Lying has certainly come a long way in the new century. Those of us us born in the 1900’s can still remember a time when being caught publicly lying could bring down a President (Nixon), or at the very least, get one impeached (Clinton). In those sepia-toned days, lying was a content-neutral affront; Barry Goldwater was just as justifiably incensed at being lied to by Nixon as Al Gore was at being lied to by Clinton, despite the rather gigantic difference between the significance of their respective lies.
But something odd happened when George W. Bush entered office, buoyed as he was by a veritable geyser of lies. Remember that “humble foreign policy,” those tax cuts, the “vast majority” of which went to “those at the bottom,” or “compassionate conservatism?” Me, neither. Those statements were were inoperative, as it were, long before Bush’s “administration” came into office. But somehow, the burden of proof had mysteriously shifted from the liar to those few hardy souls willing to call out the lies.
One of the earliest adopters of the entirely proper appellation for Bush statements that turned out to be, well, lies, was Paul Krugman, who once lamented that Republicans had tried to establish, especially after 9/11, that George W. Bush, despite (or perhaps because of) his utter incompetence, was nonetheless our War President, and as such as unfit for criticism as “the Queen of England.” This despite the fact that ol’ Bess may have her faults, but going on television night after night to spin brazen whoppers was not among them. I doubt she was amused, either of her.
But the corrosive effect of lies told and too often believed, especially by the media, has now borne its rancid fruit, basically upending the time-honored relationship between the lied-to and the liar. Lying has gone from grave breach of trust, to unpleasant necessity, to doing the lied-to some kind of favor, and it’s exposing the lie that is now the unpardonable sin.
When confirmed liar and previously confirmed war profiteer James Clapper, in the wake of revelations that his minions had, and continued to, snoop on every American, impatiently mansplained to that ol’ cocktailhag Andrea Mitchell, who ought to know better as Mrs. Alan Greenspan, that well, of course he lied, but not as badly as he should have, in retrospect, her pancake barely cracked, but it was clear she wasn’t quite with the program on this “liars=good; truth-tellers=bad” business. She queried further, and drew him into describing his lies as, get this, “too cute by half,” as though he was only embarrassed to have his lies relegated to mere runners up in the lie beauty contest taking place each day in Washington. (Note to Sen Feinstein: Skip the swimsuit competition. Please….)
No, today the liars have the upper hand, and are blessed with a battery of gullible pundits to help them circle the wagons in a pinch like this. From John Boehner to Tom Friedman, from Jeffrey Toobin to John McCain, and from David Brooks to Josh Marshall (!), liberals and conservatives alike sang like a choir of angels about the sanctity of liars and the perfidy of those who expose them.
Back in the Clinton years, one of the justifications endlessly proffered by the fellow adulterers who were persecuting Clinton for his, the most understandable of lies, was couched in the usual manipulative terms, that “the children” might grow up thinking lying is okay, and we can’t have that. Well, those kids are grown up now, and intentionally or not, we’ve taught them exactly that. Let’s hope the lesson won’t sink in.