He was furious, a radio listener calling in rage because I’d said that lying was sometimes permissible in government. I may even have said a president who refuses ever to lie should be impeached. That’s not my favorite argument, but I don’t shirk from it.
Imagine a president confronted with a tremendous terrorist coup: an ISIS-type group seizes a whole busload of American businessmen and is holding them in an enclosure in the Iraqi desert, threatening to execute one per hour beginning at noon tomorrow if their outrageous demands are not met. The president and his national security advisers meet, evaluate our military assets in the region, open channels of negotiation – which include our willingness to pay ransom – and argue whether or not it’s wise to blow the cover of our agents who’ve penetrated that organization, which would destroy our rich sources of information but might help rescue this particular batch of hostages.
The predictable questions are aimed and fired at the press conference. Are we contemplating a military rescue mission? “Absolutely not! We’re focused on diplomatic negotiations.” Did you discuss the possibility of paying ransom? Again, “Absolutely not! We don’t pay ransom to terrorists!”
In reality, half the meeting was devoted to the possibility of a military rescue and the other half to ransom that doesn’t look like ransom. How stern are you going to be here about a president who lies to save lives?
Lying in everyday life is despicable. Lying has no friends, no champions. Yet, if the Nazi police pound on someone’s door and demand to know if he’s hiding any Jews in his residence and he insists he’s not, even though he’s hiding a whole family of Jews, are you going to dismiss that liar as a “liar”? I don’t think so!
We have to scout out the motive for the lie before we impute the moral consequences.
The first time I was ever aware of obscenity in the Oval Office was when the Nixon tapes revealed that the American president had referred to the prime minister of Canada as an “a–h–-,” that part of the human anatomy that marks the end of the digestive process. That was Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, whose son Justin just won the Canadian election. There was too much else to worry about at the time of Watergate to do more than smile, but suppose somebody accused an American president today of a similar insult. Would your conscience drive you to a 24/7 confessional booth to atone if you, as a White House press secretary, “categorically denied” America’s president had referred in that manner to the chief of state of a neighbor? Mine wouldn’t, even if I’d added from the press secretary’s podium that our president has the highest regard for the alleged insultee. The motive here is simple statecraft. Deny it. Get it behind you. Move on. One learns quickly never to believe anything in Washington until it’s officially denied!
The lies spotlighted last week in the Benhgazi Committee hearings are not so readily brushed aside. Follow the motive. Hillary Clinton committed the worst kind of political lying. She lied, not to try to rescue hostages from execution, foil a terrorist plot or bail out a president whose bad mouth was giving hemispheric solidarity a bad day, or anything else remotely noble.
Hillary’s lies were intended to serve the interests of herself and a president who had been nervous about his oncoming re-election bid. It’s all right for TV star Betty Furness, demonstrating a new model refrigerator on live television in the 1950s, to have the door come off in her hand (yes, that actually happened)! But our topmost elite decided it was not all right to soil the Obama battle cry of “General Motors is alive. Osama bin Laden is dead. And al-Qaida is on the run!” No, no. We can’t have a terrorist act 56 days before the election! We can’t even have urgent talk of beefing up security in Benghazi.
There is something paralyzingly intolerable about a secretary of state knowingly insulting the intelligence of the public by facing the parents of fallen servicemen and solemnly promising to arrest and imprison that awful Egyptian whose nasty video cost the lives of their sons!
The truth! As I watched the ever-patient, polished and prepared Hillary at the hearing I could imagine her saying, “The truth? Oh, yes. The truth. I’ve heard about the truth. In fact, I’ve heard the truth highly spoken of. And we’re on record for telling the truth – to my daughter, to the president of Libya and to the prime minister of Egypt!”
I’ve met liars worse than Hillary. I’ve known liars who never told the truth, including one famous hometown boy who told the truth once but he thought he was lying. But I don’t think I’ve ever met a liar as comfortable as Hillary.
You may now place your bets. The overwhelming majority are betting that Hillary rolled the Republicans and artfully got away with it and now faces clear sailing.
I’m placing mine on the American people. There are countries where the population will bow down to any lie from their “leader” and be grateful they’re allowed to stand back up again.
But America is not one of those countries.
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