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Lying down on the job

By Lady Liberty
web posted June 5, 2006

Take a look at any self-help program, and you'll find the following right up front: You can't get better until you, yourself, admit that you have a problem. For all intents and purposes, that's accurate. But I contend that, for successful change, there's something else that comes both before and after that: the truth.

I have a friend who is a recovering alcoholic. Obviously, she long ago admitted she has a problem with alcohol. But to do that, and to then recover with any success whatsoever, she also couldn't lie. She couldn't lie to others without the danger of sabotaging her efforts, but even more importantly, she couldn't undermine her resolve and later her progress by lying to herself. Pretense under such circumstances leads directly to failure.

I know a couple of people who have, at one time or another, received some psychiatric therapy. And for some people, counseling is a real gift. They talk about their problems. They get advice and learn problem-solving techniques to better deal with difficult times on their own. In the end, they almost always emerge with a strength they didn't know they had. But for therapy to work, they can't lie to themselves about themselves, and they certainly can't lie about their troubles to their therapist.

I've seen relationships go bad — one of them was my own — because one partner had difficulties telling or sometimes even recognizing the truth. Once lies have been told, they're eventually discovered. And when that happens, trust is all too often lost. Even when the person who has been caught up in his or her own lies finally sees that there's a problem, it can be all but impossible to convince the wounded party that the liar is now telling the truth. But even before that, to tell somebody else the truth, the liar has to know it — and admit it — for themselves.

I suspect that you have in your circle of acquaintances and in your own past history of relationships similar stories to tell. I'm also willing to bet that you understand all too well how hard it can be to trust a known liar once the lies have been discovered, and that you know from personal experience just how hard it can be to forgive someone who has wounded you with lies of one kind or another.

As bad as liars who tell lies to protect themselves may be — to hide affairs, cover up wrongdoing, or even to protect the feelings of others in some misguided effort to be kind — they can at least be understood if not condoned. They can also be cured of their problem if they want to be since the liar knows full well he's lying. There are two kinds of liars that are much, much worse. They are liars who honestly (pardon the pun) don't recognize the truth themselves, and those who lie with "pure" motivations, who tell us what we want to hear (take note that the "pure" motivations of such may be purely selfish).

There have long been jokes told about certain types of people who have a reputation for lying. You can talk about the stereotypical used car salesman as much as you like, but the job title that most consistently tops the list of those perceived as liars is that of the politician. There's a reason for that: Ironically, it's all too often the truth.

Ever since the United States got itself involved in its war with Iraq, there have been those few who insist that the Bush administration lied about whether or not there were Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq or that, if there were, the WMDs were any kind of threat to the US. Eventually, most Americans have apparently come to believe that the Bush administration made an honest mistake based on inaccurate intelligence. But in recent weeks, we've heard allegations that the Bush administration had proper intelligence which indicated there were no WMDs after all. It simply chose to ignore it.

The Bush administration was finally dragged kicking and screaming into confessing that it was perhaps mistaken about the WMDs despite its earlier assurances that such did exist and did pose a clear and present threat. It has not yet admitted the truth of a 60 Minutes exposé, however, showing its culpability — and its deliberate misdirection — may have been far greater. Meanwhile, an Assyrian news agency is busying itself reporting that there were WMDs before the war, but that Russians helped the Iraqis get them out of the country before an American invasion.

Who are we relying on in the main to get our information about the war with Iraq? Politicians and political appointees. Are any of them telling the truth? Maybe. But given the diametrically opposed stories here, the one sure thing is that all of them can't be.

Immediately following the 9/11 terror attacks, Congress overwhelmingly voted in favor of a "temporary" measure it sadly misnamed the USA PATRIOT Act. Of its numerous expansions of government power, sixteen were considered touchy enough where civil liberties are concerned that they had built-in sunset clauses attached to them.

Perhaps the comprehensive scope of the law allowed our political representatives to speak with a clear conscience when they told us that the law was a necessity to fight the "war on terror." Or maybe the fact that some provisions would sunset automatically assuaged any guilt they might otherwise have felt when voting to contravene numerous of the Bill of Rights. Perhaps. On the other hand, it's a little difficult to buy any explanation, pro or con, when the vast majority hadn't even read the Act before so vehemently voting in favor of it.

As an aside, I think it's more than fair to question just how it is that a more than 300 page bill was ready for consideration scant weeks after 9/11. It's my own belief that those who suggest the USA PATRIOT Act was written in response to the terror attacks are lying. I think the various parts and pieces of the law were quietly occupying Justice Department wish lists, and that 9/11 presented an opportunity for those wishes to be granted by a public clamoring for somebody to do something, and to do it at any cost. But that's just me.

Meanwhile, back to the topic at hand: Decisions affecting all of us, costing all of us, and potentially turning any of us at any time into a criminal are made with far less knowledge and forethought than most of us might like to believe. Not too long ago, a Congressman created a bit of a stir when he took it upon himself to suggest that members of Congress have a little time to read pending legislation. His op-ed was written in response to a particular faux pas made when an embarrassing amendment was added to legislation later approved largely due to the fact no one knew the amendment was in there. But Fox News promptly jumped on the bandwagon and pointed out other instances where similar mistakes were — or easily could have been — made.

So the truth is that, whether it's through direct intent or not, members of Congress lie on a pretty regular basis when they tell us how swell a particular bill is, or when they urge us to support their opposition to a bill that's less to their taste. In reality, just exactly how sure are they it's either good or bad since they haven't had the time (or, in some cases, the inclination) to read the silly thing? And even within a mostly good or a mostly bad bill, how many are even peripherally aware of the unrelated tidbits — or poison pills — that have been added in the form of last-minute amendments?

Where the PATRIOT Act is concerned, Congress actually had a couple of extra months to read the renewal language when the matter required reconsideration late in 2005. As a result, the Senate dragged its feet on reauthorization claiming concerns with civil liberties. But as it turned out, after some pro forma bickering, Congress approved the renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act this past March. Of those " temporary" clauses, all but three are now permanent. Only one was modified. So much for claimed concerns or, truth be told, for civil liberties.

The falsehoods connected to the war in Iraq and the PATRIOT Act are among those that stand to hurt a broad spectrum of Americans. But that doesn't mean that only such all-encompassing issues are subject to less than truthful statements coming out of offices in Washington!

• Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson who, after being caught on video tape accepting a $100,000 bribe, not only insists he's done nothing wrong but is accusing FBI agents of wrongfully conducting a search in his Congressional office (unlike the situation would be for most of us under the PATRIOT Act, agents actually had a warrant to search Mr. Jefferson's office).

• Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy says he wasn't drunk when he drove into a Capitol Hill barricade and exited his vehicle only to waver on his feet. He also says he didn't demand special treatment (though he got some, thanks to some ranking members of the Capitol Police). Of course, in a press conference a couple of days after the incident, Kennedy told members of the media he remembered nothing of the incident. Except, of course, that he didn't ask for special treatment.

• Georgia's Cynthia McKinney made the news when she hit a Capitol Hill Police officer who stopped her after she attempted to bypass a metal detector into a Congressional office building. The officer says he asked her to stop several times and touched her arm when she didn't. Ms. McKinney says the officer touched her "inappropriately" and accused him of racism. She later apologized for the "escalation" of the event (which she, of course, caused), though not for accusing the officer — who was doing his job — of racism.

While these are some of the latest instances of misdirection or outright fabrication sufficiently egregious to make the national news, there are countless others lies that only local constituents hear or know about. But believe it or not, the fact that Congress (not to mention state legislatures and town councils) is stacked with liars isn't the biggest problem we've got. No, the biggest problem seems to be us!

When a friend repeatedly lies to you, what do you do? If you're a normal human being with normal emotional reactions, you back away from that person knowing that he's not really your friend. If your spouse lies to you, and then lies again, do you continue to trust her without question? Of course you don't. None of us would. So why is it that so many of us continue to vote for and trust our political representatives?

Congressman Patrick Kennedy not only has a problem with addiction (he left Washington and his legal troubles there for rehab at Minnesota's famous Mayo Clinic), but with the truth as well. (I can't imagine that I need to remind you the example his father — Senator Edward Kennedy — set for him in that regard, do I?) And yet, just days after the scandal unfolded, the Rhode Island Democratic Party once again solidly endorsed Representative Kennedy as their man, and all indications are that he's not going to have a problem winning re-election in November.

Sure, it's great that we can forgive mistakes. But repeated bad behavior is only rewarded when we choose to ignore it and fail to punish it. I certainly do humbly apologize to the three or four members of Congress who are actually honorable men and women and who aren't the liars of whom I speak here. But as for the rest of them, well, isn't it time we stopped pretending they'll tell the truth next time, and that it's good enough that we can trust them some of the time?

Most politicians aren't going to change because there's no incentive for them to do so. For our own part, failing to take action and to give them that incentive is nothing less than lying to ourselves. Surely we don't want to sink to their level — and watch as our country sinks with us. Do we?

Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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