The president who lied.

Never in history had a sitting president been held in such low esteem by his fellow politicians. Washington establishment types, usually willing to look the other way, were appalled by the odor of scandal and corruption hanging over the White House. This president had broken the law. More appalling yet, he had deceived the people. He had lied on television and led the country into a crisis that was absorbing the attention of the entire country. He had disgraced his office and undermined the people’s confidence in the entire system of government.

So the politicians, for once, said. They were truly angry at the president’s “campaign of deception.” In fact, they couldn’t wait to impeach him. These quotes from the Washington Post speak for themselves:

The president, (said Chris Matthews) “has broken and shattered contracts publicly and shamefully. He violates the trust at the highest level of politics.”

“I’m angry at him,” (retiring Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton) says. “I’d like to kick his butt across the White House lawn.”

“This is our town,” says Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the first Democrat to forcefully condemn the president’s behavior. “We spend our lives involved in talking about, dealing with, working in government. It has reminded everybody what matters to them. You are embarrassed about what (the president)’s behavior says about the White House, the presidency, the government in general.”

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin: “When you take the precious resource of a president’s ability to mobilize people and employ that resource into a campaign of deception . . . when you lie to the country, you are using your authority to undermine the presidency.”

“People felt a reverent attitude toward 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” says Tish Baldrige, who once worked there as Jacqueline Kennedy’s social secretary and has been a frequent visitor since. “Now it’s gone, now it’s sleaze and dirt. We all feel terribly let down. It’s very emotional. We want there to be standards. We’re used to standards. When you think back to other presidents, they all had a lot of class. That’s nonexistent now. It’s sad for people in the White House. . . . I’ve never seen such bad morale in my life. They’re not proud of their chief.”

“He came in here and he trashed the place,” says Washington Post columnist David Broder, “and it’s not his place.”

Muffie Cabot, who as Muffie Brandon served as social secretary to President and Nancy Reagan, regards the scene with despair. “This is a demoralized little village,” she says. “People have come from all over the country to serve a higher calling and look what happened. They’re so disillusioned. The emperor has no clothes. Watergate was pretty scary, but it wasn’t quite as sordid as this.”

And the wife of a Democratic senator who declined to comment spoke on condition of anonymity. … Her husband, she said, thinks the president “lacks character and commitment. He’s very clear about it.”

“Americans will be hurt by his reckless behavior,” says Rep. McHale.

“The judgment is harsher in Washington,” says The Post’s Broder. “We don’t like being lied to.”

NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell adds a touch of neighborly concern. “We all know people who have been terribly damaged personally by this,” she says. “…There is a small-town quality to the grief that is being felt, an overwhelming sadness at the waste of the nation’s time and attention, at the opportunities lost.”

Privately, many in Establishment Washington would like to see (the president) resign and spare the country, the presidency and the city any more humiliation.

“We don’t want to hang him,” says Gergen. “There’s a sense that we all want to clear this up. And there’s a maddening frustration that the political system doesn’t have a set of penalties for this kind of activity.”

“The founding fathers let us down,” adds Beschloss.

“He shouldn’t get by with it,” says Baker.

“His behavior,” says Lieberman, “is so over the edge. What is troubling is the deceit, the failure to own up to it. Before this is over the truth must be told.”

As you might have guessed, these quotes are not about President George W. Bush. They’re about President Bill Clinton.

They’re from a notorious Washington Post story from November 1999, which quoted a number of Washington insiders at length about their outrage at the president. They weren’t offended that Clinton had had an affair, they explained. That was his business. They were all simply outraged that he had lied. The idea that a president might lie to the country about anything was simply intolerable to them. It was so intolerable that they simply had to impeach him.

Note that no one dared suggest that there might be more important things than impeaching the president. The opposing party didn’t claim, for example, that impeachment was “off the table” because they had more important things to attend to, even though polls showed that Americans overwhelmingly didn’t care much about the Monica Lewinsky scandal and didn’t think it was worth removing Clinton from office. What was at stake, members of both parties insisted, was the credibility of the presidency. Americans just couldn’t have a president who didn’t tell them the truth.

And that’s why the next president was careful to always, always, always tell the truth.


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6 Responses to “The president who lied.”

  1. spectreversusrector Says:

    i should have known better than to think joe lieberman would say those sorts of things about bush.

  2. spectreversusrector Says:

    also, the surprise ending makes “odor of scandal and corruption” that much grosser. eww.

  3. Evan Lisull Says:

    Any bets on when the Obama Administration lies first?

    Also, who was the last president who always told the truth? Strangely, Jimmy Carter is the first name to come to my mind, mostly because of the “malaise” speech. Otherwise, Calvin Coolidge? George Washington?

  4. Connor Mendenhall Says:

    I’d take that bet — regardless of who wins this election, our future president will already be a liar. Obama promised to filibuster telco immunity and broke his word, and the McCain campaign has been smearing up a storm for the last month. Does the American presidency convey some sort of magic power that makes sleazy candidates into honest men? Are they just scared straight by that portrait of George Washington over the fireplace in the oval office?

    All but the most naive among us know that politicians don’t set aside their own rational self interest in favor of the “common good” when they enter office. Why should we expect a dishonest candidate to suddenly be overpowered by a sense of civic duty?

  5. thecivicspirit Says:

    My feeling is that presidents tend to be “honest” to the degree that they feel responsible to the electorate rather than their factions. The reason Carter was more honest than other recent presidents was because he wasn’t a party establishment candidate, so his public utterances tended to be startlingly open and free of unction. (This is also, of course, why establishment historians dismiss Carter as the most “naive” president in our history.) A president who feels loyal to his party or his ideological supporters, rather than the people as a whole, tends to feel fewer scruples about lying to the country if it advances the good of the faction.

    I’d put forward Lincoln as a politician who put the “common good” ahead of his own rational self-interest, but you guys are libertarians so you’ll just laugh at me.

  6. Tom Friedman vs. the Republic « The Civic Spirit Says:

    […] why not put the ex-president and his compatriots on trial? We didn’t hesitate to put another president on trial, with the whole world watching, for a puny private offense. Nor did Democrats come to their […]

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