“To be honest is to be real, genuine, authentic, and bona fide. To be dishonest is to be partly feigned, forged, fake, or fictitious. Honesty expresses both self-respect and respect for others. Dishonesty fully respects neither oneself nor others. Honesty imbues lives with openness, reliability, and candor; it expresses a disposition to live in the light. Dishonesty seeks shade, cover, or concealment. It is a disposition to live partly in the dark.”“” William J. Bennett, The Book of Virtues
When I was growing up in Southeastern Montana, there was a lawyer who was known as a prolific liar amongst his peers in the legal community. Most often the lies were exaggerations to improve his standing in the community or denials to avoid responsibilities for his failings. My father described him as a man who would lie when the truth would serve him better. My father used him to drive home the point that ultimately you are judged singularly by your honesty and your integrity.
Honesty and integrity are the basis for inspiring trust. They are the lynchpin of leadership. Honesty is a universal commitment — it is not a commitment made only in moments of convenience. It is not abandoned when conflicts arise or an easier path is found.
We sought to raise our children with that same commitment to honesty. And when they failed, when they observed others profiting short term from their lack of candor and tried it themselves, we landed on them like a ton of bricks. It was not the punishment they received that staggered them; rather it was the withdrawal of trust. And it was the sheer volume of things in our everyday lives upon which we depend on others trusting us and for which that trust was withheld. “Having been untruthful with us about this, what is it we can believe of you in the future?” It was a long process to regain that trust and a painful lesson in understanding how important honesty is to how you are defined.
Which brings us to President Barack Obama.
President Obama’s hallmark campaign slogan was “Change We Can Believe In.” It was designed to cast candidate Obama as a different kind of politician and distinguish him from his primary opponent, Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton — both noted for playing fast and loose with the truth. It was designed to energize young voters and independents both of whom had become disenchanted with the Republicans and Democrats alike. It was designed to instill trust in a disillusioned public.
It worked. Barack Obama was elected President not on his policies but on the fundamental belief that “politics as usual” was about to change and that, at long last, someone would return honesty and integrity to Washington politics.
But twelve months into his presidency, Obama has demonstrated that such trust was misplaced. Obama has demonstrated repeatedly that he, like many politicians, is an accomplished liar.
While most politicians lie to cover-up their misdeeds (“I did not have sex with the woman, Monica Lewinsky”, “I didn’t know my boyfriend was running a gay prostitution ring out of my house”, or “I am not a crook”), President Obama routinely lies in order to curry favor. Here are three examples:
President Obama was the commencement speaker at Notre Dame University — a Catholic institution supposedly dedicated to promoting the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. During the commencement speech, President Obama, in an effort to retain support amongst Catholics (they voted about seventy percent for him) said we should all work together to make abortion rare. He lied. Among his first acts as President was to rescind the executive order of former President Bush that banned federal funding to international groups that promote and perform abortions. By doing so, he increased the number of abortions rather than made them “rare.” He then went on to say that we should make adoption more available and provide care and support for women who choose birth rather than abortion. He lied. There is not one shred of evidence that Obama, during his entire public life, has supported counseling on alternatives to abortion, improvement to the accessibility for adoption, or support for those who choose birth rather than abortion. That detachment continues today.
Then there was President Obama’s meeting with Pope Benedict at which Obama promised to do everything possible to reduce the number of abortions. It was said again to curry favor with the moral leader of the Christian world with absolutely no intention of doing anything about it. In fact, at the same time he was making his pledge to the Pope, his representatives at the United Nations were arguing that abortion on demand was a fundamental right for women and should be recognized universally.
And most lately, President Obama, while a candidate, repeatedly pledged to insure that the debate on healthcare reform would be open and transparent and pledging that the final negotiation would be open to the public and aired on C-SPAN. He did that to curry favor with an electorate that had previously rejected the backroom negotiation chaired by his opponent Hillary Clinton in the early years of her husband’s presidency. But once again, he never had the slightest intention of fulfilling his commitment and, in fact, sent his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, out to cut backroom deals with the pharmaceutical industry and the insurance companies in order to deter their opposition to healthcare reform — and for which he has demonstrated he has no intention of living up to.
Fortunately, the dissemination of news and commentary has been democratized by the advent of FOX News, talk radio and the internet otherwise Obama’s difficulty with the truth would have gone unacknowledged by the mainstream media. But it is today universally known and the reason for the largest drop in voter approval for any modern president in his first year as president.
It is of no consequence to dredge up the lies of other politicians as an excuse for President Obama’s conduct — we are each responsible for our own actions. In fact, to dwell upon the lies of other politicians makes Obama’s lies even more pernicious given that his entire campaign and voter acceptance was based on the assertion that he was different — better — than other politicians. It is little wonder that the largest migration away from the President is amongst independents and young voters. And it is doubtful that he can regain that trust. As we said to our children, “Having been untruthful with us about this, what is it we can believe of you in the future?”
Honesty and integrity take a lifetime to build and a moment to lose.