Nixon, Reagan and Lies

November 22, 1983.

The reason Nixon took a beating from the press and Reagan always lives to smile another day seems simple enough. Nixon thought it necessary to tell lies. The press, after a longish interval, began to point out that the president was not telling the truth. Nixon got mad and insisted that he was telling the truth. Sensing it was on to a good thing, the press pointed out some more Nixon lies and so, in the end, the president resigned on August 8, 1974.

Reagan on the other hand, doesn’t mind telling the truth. He doesn’t mind telling lies either. The truth is that he cannot tell the difference. Nixon knew when he was lying and—since he sweated and twitched when was telling lies—most other people knew when he was lying too. Reagan, the actor, has absolutely no moral sense about truth or falsity. Truth, to him, is what he happens to be saying at the time. Even when he is repeating some hoary old lie about welfare cheats which has been exposed in the press a hundred times, he still looks as though he is telling the truth and I’m sure he thinks he is telling the truth.

The problem for the press is that Reagan really doesn’t care that he’s been caught out with another set of phony statistics or a bogus anecdote. How do you deal with a president without guilt? Reagan has gone one better than George Washington. He cannot tell a lie and he cannot tell the truth.

Excerpted from Corruptions of Empire.

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.