OK, Reagan and Bush lied, so Clinton better watch it

January 19, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- When Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh reported yesterday that Ronald Reagan had lied to the American people about the Iran-contra affair, it was deja vu all over again.

We have known that for quite some time.

We even knew it while Reagan was still president.

In November, 1987, the congressional Iran-contra committees issued a report accusing Reagan of not only lying, but of violating that article of the Constitution that required him to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

The report said Reagan had subverted the democratic process. One branch of government had defied and then lied to another.

The report also listed the lies that Ronald Reagan had told the people of America, though the report did not call them lies.

Back when Ronald Reagan was president, we did not like to call our presidents liars.

So, in listing Reagan's lies, the report simply said: "All of these statements by the President were wrong."

So what happened to Reagan? Nothing much.

His popularity did take a dip in the polls. But there were no calls to indict or impeach him.

And when he left office, he had an approval rating of 63 percent, the highest approval rating for an outgoing president since Franklin Roosevelt died in office with 66 percent.

Then came George Bush. Who did not have as easy a time as Reagan, largely due to the huge deficits created by Reagan that took a heavy toll on the U.S. economy.

And in the last days of Bush's re-election bid, he had but one issue left that he could campaign on: Honesty.

He was honest, he told us, and Bill Clinton was not. He told the truth, he told us, and Bill Clinton never did.

Bill Clinton lied about the draft and about women and about everything else, Bush said. And if America would just stick with Bush, at least we would have a man in office who told us the truth.

Then, on the Friday before Election Day, Lawrence Walsh dropped a safe on George Bush's head.

Walsh re-indicted former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for withholding a note from investigators that showed that Bush had lied when he said he had been "out of the loop" on the arms for hostages deal.

The note, which Weinberger had denied existed, showed that the Bush not only knew about the arms deal, but approved of it.

Two days later, Bush went on CNN for a live interview with Frank Sesno. Bush had just 48 hours to win over the American people and could not afford to turn down such an opportunity.

Sesno tore Bush apart. Rarely, if ever, had a sitting president been subjected to such a scathing cross-examination on the subject of his own honesty.

Sesno hammered away on the Weinberger note until finally Bush said: "People are tired of this, and I think they know I've told the total truth."

To which Sesno responded that polls "consistently suggest that the majority of the American people don't believe you." All the air seemed to rush out of Bush.

"Well, too bad," Bush said.

Too bad for him, as it turned out.

But Bush stayed in office long enough to issue pardons on Christmas Eve to six men, including Weinberger, who had been charged with or convicted of lying to Congress about Iran-contra.

These men were motivated by patriotism, Bush said, and so they should not be punished.

Besides, all they had done was lie. And even presidents lie, don't they? Well, yes, they do. That seems clear.

What is unclear is how much longer the public is going to tolerate it.

They tolerated it in Reagan. They seemed to resent it a little in Bush.

Which brings us to Bill Clinton.

Today, accusations swirl about Bill Clinton and his Whitewater land development deal.

Clinton says he has broken no laws. And that is good.

He says he has done no wrong. And that is also good.

But it better also be true.

Because if it turns that Bill Clinton has lied about his dealings at Whitewater or elsewhere, the public may not be in the mood to forgive and forget. Not anymore.

We all know that politicians lie.

But once our politicians becomes presidents, we'd like them to stop.

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