their dictionary definitions other than length), you are well aware that others who know the real story could be reading and judging it. You lie at your peril. Obama did so anyway.
Despite being a professional historian, Maraniss is evidently unable to free himself from membership in that same administration claque. (For the view of another professional historian, see my colleague Ron Radosh.) Maraniss may have delivered the facts, or some of them, but he has tried to explain them away in a manner that is both tendentious and ridiculous. You don’t have to be an Ancient Roman to believe there are a lot more lies where those 38 came from. You don’t even have to think, as some do, that Obama didn’t even write the original book by himself, although that accusation is becoming suddenly more credible. Recent events have made them so. (Maraniss should be embarrassed – future historians beware.)
When I speak of "recent events," I am of course referring to the sudden invocation of executive privilege in the matter of the Fast & Furious scandal in which the president has associated himself with that other documented liar, Eric Holder, our attorney general.