Refreshingly, someone told me the other day that they did not care whether I was Republican or Democrat or Independent. I told them that I was simply disgusted, but I don’t think that is an organized party.
As I thought about it, it occurred to me that what I want in a political candidate of whatever level or stripe is someone who
1. speaks what he believes,
2. believes what I believe, and
3. tells the truth.
I might settle for anyone who simply could be counted on to tell the truth. Those are rare.
When I saw a bumper sticker on the truck of a sadly bitter driver (his whole tailgate was covered with similar sentiments) that said “Obama lied – deal with it”, my first flush of frustration at such polarizing sentiments was then matched with sadness. There is truth to the joke that you can tell when a politician is lying because his lips are moving. I don’t want this to be the case. I want there to be heroes, and I want my heroes to tell the truth.
The idea that politicians lie is such a part of our popular psyche that it becomes easy money for cartoonists and comedians.
I suppose that Abraham Lincoln adopted the name ‘Honest Abe’ to differentiate himself from the political pack. I wonder if he was successful. George Washington confessed his wrong in The Incident of the Cherry Tree, but even that may have been a story made up to overcome the aged presumption that politicians, of which he was one, lie.
I want my heroes to be men of character who tell the truth, and there seems to be something about the political domain that dashes such idealism to the ground.
One of the striking things about Erik Larson’s superb book Dead Wake about the sinking of the British cruise liner Lusitania is the bulk of intelligence that warned of a disaster and the inaction of the British government to intervene in any way. In the end, the blame fell on the Lusitania’s captain William Turner, a blame he bore heavily but unjustly.
The government’s official line in its later investigations was that the ship was hit by two torpedoes and not one. That thoroughly untrue claim was designed to imply the inevitability of the disaster and to divert attention from the absence of British preventative measures.
Winston Churchill, by all measures a political hero, was at the time eager to get United States involvement in WWI, and so he turned a blind eye to the fact that the Lusitania was sailing into a trap. He would forever claim, against the contrary evidence, that the attack was unexpected and the government was unaware. Both were fictions. Larson comments:
“The final humiliation for Turner came later, with publication of Winston Churchill’s book, in which Churchill persisted in blaming Turner for the disaster and, despite possessing clear knowledge to the contrary, reasserted that the ship had been hit by two torpedoes.” (page 347)
Lies are hard to prove, and I generally want to give people, even political people, the benefit of the doubt. But when politicians’ lips move, history suggests they are at best, ‘redistributing the facts’.