Heroic quarterback Tom Brady was apparently caught lying about his involvement in deflating footballs. One assumes that such prevarication counts for little in the larger scheme of football and Tom Brady’s own career trajectory. His defense is that he did not need to use underinflated footballs to win, so what did a lie or two matter?
Were he a second-string quarterback on a losing team, he might be roundly denounced and suffer real consequences rather than a likely brief suspension. No one ever quite believed Lance Armstrong when he swore that he was not using enhancement drugs; they assumed he certainly was doping, but preferred to see him excel and set records first, and then only later get caught and fess up. When he was no longer in the news, then his lying caught up with him.
The national hero Gen. David Petraeus was caught lying when he told federal officials that he had not shared top-secret documents with his mistress. The law and the public apparently bestow to Petraeus, a good man, a sort of exemption from serious punishment on the logic once outlined by Pericles about putting into context the sins of the military hero or in the fashion that we forgave Bill Clinton’s untruths. Academics assured us that in matters of adultery, constructing competing narratives is quite understandable for all involved and sometimes good etiquette.
NBC anchor Brian Williams was not so much a liar as a bard, who spun yarns about life-against-death encounters, in which as Achilles he was always at the forefront of turmoil. Williams lied simply because as a talking head he could become both oral poet and Homeric hero all at once. His autobiographical sagas certainly jazzed things up at 6:00 p.m. Few question network anchor newsreaders. In Williams’s case his “aw shucks” mellifluous shtick and understated dramatics were his versions of hexameters and type scenes, and so made his lying a bit easier to swallow.
After his brief suspension, Williams might even return to his multimillion-dollar per year perch, with the understanding that he can restore NBC ratings and profitability, and do that with occasional exaggeration rather than outright making up stuff. And why not lie, when NBC itself doctors 911 tapes to confirm that George Zimmerman was a racist?
Everyone knows that “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” was an outright lie. Michael Brown never did or said that. Forensics, logic, and the majority of eyewitness accounts confirm that the strong-armed robber struggled with a policeman, lunged at his weapon, ran away, and then turned and charged him, not that he was executed in polite submission.
Does that lie matter? Not at all. “Ferguson” is routinely listed as proof of police racist brutality -- and by no less than the president of the United States. Michael Brown is now the Paul Bunyan of the inner city. U.S. congressional representatives and professional athletes alike chant and act out “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” dramatics. The public shrugs that although it is all a lie, it is felt to be sort of true on the theory that something like that could happen one day, and thus it is OK to lie that it already has. Most knew that the strong-arm robber Michael Brown was about as likely a “gentle giant” as Trayvon Martin was still a cute preteen in a football uniform.
Community agitator and frequent White House visitor Al Sharpton has lied repeatedly about his income taxes and the reasons why he cannot produce accurate tax records, in the manner that he habitually lied about the Tawana Brawley case, the Duke Lacrosse caper, and the Ferguson “hands up, don’t shoot” meme. The public assumes both that Sharpton is an inveterate liar and that to dwell on the fact is either a waste of time or can incur charges of illiberality or worse. Most are more interested in his more mysterious, almost daily-changing appearance than the untruth that he hourly espouses.
Hillary Clinton, to be candid, is a habitual fabulist. She entered public life lying about everything from her 1-1000 cattle futures con to the location of her law firm’s subpoenaed legal documents. Recently she has been unable to tell the truth in any context whatsoever. She will lie about big and small, trivial and fundamental, from the immigrant myths about her grandparents to the origins of her own name Hillary to her combat exposure in the Balkans. The subtext of “what difference does it make” was something like: “Even if you find out that I lied about the run-up to and follow up on the Benghazi killings, it won’t matter in the least to my career.” She was right, of course, in her assumption that lying had career utility and brought more pluses than negatives, as her current presidential campaign attests.
Her press conference on the disappearing emails was unique in American political history in that everything Ms. Clinton said was, without exception, a demonstrable untruth. It is not that no one believes her, but rather than no one can possibly believe her when she insisted that she would have needed multiple devices for multiple email accounts, or that public officials routinely alone adjudicate what is and is not public and private communications, or that other cabinet officers apparently created, as she did, exclusively private email accounts -- and servers -- for public business or that security personnel on the premises protect the airwaves from hackers. Even her own supporters know that she lied, and trust that it likely will not hamper her presidential run. Her life has become about as real as that of Annie Oakley’s.
Both Hillary and Bill Clinton lied about almost every aspect of the Clinton Foundation. She knew that the foundation was created to spend 90% on travel and insider salaries and benefits, and 10% on direct grants to charities, that it offered thin moral cover to skullduggery, and that it drew donations from zillionaires, who in turn offered Bill Clinton lopsided lecture fees that he otherwise would not have commanded, and expected favorable U.S. government treatment for their cash. Hillary assumed that beneath the skin of a “charitable organization” the three Clintons ran a veritable shake down operation that resulted in mother, father, and daughter becoming multimillionaires. The Clintons will expect the issue to dissolve, either on the premise that the notoriety cannot do much more damage to the already sullied Clinton name, or that the Democratic Party feels that it can nominate no other candidate who raises as much money and is so recognizable as the proverbial prevaricator Hillary Clinton.
President Obama’s approval ratings seem to have gone up almost in direct proportion to the degree he has lied. On over twenty occasions in reelection scenarios, Obama lied in stating that he would not issue blanket amnesties and order non-enforcement of current immigration law given that it would be unconstitutional and unlawful to do so. We accept at the time that such assurances were about as truthful as his convenient opposition to gay marriage -- rhetorical constructs that warp and weave according to the realities of the next election. Who objects when Obama’s lying is felt to be for the higher cause of equality of result?
Almost every element of his promises about Obamacare -- easy online signups, reduced premiums and deductibles, maintenance of current policies and doctors, national savings, and less frequent emergency room use were not just untrue, but realized in advance as simply not possible. Almost every parameter that Obama outlined in advance about the current Iranian talks proved about as true as were his redlines to Syria should it use chemical weapons. As a good community organizer, Obama accepts that his noble goals are government-mandated egalitarianism and that such utopian agendas require any means necessary to achieve them. And so he lies and the public seems bored and apparently appreciates why he must do so.
When elites customarily lie without much consequence, the public follows their examples.
When an airline announces a delay, I now expect that most information that follows will be untrue. I am rarely disappointed. When the pilot’s voice suddenly comes on that a minor glitch has popped up and there may be a 10-minute delay on the tarmac, the passengers figure an hour or two and are mostly proven to be Nostradamuses.
I don’t expect all those with EBT cards to be near-destitute and in need of subsidized foods, especially when a few leave the food market parking lot in new Hondas and Toyotas -- any more than George Soros pays his multi-billion-dollar tax bill on time and accurately. I just saw a near physical confrontation between two shoppers arguing over the last available motorized shopping cart for the disabled -- both were standing and waving wildly their ample arms in each other’s face.
I don’t necessarily believe anymore that the driver of the car in a handicapped space who suddenly exits and bounds across the parking lot is always handicapped, or any more disabled than I was after a recent head, neck, and knee injury from a bad bicycle accident, for which walking, not sitting was clearly the better course of rehabilitation.
When I read CVs now from academics, I expect lies. Under the rubric “publications,” I assume that anything listed as “in preparation”, “forthcoming”, “under review”, or “under contract” simply means the applicant has not written (or started) the book listed -- in the way that “community service” on college admission applications reads like a day in the life of Mother Teresa.
“Best seller” no more means that a book was on the New York Times best-seller list than the far left lane of the freeway is forbidden to huge semi-trucks. “Inappropriate” usually means a friend or ally did something beyond just illegal.
Lying is insidious. When it becomes institutionalized at the top, cynicism and lawlessness follow below.
(Artwork created using multiple AP and Shutterstock.com images.)