*I’m always amused when people are somehow upset and/or surprised to learn that elected officials have been lying to them. Who could’ve predicted that?
Not only is such behavior predictable, but dishonesty is a trait most people want in their politicians even if they don’t always realize it.
Think about it this way. Most politicians are elected to represent a group of people and in doing so they are a member of a large group of people who are all tasked with the same job. This is politics work at the local level in county legislatures; it is also how politics work at the national level in Congress. The important thing to remember here is that there is a finite amount of resources that are supposed to be shared among all of the towns, cities, counties, or states (depending upon the legislative body in question) and all of the representatives are trying to get as many resources as possible.
One of the ways to get the most of whatever you want when in an environment filled with ambitious people with the same goal is to be ambiguous about your true intentions. This is where the dishonesty comes into play. If I really want funds for project A, there may be others willing to undermine my efforts. But if I make a lot of noise about project B, and let others challenge me on project B, project A may not get as much attention. The bottom line is the people in my district who would benefit from project A want me to get the funding; and I’m not sure how many are truly interested in how I get it. This is how I conclude that they are okay with my dishonesty, and even want it.
In the realm of foreign policy it is even easier to see where dishonesty is warranted. Essentially only the president is elected with foreign policy in the job description. But there are committees on foreign policy in Congress and of course the President names ambassadors to other countries to uphold American interests. None of these people should be forthcoming when speaking with officials of other countries about the ultimate goals of the United States. This is true whether dealing with ally: did we really want to let Great Britain know we were assertively taking their place as world leader after World War II? Probably not. This is true when dealing with an adversary: would it have made sense to tell Mexico our plan of attack during the Mexican-American War? Of course not. This is true when American interests are an expansion of American influence and power like in the aforementioned examples. But it is equally true when the situation is such that the United States is taking a step back – look up how the United States handled expansion and its northern border with Canada in the early 19th century. To the best possible job, it behooves politicians to be less than straightforward.
Now there’s probably someone reading this and thinking everything I’ve said so far is fine, but they don’t want their politician lying to the public. After all government should be transparent to some degree, right? And you want the guy/gal you vote for to have no embarrassing incidents in his/her history. To that person I say stop being so short sighted and remember what you elected them for. You don’t ask the obstetrician about all of the different birth scenarios, you just want your baby delivered without a hitch; you don’t ask the engineers to go over blueprints with you and the pros and cons of multiple cement mixtures, you just want the bridge built. So why the need to go behind the curtain with politicians? They are all spending our money so that can’t be the answer.
And there is a substantial portion of the American population that might say they voted for someone because of the moral values. If that is the case they might be justified in getting upset that their politician lied about some moral transgression. But I would still say that such a segment of the population was misguided in their reasoning for voting. Furthermore that segment of the population should keep in mind that everyone has something in their past they wish could be erased.
What am I saying? In a nutshell – that politicians lie. They have always lied and will continue to lie in the future because very often lying gets the job done. And that no one should be surprised by this. But also notice what I am not saying – that we should accept all manner of bad behavior from politicians, or that we should accept untruths about all of their bad behavior. There are people who are paid to investigate politicians, there are people who are paid to oversee what politicians are spending our money on. These folks should take their job seriously and report back to the public. That is clearly unlike from a weekly press conference in which your local assemblyman gives a speech on his activities of the past seven days.
For example, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer are both attempting to win elections this fall in New York City after having violated their marriage vows and some societal norm against infidelity. Both were untruthful. But I don’t believe these facts should eliminate them as viable options for the offices they seek. Being a good husband is not a qualification for being a good politician. (Indeed being attentive to the needs of a major metropolis like New York usually leaves less time to be an attentive spouse) But in Rockland County, where I live, a local mayor was arrested on accusations of money laundering and giving improper benefits to some community members and of course she was allegedly dishonest about these things. These are the kinds of things that no one should want in their elected officials.
I trust we can all see the difference.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.