The Lies We Tell pt 1: Presidents

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Most, if not all, Presidents lie about something.  Some of those lies are really serious, like when President Nixon obstructed a Federal Investigation into the Watergate scandal.  President Clinton lied about having sex.  Let me be really clear, lies are always serious, especially from presidents. But what do we mean when we use the word “lie”?

There are a couple of different kind of lies.  Let’sstart with the classic “Nixon”.  A Nixon-lie is a lie that you tell other people something you know isn’t true to intentionally mislead them.  In this case, you know the truth and you deliberately and knowingly tell people something else.  This is the kind of lie where I tell you I bought the white iPhone even though I know I purchased the black iPhone, have it in my pocket, and enjoy it’s blackness on a continual basis.  It’s not the kind of lie where I ‘forget’ to include pertinent information, based on perception, or relies on social conventions.  This isn’t where you ask me what kind of phone I get and I say, “I really love white iPhones”.  That would be a Clinton lie, more on that in the next paragraph.  A Nixon lie is where I know a verifiable fact, and I tell you a story that’s verifiably false.  If I tell you this story and you give me money then it’s called fraud.  If I do it at court it’s called perjury.  It’s a fairly evil sort of lie.  But to be honest, these sorts of lies are pretty rare especially for public officials.  It’s just too easy to check.  The other kinds of lies are far more common.

You’re next sort of lie is your Clinton-lie.  This is, “I did not have sex with that woman” and coupled with “Depends on what your definition of “is” is.  A Clinton lie is a semantic argument.  In mythology, a genie, or fairy, or a daemon, or any number of supernatural creatures, promise big, but, when it’s time to collect, you discover that the deliberate ambiguity of language has  provided a false sense of reality.  The Clinton-lies were, “I did not have sex if by sex you mean… well you know.  Or I did not have an affair and by affair I mean long term emotional thing.  Or I did not have an inappropriate relationship and by “inappropriate” I don’t mean morally, I mean legally.”  Slick Willy is different than Tricky Dick in the sense that he never Nixon-lied.  Everything he said was perfectly accurate, but intentionally misleading.

Then you’ve got your Bush-lie. What we now know are that there are no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.  Not only are there no WMDs, but it should have been pretty obvious that there were never any WMDs.  So did Bush lie about going to Iraq?  Sure, but it’s a not Nixon sort of lie.   This is a sort of intellectual dishonesty. Bush, for whatever reason, desperately wanted to go to Iraq.  For Bush, the decision came first, and then the justification.  The lie is based on the value of that justification. If you added all the pro-evidence on one side of the ledger, and all the con-evidence on the side of the ledger, the cons would have prevailed but that’s not always relevant to a politician or a lawyer.  Their goal is to make your best possible case.  What Bush did was try to advance a particular narrative to the American people.  That is the Bush-lie.  A good leader will set up a system where he get’s both sides.  Clearly, Bush was a terrible leader.  He put into place  only those people he wanted to hear on just about every issue of the day.  Bush wanted something to be true without being sure if it really was.  The worst thing about Bush was that he was just an average regular guy and Confirmation Bias is huge among regular people.  A good leader needs to know there’s a confirmation bias and work against it.  Bush didn’t.  But did he Nixon-lie?  The only way for him to have known that there weren’t WMDs would be to go to Iraq and find out.  Which we did. Bush did it again by landing on a carrier with a Mission Accomplished sign.  Again, he was advancing a narrative that he hoped was true.  He should have known that the insurgency was just getting started, but he only believed the evidence telling him otherwise.  If a Bush-lie sounds alarmingly close to stupidity that’s good.  It should.  It may be common human behavior, but perhaps you’ve read my posts on Why You and Everyone Around You is Stupid.  

Obama-lies.  I’m not going to go into the Benghazi thing.  Conspiracy theorists are fuming about how Obama “lied” about Benghazi.  Try the twitter thread #rememberbenghazi if you want to see a legion of people frothing at the mouth about how badly they need to see the President drawn and quartered for… well, they’re not actually sure; only that he did it on purpose because he hates America.  The truth is pretty much out on Benghazi.  There’ve been multiple partisan and nonpartisan investigation, speeches, lawyers.   Besides, even if were true, it would be an uninteresting Nixon-lie.  The Obama-lie is different.  When Obama said that you can keep your plan and your doctor if you’re happy with them, what he meant was, the government won’t force you to switch.  The Obama-lie is a classic politician promise. Obama promised something that was contingent on behavior of other people that he couldn’t control.  In retrospect, that was a pretty stupid thing for him to say.   A president not being a dictator promises a great deal more than he can often deliver.   An Obama-lie is still reprehensible.  You can’t excuse a lie. I believe that the intent to deliver on their promises is there.  Obama never intended anything other than what he said.  But situations are often beyond the control of even presidents and that is the Obama-lie.  Obama was warned.  His own allies cried foul.  Many of the policies were now in existence would not and could not meet the standards of the new laws.  In that sense the government did force you to a new plan.  

Update.  The number of people receiving cancellation letters is now about 4 million.  This represents about 2% of the plans in existence (admitting for the fact that are estimates).  Obama clearly butchered the roll out, and he botched the selling of the plan.  I think if Obama had said that 95% of the plans would be safe, then this would not have been the Lie of the Year 2013.

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