No sooner did I write that my favorite 20th-century quote was Deep Throat's "Follow the money" than a book came to my attention, claiming that the famous Watergate quote may not be a quote. The Washington Post's former editor Ben Bradlee seems to be vaguely doubtful now about the authenticity of his then-young Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and his story about "Deep Throat." What next? Will we be told that Woodward doesn't look like Robert Redford?
Revisionism is common in political life. Politicians are expected to lie or at the very least, to shamelessly revise their estimates of deficits, cost overruns, and problems in general, but strangely, not about their personal lives.
There's a flap right now in Massachusetts over whether Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren was misleading in her use of the fact that she's 1/32 Cherokee! Wow! That would certainly influence my vote. Would Senator-elect Warren start scheming to give the Cherokee Nation back to Alabama and Mississippi? These are important questions, folks!
Everyone in the public arena reaches for "truth" as if it were a Phillips screwdriver on the top shelf of the national toolbox. How many times have you heard politicians start a string of lies with "The truth is, folks... "? Oh, oh, most of us would think, here comes a "talking point" or a carefully cherry-picked fact sprinkled with the usual meaningless "factoids." Don't you love coinages like factoid and talking points?
Granted, not all political leaders are lying all the time. Sometimes, they believe things they say that are obviously false. (Gingrich comes to mind.)
Then there's the military brass. There are generals who, when asked to describe a "situation on the ground" for their own little war, suddenly develop a malady called "iffyness" (not to be confused with Stephen Colbert's "truthiness"). These people are reverently consulted by pundits and talking heads about the outcome of our military policy.
The generals always claim to believe that victory is just around the corner if they get all the troops and military hardware they've requested, if the public is willing to support a very long war, and if it doesn't rain too much in June... or rain too little.
When was the last time you heard a military leader say, "We're losing and I see no light at the end of the tunnel because we're not digging a tunnel, we're digging a hole."
By far, the greatest lie is one of omission, used relentlessly by the Republicans. All our economic problems were caused by Barack Obama in the last three-and-a-half years. You want to talk about Etch A Sketch? The Republicans have erased the Clinton budget surplus. You never hear about it from Messrs McConnell or Boehner. And all those deficit budgets were passed by a Republican-controlled Congress for six of the eight Bush years.
If we started paying for the unfinanced wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we'd have to use Deficit Dollars with Bush's face on one side and Cheney's on the other. You remember Cheney's famous quote: "Deficits don't matter." Somehow, they started to matter the day Obama was inaugurated.
Someday soon, in some courtroom, a witness who's about to be sworn in will say, "Wait a minute! The whole truth, and nothing but the truth?? You expect me to swear to that??" Who knows, maybe we're discovering the truth is just overrated.