Wictory Wednesday: Lying and Honesty

One of the fundamental differences I see between Republican and Democratic voters is how they interpret lying and honesty. I think that there are some genuine differences, and I think that a lot of it is sophistry on the side of the Democrats, but I am not certain that it is intentional.

There are elements to a “lie”. I am aided in having a good working knowledge of what fraud is in the legal world, and the legal world is superb at defining elements for common sense things. For a long time, I thought that the definition of a lie was a common sense thing, but the last decade or so has taught me otherwise. The elements of a lie are (based heavily on my layperson’s analysis of fraud, but true on its own):

  • A wrong statement: saying something that is not factually true
  • Forethought: A knowledge that what you said was not true at the time that you said it
  • Reliance: A reasonable expectation from the person that you are saying it to that you are telling the truth, and some action taken by the person you are saying it to based on your assertion

Right now, a constant refrain from the hard left partisans is “Bush Lied Bush Lied BUSH LIED!!!“. As near as I can tell (through the shouting) this is largely based on George Bush saying that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. This fails to be a lie on the wrong statement element. Mustard Gas and Sarin shells have been used as IEDs in Iraq and recovered by our soldiers. The alleged lie is then supplemented to “stockpiles of WMDs.” This again fails on the wrong statement element because GWB never said that. (Alleged lies like, “George Bush knew that Mossad was planning 9/11 and let them do it and even loaned them remote control devices for the planes” are too ludicrous to entertain here.)

There is another element on which all of these allegations fall flat, though, and that is forethought. I think this is one of the places where we have some sophistry going on. I think it is safe to say that George W Bush’s intelligence, being inherited from the administrations before him, was no better or worse than the intelligence available to Bill Clinton (who called for regime change and launched attacks against Iraq) or the Senate Intelligence Committee, who oversees the entire Intelligence Community, and whom John Kerry was a member (and who voted to proceed with the Iraq War based on that intelligence and oversight.)

In short, Bush didn’t know that the Intelligence was wrong. Neither did Bill Clinton. Neither did John Kerry, one of the people, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who was tasked with the job of double-checking and auditing the intelligence and the methods used to obtain it. If there was a massive failing on the part of the intelligence (and I do not think there was) then equal blame must be placed on the administrations of the last 10 years and the Senate committee that was tasked as representatives of the People to watch for exactly that sort of thing.

Other alleged lies are not so clear cut. Take the most infamous lie: “I did not have sex with that woman — Miss Lewinski.” This was, by all means, a wrong statement. People lie, but dresses do not. It was made with forethought — I guess it could be argued that Clinton plowed so many interns that he forgot one, but I don’t think that is likely, and I don’t think it helps those arguing for him. Where I see Republicans and Democrats differing on this is the element of Reliance.

One element of reliance is, quite simply, “is this person trustworthy?” I don’t think many people would honestly say that Bill Clinton was trustworthy. It boggles my mind that this sort of person was elected, but I’ll talk about that later. (Yeah, I’m going past Den Bestia and into Whittleland.) Democrats and Republicans agreed that when he stood up in a press conference and said, “I did not have sex with that woman” that you could not rely on his statement. That is why it went further.

Bill Clinton was put under oath. Republicans, at this point, began to feel that they could rely on his responses. They knew that he would lie like a rug in front of the press. They did not think that he would lie under oath like that. He is a lawyer. Lawyers are expected to have a higher regard for the legal system than the average person. This is a large part of why Clinton was disbarred from Arkansas over this debacle. Democrats, on the other hand, argued that no one can ever be relied on to tell the truth about sex. To me, this is a massive indictment of the entire left side of the aisle, and I hope that there were at least some Democrats who were offended by this characterization. But this issue — reliance — is why Republicans thought that Bill Clinton lied, and Democrats didn’t.

Another disagreement on lying, of course, is about John Kerry. I can’t opine about the issue of his medals; it isn’t clear yet whether or not the first element — an wrong statement — has been met. To me, the evidence is clear and convincing, but it isn’t certain. Where the evidence is certain, however, is the Christmas in Cambodia incident. There is no doubt at this point that this is a wrong statement. It is the campaign’s stance now that the best that can be said is that he was within 50 miles or so of the Cambodian border, and it looks as if his own war journals acknowledge that he never entered Cambodia at any point.

There are, of course, those other pesky elements. Forethought is undeniable. He has been telling the story for 20 years, so it isn’t a simple misstatement. I suppose you could claim that he doesn’t know the difference between movies and real life and thought that he lived Apocalypse Now instead of just watching it, but that begs the question of why no one has taken him to see The Manchurian Candidate and gotten him off the campaign trail. He knew it was a wrong statement when he said it, over and over and over.

Which brings us back to reliance. The Democrats seem to think that, like sex, everyone lies about their military record and especially Viet Nam. Given the left’s complicity in the myth of the psychotic Viet Nam vet detailed in Stolen Valor (shameless plug) I think this is understandable. This may shed some light on the claims that George Bush is a deserter — he claims to have served the whole time, and everyone lies about their service, right?

“So John Kerry puffed up his war stories. No one relies on war stories.” I guess this is true on the left side of the aisle. After all, the left spent decades vilifying all things military (with an emphasis on Viet Nam) and took great relish at tearing down war heroes (George H. Bush, Bob Dole) while propping up those running against them. What is missing from this analysis, though, is that these stories were not told to impress the left — they don’t care — but the middle. They do respect war heroes. To them, war stories do matter. If they didn’t, Kerry wouldn’t have brought them up.

In addition, Kerry has strengthened the expectation of reliance by making his Viet Nam service the centerpiece of his campaign. It is one thing to tell war stories at the local bar over a bottle of whiskey and embellish those. It is another thing to go on the campaign trail and tell everyone, “I am a hero. I battled all odds to obtain a Bronze Star with Valor and a Silver Star. I was wounded so much that I was awarded three Purple Hearts.” If you say those things on the campaign trail, there is only one reason — so people will rely on them and vote for you. If you know, with forethought, that you were not a hero, then that makes you a liar.

And what being a liar means is really where the difference is, not the definition of liar. On the left side of the aisle, being a liar does not seem to be something to be ashamed of or shunned. It wasn’t always this way. Nixon was the devil of the left for a long time. Then, Bill Clinton turned into Nixon Junior (with a charisma upgrade.) It was OK to be a liar. After all, every politician lies, right? If you believe that, then it makes sense to have the best liar on your side.

To me, though, honesty is the foundation of civil society. Society as we know it cannot exist without basic honesty. You might not believe it, but the vast majority of people you see today will deal with you honestly. The guy at the gas station will honor his agreement to sell you quality gasoline at the posted rate, and you will not give him counterfeit bills. You will not be shorted on the gas measurement, and you will not run off without paying.

When you get to work, you will leave your car, and it will be there when you get back. You will go in, and you will do the work you agreed upon with your employer. Your employer will fulfill the contracts that it has with its customers, and the customers will pay those contracts. You will file reports, and those reports will be correct and accurate. You will make statements to your customers, and those statements will be true to your knowledge. That is how society works, and if we couldn’t rely on people to deal with us honestly without the law getting involved, then we would not be able to operate as a society.

To me, that is what honesty is. Civilization. When someone is a liar, then that person is an enemy of society. That person is undermining the very foundations of our world. That is not the kind of person that I can abide having in office. Virtually every ill in our society is based at some point on a lie. Not being wrong — honest people can be wrong. Jimmy Carter was wrong on a great, great many things. I don’t think that he was a liar. I would take 100 Jimmy Carters over 1 Bill Clinton. I want a person who will tell the truth as he knows it when he talks to the American people. That is why I am going to vote for George W. Bush.

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