We don’t want to hear bad news – we would rather hear lies
A cartoon in the most recent issue of The New Yorker drew my attention and then my contemplation.
It shows two men standing at the edge of a grassy field. A sign at the edge proclaims: “Warning: Tick Infested Area.” One hiker turns to the other ands says: “After the whole WMD thing, I don’t know what to believe.”
Rather than ruminate on the merits or demerits of our Iraqi engagement, which are confusing to say the least and potentially cataclysmic to say a little more, I find myself drawn to the issue of deception.
It has become a political trademark, it seems, to expect and experience deception in the public arena. Some of the most famous lies of the 20th century came out of the Oval Office, and the tradition continues.
I marvel at the unmitigated gall President Bill Clinton employed when he sternly stared into the camera lens and into the homes of millions of citizens and boldly proclaimed: “I did not have sex with that woman.”
It was a lie of humongous proportions, to be sure, but not without a plethora of precedents.
Some of us can remember during the Vietnam War the daily deceptions that emanated from Lyndon Johnson’s White House. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara would come before the cameras and our evening news with one lie after another seeking to convince the American public that the war could be won.
Subsequently, McNamara has admitted that he failed to be straight with his audience and privately was certain that we were involved in a losing cause.
President Richard Nixon’s memorable deceit has become a commonly used suffix as in “Irangate” or, more recently, “Kobegate.”
President Ronald Reagan is remembered not just for being “The Great Communicator” but also “The Great Forgetter” when it came to the activities of Oliver North and his illegal ways.
We’ve come to expect deception on the part of our presidents, it seems. Evidence grows ever stronger that we have become a nation of cynics who pledge our allegiance to a process that demands dishonesty from our political leaders.
Indeed, when one of our former leaders spoke what he believed to be the truth concerning the malaise this nation was (and is) mired in, he was vilified like no other president before him. That was President Jimmy Carter.
Dishonesty is neither a Democratic characteristic nor a Republican one. It appears more and more as if it is simply American. We don’t want to hear bad news. We would rather hear lies.
In David McCullough’s memorable book, “John Adams,” we are made privy to a different political world. This world is often nasty and cantankerous to be sure, but it’s infused with a sense of principle and honesty that seems to have been lost in recent administrations.
One cannot help but marvel over the sacrifices men like Adams and Jefferson made for the sake of a burgeoning nation, willing, it appears, to forgo all manner of personal assets save one: integrity.
Certainly I recognize the temptation to idealize our Founding Fathers, papering over their many indiscretions, and yet I cannot help but grieve for those days when one’s honor was not so easily sacrificed for political expediency or gain.
“To believe all men honest would be folly. To believe none so is something worse,” Adams intoned.
Are these the worst of times?
Columnist Rich Mayfield tells nothing but the truth, and the whole truth, in his Saturday Summit Daily News columns. He is not running for president, nor will he accept a nomination, if drafted.
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