One of the funniest moments in the White House with Bill Clinton came on President’s Day in 1995. He arrived late for our private meeting in the East Wing residence and began, as usual, by cataloging the events of his day by way of apology for his tardiness. “A reporter asked me ‘Today, on President’s Day, if you could ask your hero, John Kennedy, one question, what would it be?’” he began.
Clinton giggled and confided “I wanted to ask: ‘How did you do it? Is there some doorway or stairway I don’t know about?’” Disappointed, he added “But I couldn’t, so I said I’d ask ‘What was it like to be president before Americans became alienated from their government?’”
His follow up query, while less amusing, was more relevant.
Ever since the Kennedy assassination, we Americans have experienced shock after shock, each undermining further our faith in the veracity and goodness of our own government. From the Warren Commission cover-up to the lies we were told during Vietnam to Watergate to Iran-Contra to our cozy relationship with Saddam Hussein before he turned against us to Lewinsky to the election of 2000 to the lack of WMDs in Iraq to the supposed necessity of the stimulus package, we feel that we have been fed one lie after another. Indeed, the only real unifying element that the red and the blue of our politics have in common is the conviction that our government doesn’t tell the truth. For the right, it ratifies the need for less government. To the left, it is the very basis of their aversion to our military and foreign policy.
Now, like the judge he was and the lawyer he is, Andrew Napolitano, the Fox News judicial analyst, lays out his bill of particulars, enumerating seventeen governmental lies in his book entitled Lies The Government Told You. For some, he reaches back into history as when he exposes how the authors of the Declaration of Independence who penned and adopted the phrase “All men are created equal” were slave owners. For others, he reaches into what seems to be our future when he exposes the lie that “we are a free market economy” and it’s concomitant that “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”
In between, he tells us how the government can take our house anytime it wants, how unelected judges make laws, and how the presumption of innocence in criminal trials is a charade.
He debunks each lie with pungent examples from history and from today’s headlines.
But the very recitation of the lies itself indicates an optimism about our democracy. For it is only if we feel we can expect truth that prevarication seems odious. Only that which surprises us makes us angry. And, as Judge Napolitano’s very effort in writing the book indicates, we are still, fortunately, surprised when Washington lies to us.
The Judge has rendered a great service in laying out the fabrications and explaining how the ideals they represent fall short in practice. His book will make you mad, but also better informed and, therefore, a much better voter and citizen.