IF PINOCCHIO WAS PRESIDENT
It all started with a lie.
One of the first things every school kid in America learns is: George Washington, America's first president, never told a lie.
Well, of course, that's a lie in itself. When Washington died in 1799, Parson Mason Locke Weems, a moralist as well as an opportunist, felt that the people knew all about Washington's accomplishments as "the father of the new country," but not much about his personal life. With that goal in mind, he became Washington's first biographer and added fiction to fact in his efforts to create a portrait of Washington as a role model for the fledgling country’s citizens. Thus, the creative story of little George chopping down his father's cherry tree and, when asked by his angry dad who chopped down my tree, the classic line was born: "I did, daddy. I cannot tell a lie."
While there is not much recorded of Washington's statements as president (there was no Washington Post at the time), you can be sure that one or two "untruths" or "exaggerations" popped up now and then. Because, let's face it, telling lies is in the DNA of every president or premier or prime minister in the world . . . the Pinocchio syndrome. The tall tales may vary from simple false campaign promises to more serious attempts at deceptions, but, let's face it, they lie! Of course, when an American President lies, it's front page news. It's just a reality of life. I mean does anyone really believe anything people like Putin or Kim Jong Un say?
Not that American presidents or other political leaders don't sometimes throw fuel on the fire. Sometimes it's a little spark. For example, even the man considered to be the finest American President, Abraham Lincoln ("Honest Abe") was caught in a fib or two. Lincoln's biggest lie was that he was willing to open peace negotiations with the Confederacy – knowing that much of his own party thought that only unconditional surrender by the South would settle the question of slavery. At one point, Lincoln wrote a note to his own party asserting – falsely – that there were “no peace commissioners” being sent to a conference with the Confederacy. In the end, all turned out well.
In reality, every president or head of state lies—at some point. It’s the nature of politics and diplomacy. Sometimes, a president might convince himself that a lie is in the national interest. A president might lie to shield the public from damaging information that could undermine sensitive missions. A lie could be a way to protect intelligence vital to national security. Or a presidential falsehood could be inadvertent, the result of sloppy staff work or wishful thinking. It's the big lies that do all the harm. Like when President Vladimir Putin says Russia has no designs on any other land, then sends troops into The Ukraine.
In America, the gold ribbon for "The Greatest Lie" has to go to President Bill Clinton, whose rep was already tarnished by the Whitewater Scandal of the 1970s and 80s, when he was Governor of Arkansas, and he escaped jail time due to "insufficient evidence." Then, of course, as president, he made that classic statement during an interview, "I experimented with marijuana a time or two, but I didn't inhale." The American people were so upset at something which was an obvious lie, that Clinton later came out and said he was "only joking" about not inhaling.
But, wait a minute. The really big lie, The Gold Medal winner, is coming up. With a straight face, Clinton looked directly into the eyes of the world in 1998 and emphatically declared: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Well, Clinton's rep, being already "stained" (pardon the pun) by his other blunders, led to him being only the second president in American history to be impeached.
Runner-up in The Great American Presidential Lie competition goes to Richard Nixon when he told the people "I am not a crook," in regard to the Watergate scandal. While history showed he may not have known of the actual break-in at the time, he did his damnedest to cover it up.
The fact is, all world leaders lie, such as Russia's Vladimir Putin, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (when he puts his hand to his heart you know it's a real whopper), China's Xi Jinping, and the list goes on. John Mearsheimer, author of the book Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics argues that leaders lie to foreign audiences as well as their own people because they think it is good for their country, or to cover up crimes being committed by the county's regime.
(Author's Note: Pinocchio is a carved wooden puppet by an Italian woodcarver named Geppetto. He is notably characterized for his frequent tendency to lie, which causes his nose to grow. If that were to happen in real life, The United Nations would need a much larger building to accommodate all those loooong noses.)