When you realize that communication is the most basic survival skill of the human race, then you must also see that lying is the cardinal sin, since a lie is a deliberate attempt to sabotage communication. It is an immoral attempt by one person to manipulate another by denying that person the truth.
We would all still be living in caves and trees were it not for the ability to communicate – to instruct, to warn, to pass on knowledge, to educate and to train. With that in mind, you have to wonder why the Bush administration so persistently lies to the American people.
Vice President Dick Cheney did it again during the debate with Sen. John Edwards. Cheney is the guy, of course, who so emphatically, with such gravitas, insisted that – of course, without a doubt – Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, was on the verge of building an atomic bomb and had ties to al-Qaeda. None of that is true, of course.
In the debate, Cheney got off what the television chatter-heads called the “best zinger of the night” when he said to Edwards that as president of the Senate, he (Cheney) had never met Edwards before that night’s debate. It was designed, of course, to diminish Edwards, to dismiss him as neglectful of his Senate duties.
And, true to form, it was a lie.
The Kerry campaign quickly produced a file photo of the two them together at a prayer breakfast at which the vice president, in his remarks, thanked Sen. Edwards for attending. If you are naive or recklessly charitable, you can excuse Cheney’s false statements about Iraq by blaming them on the CIA, but the spookery is innocent in this case. Since no one has accused Cheney of having Alzheimer’s, it’s quite plain that he just lied when he claimed never to have met Edwards before. It’s also true that Cheney rarely shows up in the Senate except to have an occasional lunch with Republican senators.
The motivation of liars is easy to determine. They want something – agreement, consent, a vote, a sale or unearned approval – and they are willing to manipulate other people to get it. Nothing shows so much hostility and contempt for people than to lie to them. When you lie to someone, you are saying, in effect, I’m going to sabotage your God-given brain so that you cannot make a rational decision in your own interest, but will instead be tricked into making a decision that serves my interests.
I have often said that the people should consider lying an unforgivable sin by any politician. It is, after all, not an unreasonable demand that politicians at least tell us the truth as best they can determine it at the time. In my days as a political flack, I always told a new client upfront, “I will give you the best advice I can, but I will never lie for you.” And I never did. Credibility is like virginity. You can lose it only once, but it’s forever.
It is possible – in fact likely – that sometimes we make mistakes. We say what we believe to be true, only to discover later that it is not true. Such a mistake is not a lie. A lie is a falsehood told with full knowledge at the time of its telling that it is false.
So while the motivation of liars is easy to determine, the motivation of those who like to be lied to is more of a mystery. Some people, it seems, are afraid of the truth and prefer the illusory comfort of lies. Some Americans, for example, simply do not wish to know that in every war we’ve ever fought, some American troops have committed atrocities and war crimes. I don’t know why some people feel this way, for after all, war is the most brutalizing of all human activities. It would be a miracle if some soldiers didn’t commit atrocities. I remember as a child hearing from kin who came back from the “good war” of Americans who collected ears or heads or dug the gold fillings out of the teeth of enemy soldiers with their bayonets, as well as executing unarmed prisoners.
Other Americans appear to want a daddy rather than a political leader. They seem to long for the comfort of a benign, all-powerful father figure who will take care of them. George Bush, as laughable as it is, is trying to play this role of the Great White Father in the White House. He seems to think he is taking orders from God, when in fact he is apparently being manipulated by Cheney and the other neoconservative lunatics in his administration.
At any rate, the reality of the world, not the Bush administration’s version of reality, will determine our fate. To choose liars is the same as choosing a blind man to lead you up a dangerous mountain.