Published in The Jerusalem Post on, August 23, 1998
Standards of truthfulness in public life have been shot to damnation. Lying has become the norm. Ethical society can only lament.
Anywhere you turn, chicanery, deception and the outright lie are epidemic. Lies to ourselves, and lies to the public. Duplicity has become so prevalent in public life that, well, we don’t really expect anything else from our politicians.
Take Bill Clinton for example. No-one is ever going to rank him as a great President in moral, historic terms, like, say, George Washington (“I cannot tell a lie; this cherry tree I did fell”). Clinton has become so adept at self-deception and obfuscation, that dodging the truth and the crafting of evasive answers has become a way of life. He has danced his way around problems for years — from Jennifer Flowers to the Vietnam draft, from Whitewater to social welfare policy, from marijuana use to “inappropriate” moments with Monica.
Clinton’s continuing lame excuses are cause for one major headache, which I guess is what he intends. He wants us to tire of the Monica story and “move on”. We’re supposed to forgive the knavery, overlook the immorality, disregard the shame brought to the presidency, and limp forward with a president whose every move now carries sexual connotations and is fertile, fetid material for the late night television comedians.
We all know about “the big lie” — a falsehood repeated often enough that it becomes common wisdom and generally-accepted truth. Here’s two current political examples: that the US and the UN are “containing Iraq”, and that Yasser Arafat’s PA is living up to its Oslo treaty commitments.
Madeleine Albright can write in The New York Times that “the US will stand firm on Iraq no matter what” and that “Saddam Hussein can’t break out of his cage”. But the reality is that the Iraqi dictator remains in power, thumbs his nose at international inspection regimes and continues to rebuild his non-conventional arsenal. Albright is left to fool herself into believing that Washington is dealing effectively with Saddam and with the task of convincing us too of this fiction.
It’s also amazing to me that we’re still bargaining among ourselves about how much more land should be turned over to the Palestinian Authority, because we have to “live up to our accord obligations”. Over the four years since the Rabin-Arafat handshake, Arafat and the PA have violated virtually all their undertakings: to disarm and outlaw terrorist groups and extradite terrorists; to curtail anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda; to end human rights abuses and ensure free speech; and to change the PLO Covenant.
There’s a big lie buried here, which pops-up repeatedly in one form or another in Western newspaper editorials and columns; that Arafat is sticking with the peace process while Netanyahu is betraying it.
Russian conformity to Western standards of appropriate foreign policy behavior is another current lie. No-one in Washington or other capitols wants to press President Boris Yeltsin to the wall, because he’s the best horse we’ve got running in the chaotic Russian polity. Unfortunately, that means overlooking renewed Russian meddling in Asian and Middle Eastern politics, along with dangerous Russian missile and military technology sales to radical actors like Iran.
And here’s one final fabrication — a real whopper produced on behalf of world Jewry: that we are all one people. Step out of the Israeli pressure-cooker for several weeks and spend some time with Jewish communities abroad. The visit will be sure to dispel any such ridiculous notions of unified peoplehood.
Most Jews abroad, not to mention insular groups at home like the ultra-orthodox, live lives that are wholly disconnected from our Israeli reality, with value systems and concerns radically foreign to ours. Pretensions of unity are silly. There’s lots of *concern* out there for Israel, but it is of the type one has for an old high school acquaintance who has gotten into trouble: tsk, tsk….how terrible.
We lie to ourselves in believing that Israel and Diaspora Jews truly share, any longer, a common destiny.
The net result of all this fibbing, falsifying, artifice and deceit and is that we are becoming desensitized to the decadence and corruption inherent in lying. Clinton has anesthetized us all. If the President of the United States can lie so baldly — when neither national security nor urgent public need required it — why should we expect better behavior from lesser public figures?
And thus, lying has become easy, accepted, commonplace. On Rosh Chodesh Elul, as we approach Rosh Hashanah, perhaps it’s time to demand a higher standard of our public servants and politicians. “For in truth and righteousness shall Zion be redeemed”.