When honesty is no longer the preferred policy

Truth, it is said, is the first casualty of politics.

And government…and society…and, if seems, life in general.

Even our religious leaders can’t seem to tell the truth. In the weeks leading up to the death of Pope John Paul II, spokesman for the Vatican misled Catholics about the graveness of his condition, giving optimistic reports about his declining health when, in fact, the end was near.

We have become so accustomed to being lied to that we view any piece of information with skepticism, always looking for the motive behind what we are told.

We know politicians lie to us. We expect campaign promises to be broken. Any government report generates doubt. Yet the increasing audacity of political and government lies should, at the very least, concern us.

The current debate on truth swirls around the Presidential commission’s report on the abject failure of American intelligence agencies on whether or not Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Turns out he did not. The commission says the agencies were “dead wrong” in saying he did.

Yet the supposed existence of those weapons was the centerpiece of President George W. Bush’s rationale for invading Iraq. He went before the American public and claimed we had proof the weapons existed. Secretary of State Colin Powell promised such proof when he spoke to the United Nations.

Did Bush intentionally lie? Those who support him at all cost say no. They say he was misled and heap most of the blame for this incredible blunder of former CIA Director George Tenet.

But let’s look at the record of the Bush administration when it comes to telling the truth.

Late last year, Congress passed the President’s controversial Medicare drug prescription plan – a plan many saw as an election-year ploy, one that critics said was much more expensive than the White House claimed.

Turns out the critics were right. After the plan become law, the American public – and Congress – learned the administration deliberately withheld information on the true cost of the program, a cost that almost surely would have led to defeat of the bill.

In the days, weeks and months following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the White House ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to withhold information about the true heath hazards of the air quality around the site.

These are just two examples of many, documented attempts by the administration to lie to the American people.

Yet George W. Bush is not the first American President to lie. Bill Clinton looked straight into the camera and said “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky” and it took his DNA on a dress to get him to fess up. Only former President Jimmy Carter promised he would never lie to the American people and that – in itself – was a lie as a number of lies surfaced during his one term in office.

And they won’t be the last unless Americans start demanding honesty from their elected leaders. That cannot, and will not, happen as long as voters put their loyalty to political parties above that of their country.

Perhaps it is too late. If the church can lie about the Pope’s health, if the waitress can lie about how long it will be before she serves your food and if airline personnel can lie about how long your flight will be delayed, then why should we expect honesty from our leaders?

Honesty is the first casualty of politics. But it is also missing in action in the war called life.