When I was a little boy and then a bigger boy, if there was even the slightest question about the veracity of something I had just said, my father would stop. He’d look straight at me. And I do mean straight. Then, he’d solemnly ask, “Right kind?”
That was my last chance to correct the immediate record with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In case there might possibly have maybe perhaps been some, you know, fudging, shading or downright lying going on.
There were times when I took the exit to veracity, admitting, “Well, no, actually what happened was…” And that was OK. Honesty had cleansed the air. No punishment. Everything was good with us then. And I could look him straight back in the eye absent guilt.
I knew exactly what would happen if I continued down the road of dishonesty with a lie. I would destroy the invisible but priceless trust of the most important person in my life.
As a work habit for these many years, I closely watch current events in that swampy city named for the young man who told his father the truth about chopping down a cherry tree. And not a day goes by that I don’t silently ask one or several of those characters, “Right kind?”
I think many Americans silently take their own full measure of those actors who prance about that public stage in the select political dramas the sometimes-honest media chooses to share, when it suits their agenda.
Judging by polls, job approvals, and trust in our institutions, including said media, a very large number of our countrymen have concluded those talking points are not “Right Kind.”
This chronic dilution of trust might be tolerable during an occasional era, now and then. But too many episodes of profound distrust strung together in prolonged periods, as now, seriously corrode the invisible trust that is the essential but hidden, steel-reinforcing rod of an enduring democracy. As it was with my father.
We are all imperfect beings, present company excluded. Everyone has told what Mark Twain so deliciously called “stretchers,” fibs, or white lies — so-called because the motivation for telling that untruth is presumably pure, alleged consideration for someone else. “Sure, I had a really good time. Let’s do that again.”
Family legend holds that my mother attempted to dodge a first date with my future father by claiming she had a church dinner to attend. Her mother overheard and actually made the daughter take her to that event to protect her from lying.
Sometimes, of course, fibbing is told in the interest of self-preservation. “Honey, does this make me look fat?”
But, too often these days, it seems public lying has become a different kind of pandemic, one even more contagious than the Delta variant. It’s merely an expedient, habitual, and sadly convenient means of selling a policy and/or avoiding an awkward moment. Merely a talking point that’s here for one news cycle, then poof! gone.
“If you like your health plan, you can keep it,” Barack Obama lied 37 times during his presidential tenure.
“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” said Bill Clinton. A roguish male friend suggested back then, if President Clinton could convince American women that oral sex was not sex, he deserved a third term.
“If there’s American citizens left, we’re going to stay until we get them all out,” Joe Biden said about U.S. troops in Afghanistan, after they were peremptorily withdrawn and then returned for what turned out to be deadly and merely partial evacuations.
Biden was on the spot in that Aug. 18 interview with ABC News. That was the best – and easiest – answer at that moment. Got Biden through that momentary media squeeze.
Most politicians rehearse answers, at least mentally, for the most likely questions, like that one. Then, they blithely move on to the next time they feel the need for a stretcher. Nobody can know what’s in Biden’s sclerotic heart. We can only judge his untruthful statements.
Of course, “we” didn’t stay to evacuate every American. Many remain mired in the Taliban’s grasp, assuming they’ve not been executed like some Afghans who collaborated with allies during that unsuccessful, 20-year war.
Later, Biden was asked about the abrupt, initial withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan before an evacuation of thousands of vulnerable civilians. That’s the kind of boneheaded decision an amateur commander in chief would make for political expediency, not thoughtful military strategy.
It seemed unbelievable. So, he was asked if military chiefs actually agreed with that. Biden said everyone did, adding he could not “recall” any dissent. That’s a practiced use of a protective weasel word that wary pols use as escape hatches for being called out later. It’s a wily rhetorical trick suggesting Biden’s nearly 79-year-old mind is not as far gone as it so often appears.
Reminded me of comedian Steve Martin’s disingenuous line to police, “I forgot armed robbery was illegal.”
The truth, as those same generals told Congress last week, is that they recommended keeping 2,500 troops in Kabul to maintain order and conduct an orderly evacuation of civilians. In the end they had to rush back in 6,000 more to calm the chaos of Biden’s first hasty departure.
What stuns so many of us voters is the lack of any consequences for such made-up Biden stories and serial lying. No consequences is a bipartisan specialty of DC’s.
Remember all the firings over the deadly Benghazi massacre that resulted from conscious State Department decisions to reduce staff security in Libya? No, you don’t. There were none. Not one.
Just a whitewashed “investigation” by Admiral Mike Mullen, who never even bothered to interview Secy. of State Hillary Clinton, who oversaw the bloody night, nor explain the mysterious, 15-hour disappearance of President Obama during that foreign crisis.
No consequences for the Solyndra loan giveaway that cost taxpayers $540 million. Eric Holder’s Fast and Furious gun-running op that killed an untold number of people, including a Border Patrol agent. Deliberate IRS stalling to hinder Obama’s reelection opponents. Zero consequences.
It was this kind of blatant, hypocritical corruption that fueled much of the Heartland momentum behind Donald Trump’s stunning 2016 upset. The establishment Washington Post kept a running count of alleged Trump untruths that stretched into the thousands by the end.
Holding power accountable is actually a grand idea. It just needs to be consistent. So, how many untruths has Joe Biden muttered in his first nine months, according to that same outlet?
We don’t know. That paragon of propriety stopped carefully cataloguing presidential lies as soon as a Democrat entered the White House. Which is a compelling example of a widespread professional dishonesty that also is free of consequences, except my meaningless refusal to renew online access.
All this modern-day malarkey is in stark contrast to the George Washington cherry-tree story. According to the fable, the future Founding Father got a new hatchet and tried it out on the favorite tree of his father, who confronted him.
Because the honest young man did the right-kind thing, promptly confessing the truth (“I cannot tell a lie”), his father levied no punishment. Quite remarkable that such treasuring of truth as a virtue, even in a legend, seems quite quaint in his namesake city today.