“Lyndon Johnson is a politician. You know the ethics those guys have. It’s like a notch underneath child molester.” — Woody Allen as Alvy Singer in the 1977 Academy Award-winning film “Annie Hall”
I remember growing up and learning about “Honest Abe” Lincoln and George Washington, who, according to my teacher, said: “I cannot tell a lie; I did it with my little hatchet.”
Times certainly have changed, because lying is all politicians do these days. Finding a successful and truthful politician is like finding a reputable lawyer.
I have no choice but to apologize to President Barack Obama for last week’s column, The Liar King. I said that Obama’s gift for lying had made him a terrible President. This past week, I have had an epiphany: Obama’s gift at lying has made him the consummate politician and, in time, will make him a beloved former President (not to me or most of you of course, but just wait and see how many schools, bridges and roads get named after him).
I came to my senses last week when it was revealed that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has totally lost his. It was a Canadian story back in May. It was said that Ford, mayor of the fourth-largest city in North America with an economy equal to the size of Sweden’s, had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine. The popular mayor said it was all made up by the media and that he had never, ever smoked crack.
It became an international story and the centerpiece of late-night comedians when this month the Toronto chief of police announced that his department had come into possession of the video, which clearly showed the mayor was smoking crack cocaine in a glass pipe.
To counter that charge, Ford said he was going to come “clean” and that, yes, in fact, he was smoking crack in the video.
“Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine,” Ford told reporters last week, offering an honest explanation, “probably in one of my drunken stupors.”
You might think the mayor would be pulled down the steps of city hall, tarred, feathered and run out on a rail. To the contrary, his poll numbers actually soared by five points from a 39 percent to a 44 percent approval rating. I wish I were clever enough to make up this kind of story, but I am not.
The inclination is to think that if people like you more because you admit to smoking crack, they, too, are probably all smoking crack. But I can tell you Toronto is a world-class city. Like all big cities, it has a crack problem; it is just that theirs is in the seat of power at City Hall. And people don’t seem to care that not only is the mayor a drunk and a drug user but that he is also a liar. In fact, he is heavily favored to win his re-election bid. Stupid Canadians, hey? I won’t argue that, but just how much smarter are people south of the 49th parallel?
Bill Clinton lied under oath. To this day I cannot believe that he was not removed from office because of that. Republican or Democrat, lying under oath is perjury. (And I’ve checked; there is no fine print in the law that says the law does not apply if it is about sex.)
It is so hard to choose favorites. I mean, there is former Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards. It is true that he was a special case and not forgiven, but that was mostly because his dying wife did not forgive him. If she had not been ill and she had done a Hillary Clinton, I am sure Edwards would be in political office. Who knows? He might have had a successful presidential run in 2016.
And who can forget Mark Sanford? You might think voters would have told the Governor of South Carolina to take a hike after he lied about his hike and simply disappeared for six days back in June 2009. Instead, he was elected to Congress in a special election six months ago.
What Sanford did was a tad worse than calling in sick. He told his staff that he would be walking along the Appalachian Trail. He ignored 15 phone calls from his chief of staff and did not call his four sons on Father’s Day.
While his security detail was running around looking for the Governor afraid he had fallen off a cliff, Sanford was busy wining and dining his girlfriend in Argentina on a secret trip he took using public funds. As you might imagine, the now former Mrs. Sanford didn’t like being lied to. Yet people of South Carolina seem to have forgiven Sanford given that his girlfriend — Maria Belen Chapur, with a degree in “international relations” — is according to Sanford, his “soul mate.” Maybe it is because the public no longer minds electing cheats and liars that Sanford’s indiscretion has been swept under the rug.
This brings me back to Bill Clinton, a man whose dying ambition is to serve as President or at least co-President for another eight years. Given Hillary’s whirlwind California tour this past weekend, Bill may very well get his wish.
During his 1992 Presidential bid, Hillary told “60 Minutes,” “If you elect Bill, you get me.” It will be vice versa. If Hillary and Bill manage to win the Presidency in four years, it will be upon the back of one lie after another. And who will we have to blame for that? No one but ourselves.
As H.L. Mencken said, “People deserve the government they get, and they deserve to get it good and hard.”
But how could an honest politician — if even one still existed — become President of the United States? It is impossible, because he would have to admit to truths very few people want to consider, such as the truth that the national debt has soared so far out of control that massive spending cuts must be made, the truth that America’s military is stretched beyond its limits and the United States can no longer afford to be the world’s beat cop, or this whopper of a truth: that the U.S. dollar is in jeopardy of collapsing because paying bills has come down to nothing more than the Federal Reserve’s acting worse than a Latin dictator.
If a potential candidate even hinted at these truths, the Dow Jones industrial average would fall by more than 1,000 points in less than an hour. It’s far better to fill up people with lies and, once caught, deep apologies. It’s far better to smoke the crack and then let people swallow the opiate for the masses — important issues of the day such as whether Bruce Jenner is keeping up with the Kardashians? Or who is the favorite to win the Super Bowl? Or this one, which has the attention of millions of people: What is the true relationship between Miami Dolphin players Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito? Along the way, we will get other stories from the press like how one politician after another lied to us and how they are now truly sorry plus how they are getting help with their problems. What we need to figure out is that it is these politicians that are the problem.
Yours in good times and bad,