Lies and politics

Art Buchwald

November 27, 1992|By Art Buchwald

I ADDRESS this memorandum to all members of the new administration. It's something that Vernon Jordan won't tell you, and yet it's the most important thing you will be called upon to do.

Some time, either early or late in your tenure, you will be asked to lie. Nobody wants you to lie, but you will be asked to do it for your president and your country.

Lying is part of governing, and no matter how many vows you take to always tell the truth,there is someone above you who will suggest that you fib to save the nation from a terrible mistake that your administration has made.

Here's how it will happen: You will come to Washington pure as the driven snow. Then, like most officials, you will be caught up in little lies such as, "Tell him I'm in a meeting," or "The president told me to inform you that he would love to address your Chocolate Peanut Convention, but pressing business in Albania necessitates him passing it up," or "The president wants you to know he has always been a Chicago Cubs fan and has never missed one of their games on TV."

Now obviously all of these are white lies and not too difficult to tell. It's when you mix politics and foreign affairs that your lying takes on a different color.

Let me give you an example: Suppose that you, as a Clinton appointee in the State Department, start searching the files hoping to get some dirt on Jerry Brown's mother.

It will eventually leak and then you'll be asked by an inspector general in State why you did it.

You can lie and say, "I wanted to see if he really came from another world," or you can tell the truth and say, "I did it because my predecessor did it and I thought that it was part of my job."

If they wish to pursue the matter you can say, "I was looking for Mother Teresa's file and ran across Jerry Brown's mother's passport by mistake."

This might fly. If not, say that Larry King's mother asked you to do it.

Lying about national affairs is something you're going to get involved with. You have to use care because if you keep notes and then lie, you might be indicted.

The CIA are professional liars so you don't have to worry if your appointment is with them and someone wants to take you to court for practicing what you're paid to do.

During the last few administrations, the Justice Department, whose job it is to seek out perjurers, has told falsehoods at the drop of a hat to protect the president. It is said in Washington that the Justice Department has lied about anything that ends in "gate."

Other departments where you will be called upon to misspeak are Commerce, Agriculture and, of course, the White House press office.

There is nothing wrong with lying when working for the government -- particularly if you are trying to protect yourself or the person above you in rank.

But it is wrong to get caught because you can bring embarrassment to your administration and provide comfort to a frenzied press.

I can't tell you not to lie if you work for the government because that's like telling you not to brush your teeth in the morning. If you intend to serve your country, all I am advising you to do if you are exposed is, tell the truth as in, "The devil made me do it."

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