December 7, 1989


The reason we hate a liar is not his immorality, but his gall in thinking we'd believed him.

Charles P. Curtis

When I was a candidate for jury duty, the prosecuting attorney was asking prospective jurors if they had ever been lied to deliberately. I couldn't understand why he was asking. There isn't a human being in this country who, when he watches television, isn't deliberately lied to at least once every half hour. Can I prove this? Easily: Three different pain killers are advertised on the tube: aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen. There is no difference from one brand of each of these to another; Bayer and Rexall are the same. Each advertiser claims his product to be the best. If they are all the same, all three are lying. If one is truly the best, then two of the three are lying. The same is true of soap ads, breakfast cereal ads and so on.

I suspect that we are so used to being lied to that it is accepted. It may be an integral part of our culture, along with violence and drugs. There are lots of cultures in the world where lying is the norm. In our culture, lying is acceptable, except in court and in testifying before congress. Members of congress are free to lie as much as they like.

In lying to ones parents, truth is often secondary to the eleventh commandment: thou shalt not get caught.

Lying well is a highly respected and admired trait in this country and it is cultivated by many young people. If they are really good at it, they can go into advertising and be very well paid. The companies that write the ads for Chevron gasoline and Cracklin Oat Bran are tapping into the public's admiration for liars.

I was surprised, when George Bush said "read my lips," that he wasn't aware of a political aphorism that "If a politician's lips are moving; he's lying". It is taken for granted that politicians lie often. The question is, who lies less, or whose lies are less flagrant.

Harry Truman had a reputation for being truthful. He was also an expert at avoiding answering a question and he was an expert at keeping his mouth shut. He could never have been elected if he wasn't. The public wasn't aware that he was a boy genius who read everything that he could get his hands on and that he was a history scholar. I doubt that the stories about Mike Dukakis being a "brain" in school helped him any. When Truman was no longer president, his truthfulness was given full rein. In an interview with Edward R. Murrow, he made a statement which endeared him to me. As I remember it, it went something like this: Murrow asked Truman if he liked the Missouri Waltz. Harry replied, "I'm a musician and a politician and I come from Missouri, so I have to like the Missouri Waltz; but just between you and me, it's as bad musically as The Star Spangled Banner". Can you imagine any politician saying something like this during an election campaign?

I am not going to talk about religion. Politics is bad enough. However, since many religions claim to be the only true one, ...well, you figure it out. I may be outspoken, but I'm not suicidal.

No, I don't believe that there are more lies now than there used to be; it's just that they reach more people via the tube. They are also better lies because they are crafted by professional liars, not amateurs.

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