For more than a decade, even the smallest truths have been at a premium in the halls of Congress. . . and elsewhere in our government, from the Executive Office and WMDs to the Supreme Court and Citizens United.
But now, finally, Congress is *cough* aggressively attempting to restore truth in government.
Just as the Feds fully cleaned up the Wall Street and Bank disasters of 2008-2009 by convicting homemaking doyen Martha Stewart on charges of trading on “insider information,” they are now prosecuting former All-Star baseball pitcher Roger Clemens on six felony counts involving perjury, false statements, and obstruction of Congress.
The charges stem from Clemens’ voluntary 2008 appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committees in which he denied allegations by others that he had used steroids during his major league career. Stunned in much the same way Claude Rains was “shocked” to learn that nefarious criminals were hiding out in Casablanca, the Committees referred the case to the Justice Department for prosecution.
Clemens’ first trial ended abruptly in July, 2011, when the judge, citing prosecutorial misconduct, declared a mistrial on the second day. The Feds pressed fervently on, and Clemens’ second trial began just a few weeks ago.
Clemens’ defense? Through a 23-year career and 354 wins, he never once tested positive for steroids. Not once.
The government’s evidence? Well, Jose Canseco, who himself admitted to steroid use, wrote a book in which he “suggested” that Clemens “might” have taken steroids. Teammate Andy Pettitte testified that Clemens implied he had taken steroids, but also stated that he (Pettitte) might have “misunderstood.” And then there’s Clemens’ trainer, who’s changed his story five times, and now says without doubt (and no collaborating evidence) that he injected Clemens himself. In other words, the government has over four years built an airtight he-said, she-said case at a cost conservatively estimated well into eight figures.
And why not? Truth is sacred. Especially when spoken in the halls of Congress, a baseball player’s words in his own defense might threaten the security of our great nation.
So lies must be revealed. . . and prosecuted.
But perhaps – just maybe – prosecutions for perjury and making false statements should begin a little closer to home. Say, in Congress itself. After all, it impeached a President for lying about a blowjob, so why not impeach its own members for lies that undermine the very legitimacy of government?
Just a few months ago, Senator Minority Whip John Kyl (R-Arizona) gave a speech in the Upper Chamber in which he stated unequivocally that abortion was “well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does.”
Of course, only about 3% of Planned Parenthood’s activities actually involve abortion (and much of that is just consultation). But instead of copping to his egregious error, Kyl’s office doubled down by releasing a statement that the Senator’s “remark was not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood. . . . does subsidize abortions.”
In other words, Kyl’s statement was like Aesop’s fable of the Tortoise and the Hare that “illustrated” a lesson in persistence. But fables employ symbolic metaphors, not untruths. Attempting to “illustrate” any moral virtue with a bald-faced lie disparages both the argument and the virtue it portrays.
In conceding that his oratory “was not intended to be a factual statement,” Kyl admits that he knew it wasn’t true when he said it. Hence, he lied. . . to Congress.
Kyl’s not the only one. Every day yet another elected official ambles forth nearly foaming at the mouth with one falsehood after another (like Representative Allen West’s recent comments that 74, or 82, or 61, or 55 Congressional Democrats are in fact Communists). Do these politicos have any substantiation of their “facts” whatsoever? And if not, why aren’t the Feds prosecuting them as relentlessly as they did Ms. Stewart and Mr. Clemens?
What proof would the Feds have to support prosecution? With Members of Congress (and most other elected officials), every sleazy lie is on videotape. And most are entered into the Congressional Record, signed by the liars themselves. Which leaves only two rationales: 1) our elected representatives are morons who don’t know the truth, or 2) they are lying douchebags inhabiting the lowest rung of Dante’s Inferno. Neither is an acceptable defense.
The key ingredient to a successful democracy is an informed electorate – a citizenry that is told and knows the truth. Indeed, how can any vote be legitimately cast if it is based on lies?
It follows that if truth in government is not our first priority, then government itself is inherently false. For when those in elected office distort truth into illustrative fables grounded in lies, an informed electorate is merely a myth. . . and democracy “of the people, by the people, and for the people” becomes nothing more than a fairy tale.
Photograph: Keith Allison, Creative Commons