07/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Politics on The Couch: July 4, 2008 -- It's The Truth that Sets Us Free

What follows is the seventh post for the interactive book, Politics on the Couch. Readers' comments are welcome and an integral part of this experiment.

July 4th 2008 -- It's the truth that set us free

As we celebrate Independence Day, we acknowledge that the only way to become truly independent is to speak truth to power, as the Founding Fathers did in 1776. History has provided us with an interesting pair of bookends in this regard: the first George W couldn't tell a lie and the current George W cannot tell the truth.

Untangling lies is no easy task. It involves looking at the statements themselves, at the people who make them, and at what they hope to prove, disprove, or gain. Untangling involves examining the techniques liars use to avoid discovery -- such as blocking access to White House documents. When challenged, liars may use indifference, contempt, denial, evasion, and mockery (of themselves or of the questioner) in an effort to avoid discovery. Bush uses them all.

The first time a young child knows for sure that he is alone in the world, his first experience of independence, is when he lies to a parent and gets away with it. But it is also a perverse experience -- the child knows he is alone because he can do things without his mother knowing, but he is not independent because he has not directly confronted his parent -- something that generally comes with adolescence.

Lying makes the child aware that privacy really can be private, and he can lie to protect himself. As the liar grows up, however, he learns that lying can be used for power, for acceptance into a group, or a job, or as a tool of seduction. What is a normal developmental step becomes something else entirely.

Institutions also lie, such as television media in general and Fox News in particular. They distort sound bites and make them newsworthy. They allow partisan commentators (working from approved "talking points") to endlessly repeat the same lines. Hitler's "big lie" theory -- that if you repeat something often enough people will believe it -- is alive and well, most famously the Bush administration's successful effort to link Saddam Hussein to 9/11.

By using surrogates, sophisticated liars can deny any personal wrongdoing. Bush and McCain, both of whom comfortably use surrogates, protest that they are helpless to stop mud-slinging. In 2004 Bush prolonged the Swift Boat attack on Kerry by remaining silent; in 2008 McCain consistently says he is powerless to stop slurs against Obama because they don't come directly from his staff. Failing to denounce slander is taking action without taking responsibility. Obama did not remain silent when General Clark questioned whether McCain's military experience in and of itself qualified him for the presidency. He spoke to the subject swiftly and directly, and made it clear that Clark was not acting as Obama's surrogate.

Lying is ubiquitous in politics, as every voter knows -- and it takes many more forms than the ones briefly described above. I think about ways to close off an argument, dismissing one's opponent with "I never argue with a man who is wrong." Instilling fear is another tactic liars use: when they can't win an argument based on facts they predict dire consequences if their plan isn't followed. McCain is doing just this in supporting Bush's Iraq policy. But now he can't use the same lies Bush used to get us into the war -- most voters know Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11, that there are no WMDs, that it's not been a quick and easy victory, and that Democracy in Iraq is an unlikely prospect. Now Alan Greenspan has come out of the closet to declare the truth -- Iraq was always about oil.

The truth not told is that Republican leadership lies in order to gain power, to get what it wants -- which is more wealth for its friends and supporters. Voters, however, run just as great a risk when they dismiss everything a politician says as they do when they believe everything they hear. Voters who only hear what they want to hear are lying to themselves; they aren't really listening in the first place.

But lying also goes both ways in families. Why do so many citizens choose to not vote? I think it has to do with early childhood experiences of having been lied to by their parents. A child whose parents withhold the truth becomes discouraged, becomes indifferent and turns his back on those parents, those confounding fathers and mothers.

What do you think about lying leaders and confounding fathers?