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A Moment of Truth


The media is filled with Republican pundits, right-wring Christians, and arrogant politicians lambasting Patrick Fitzgerald for prosecuting Scooter Libby for lying to the FBI and the grand jury. Not a “real” crime, sniffs Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who, surely, being from Texas, must know a lot about lies. Big lies, and how to tell them.

Why is it that these Republicans choose not to embrace the truth, and telling the truth, as a revered “family value” or American “virtue”?

It’s because lying is part and parcel of their overarching policy–a policy that is to its core, aggressive, yet weak, self-serving and subversive, manipulative, and antisocial.

Though much research has been devoted to detecting deception, almost no one has studied the psychology of lying. Patrick Fitzgerald eloquently stated that lying is antithetical to the workings of the civil or criminal justice system. As a lawyer, nothing is more odious to me than a lying client, judge, cop, juror, or witness. They mock the entire legal system. They attack it, they subvert it. They derail justice.

So, too, do our lying leaders mock, subvert, and derail the very foundation upon which democratic institutions are built–the truth.

Lying is an act of aggression–against the recipient of the lie. Lies hurt people, they hurt companies and shareholders (have you forgotten Enron?), and they hurt relationships. But the liars does not care who or what they hurt.

Lying is also an act of weakness. The liar is unwilling to bear the responsibility of the truth-telling. Lying is the lazy way, the selfish way.

Lying is an antisocial act, injuring the person lied to and any relationships binding liar and victim. In the Libby matter, media stars Tim Russert, Matt Cooper, and Judith Miller were lied about. They don’t seem to mind, perhaps because they are liars’ enablers who call themselves journalists. Not once has Russert exclaimed against Libby crediting Russert as being his source for the Wilson-Plame connection.

But Patrick Fitzgerald didn’t like being lied to. Fitzgerald knows that lying is self-serving. The liars put their his self-interest above that of government they work for, the people they are supposed to serve.

Lying subverts relationships. Once lied to–and we have been lied to over and over and over again by Bush and all who pass on his lies–we put no trust in the liar or the relationship. If we trust our government today, if we believe a word Bush or his cronies (including his media cronies) say, we are the bigger fools.

Lying is manipulative. The damage done by Bush and company’s lying to manipulate the economy, the war, public opinion, and its own people, is unimaginable. We can’t begin to estimates how much we and the rest of the world have been harmed by their lies.

In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find much of anything Bush has told the truth about in the past five years. I could fill an encyclopedia with the lies told day in and day out. Lies which are repeated to us as the truth by the lying press.

Lying is cruel. To the men and women headed for war–you are saving the US from imminent destruction. To Hurricane Katrina victims–help is on the way.

There is a reason why the religious right does not embrace truth-telling as one of the “values” and “virtues” of good Christians: it is because that version of Christianity, their politics, is aggressive, antisocial self-serving, manipulative, subversive, and cruel.

Think of the lies they have told senior citizens about the so-called Medicare prescription drug “benefit;” the lies about the terrorist “plots” they have disrupted; the lies about emergency preparedness; the lies that Bush is “spreading freedom” across the world. Lying is antithetical to freedom.

Jesus, Bush’s favorite philosopher, said “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” This part of Jesus Bush does not embrace. And with good reason.

The Bush administration, and its loyal followers who fill the airwaves with their venal lies, know that as long as we accept the lies we are in chains. We cannot be free.

And chained we are. As good as Bush and company are at lying to us, we are better at lying to ourselves. Sigmund Freud’s word for that was “denial” Americans are in denial in order to spare themselves the painful truth that we have a liar at the helm of the world’s superpower. The liar not only hires liars, he lauds them, as Bush did Libby, as a great American.

The American people seem content to turn a blind eye to their government’s subversion of our Constitution and laws, dismissal of its obligations to us, and manipulation of and aggression against us. And turn a deaf ear to its lies.

So we lie to ourselves, because we can’t bear the truth.

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia and teaches law and psychology. She doesn’t like being lied to. Her new book The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights, is published by Lawrence Hill. She can be reached at:



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