“I am not a crook.” Richard Nixon.
That has always been one of my favorites. He was of course. But that was the least of it. He was also a paranoid bigot.
After Tricky Dick we had a bit of a backlash to presidential dishonesty and elected Jimmy Carter, who promised, “I will never lie to you.”
All that moral integrity turned out to be too wimpy for our taste, though, so we tossed the peanut farmer from Plains for a movie cowboy with barely credible black hair and a twinkle in his eyes who promised a new morning in America. If you weren’t poor. Or a woman (he killed the ERA). Also he didn’t fund the Contras in Nicaragua with secret illegal arms sales to Iran. Reagan’s defense when he came clean was that he didn’t know the details. At least that was credible. He never knew the details.
“Read my lips, no new taxes.” George H. W. Bush. Oh, except those new taxes. Had to do it. Wouldn’t be prudent not to.
“I did not have sex with that woman.” Well, not that kind of sex, at least not with that one, but close enough. (And, on that subject, let’s not even get started on Kennedy. Which one? Any of them.)
And the saddest, to me personally, uttered by my latest hero: “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” Oops, there it is, right there in the Syrian sand, a red line. Imagine that.
I’m not saying politicians are congenital liars. They’re just…well, politicians. Sometimes they just get carried away telling us what we want to hear. Othertimes they get caught at some Machiavellian skulduggery or taking a wide stance in the men’s bathroom stall. So they duck. Backpedal. Lie. Cover up.They’re like toddlers caught doing something they know they’re not supposed to. It’s kind of amusing, really.
Amusing! You’re shocked, you say, that I find humor is such grave breaches of public trust. It’s not that, honest. It’s just that I find humor in human nature. Look at your kids. Look at yourself. See what I mean? Really, is it reasonable to expect more from our elected officials? (Other than Jimmy Carter, who was so humorless we got bored with him.) They are only human, after all.
So if trust is not the proper yardstick, what is? The answer is simple: policies.
But if we can’t trust them, how do we know they will flow through with their policies?
Good question. We don’t, not entirely. But there is a momentum to policy. There are a Congress and a Cabinet. A lot of people get behind policies. The president is the leader, but he or she is leading a big herd. The herd is going to keep going, even if the president suddenly decides he or she wants to go the other way. Herds have momentum. And ultimately a collective mind of their own.