By Buck Shott
Past presidential fibs have led to impeachment and resignation. Shouldn’t honesty be a key qualification for any presidential candidate?
December 28, 2011 (San Diego’s East County) – Voters, and the candidates they support, often have drastically different views on the various issues. But honesty and integrity are two traits we should all agree upon as minimal “qualifications” for anyone seeking the presidency.
Granted, in the heat of a campaign any candidate may have a slip of the lip, forgetting a statistic or misstating an name. But when presidential contenders knowingly tell brazen lies, air campaign ads with outright falsehoods, and then shamelessly defend such fibbing, we should all think twice about the character of those seeking our nation’s highest office.
As the Iowa caucus approaches, Republican voters face some tough choices. The current pack of GOP contenders certainly aren’t the only high officials caught in a lie. (Two notorious examples include President Bill Clinton’s declaration that “I did not have sex with that woman” shortly before evidence of his affair with Monica Lewinski surfaced, as well as President Richard Nixon’s assertion that “I am not a crook,” regarding the Watergate scandal.)
Those infamous examples, however, should remind us of the very serious consequences of electing a president who plays fast and loose with the truth. Those presidential fibs forced America to endure an impeachment proceeding for perjury in President Clinton’s case (though he was not convicted) and the resignation of President Nixon. Both lies led to prolonged negative media coverage and brought work in Congress to a standstill as attention focused on presidential wrongdoing.
President Obama has no primary challenger, leaving Democrats with just one choice to represent their values. Republican voters have an array of choices--but unfortunately, when it comes to truthfulness, the current GOP presidential candidates have much in common with Pinocchio. Like Diogenese, the Republican party ought to embark on a search for an honest man—or woman.
Gingrich flunks ethics test—again: Newt Gingrich has fibbed to his wives, to Congress, and to the press. Most recently, CNN obtained court files proving Gingrich lied on the campaign trail when he claimed that his first wife wanted a divorce. Court documents prove that it was Gingrich who sought the divorce, which his wife sought to block. Gingrich has been married three times. He left his first wife after starting an affair with the woman who became his second wife. He also cheated on wife number two, who said he visited her in the hospital after she had cancer surgery to discuss a divorce. All the while he was carrying on a torrid affair with a staffer 23 years younger—at the same time he was leading the fight to impeach President Clinton over the President’s affair with an intern. Besides being a hypocrite and a liar, Gingrich has also faced corruption charges. He resigned as Speaker of the House, where 84 ethics charges were filed against him. He was fined $300,000 by a 395-28 House vote, becoming the first Speaker disciplined for ethical wrongdoing. Special Counsel James M. Cole concluded that Gingrich also lied to the ethics panel and tried to coerce its members into dropping charges against him. What a guy.
Romney’s deceptions and dodges: In his first TV ad aired last month in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney aired a clip of President Obama saying “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” The problem? The ad chopped down a quote made by Obama in 2008, which actually referred to the Republican candidate. The full quote: “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’” CNN’s John King called the ad “reprehensible.” ABC’s Jake Tapper called it “so deceptive it’s a lie.” Lawrence O’Donnell at MSNBC also noted that the ad “is simply and entirely a lie.” Romney has also flip-flopped on several issues; he was for a woman’s right to choose before he was against it; he believed global warming was man-made before he decided it wasn’t; he supported healthcare reforms similar to Obama’s when he was Massachusetts Governor, only to denounce them on the presidential campaign trail. So how do we know when to believe him—or not?
Ron Paul’s racist views: In a series of newsletters titled the “Ron Paul Political Report” in the 1990s, Paul made a series of derogatory statements about blacks and gays. He ran a special report on “racial terrorism” blaming blacks for terrorizing U.S. cities. A separate article from the Survival Report said “If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be.” Another article in Paul’s report claimed gays “enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick,” referencing AIDS. After drawing media criticism for his remarks on the campaign trail, Paul claimed, “I never read that stuff.” He also claimed he’s not a racist and said Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King are “heroes” of his. Odd, then, that he voted against presenting a Congressional Gold Medal to Parks and referred to King in a 1992 newsletter as a “world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours.” While it’s remotely possible that he really didn’t read any of the many racist articles in his many newsletters, that prospect may be even more troubling. Do we really want a president who doesn’t read important materials? Remember that presidential briefing memo that President Bush failed to read before 9-11– the one warning that Bin Ladin was determined to strike targets inside the U.S. with airplanes?
Herman Cain’s skirt-chasing allegations: Herman Cain suspended his presidential campaign after four women accused him of sexual harassment and a fifth claimed to have carried on a 13-year affair with the married Cain, ending just before he declared his candidacy. Cain admitted to pay-offs made to two of the women during his tenure as President of the National Restaurants Association, but denied any wrongdoing. Still, where there’s smoke, there is often fire. Let’s not forget other famous philanderers who initially denied such dalliances---John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Gary Hart come to mind. If you were innocent, would you authorize hush money to be paid?
Bachmann’s serial lies: Factcheck.org has found Bachmann got her facts wrong (to be charitable) in a Meet the Press interview on Social Security, jobs, and the national debt, to name just a few categories of inaccuracies. For instance, Bachmann claimed there “isn’t one shred of evidence” that the payroll tax cut created jobs. Actually, there’s plenty of evidence. Since the payroll tax cut was enacted, more than 1.4 million jobs have been added—and unemployment has dropped from 9.4 to 8.6 percent. She also claimed she didn’t support last year’s payroll tax cut because it took money from the Social Security Trust Fund. That’s a Pinocchio-scale fib; the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees have both confirmed that the tax cut would have “no financial impact” on the trust fund. Bachmann also distorted debt figures under Presidents Bush and Obama, omitting the fact that total debt went up by 85.5% under President Bush, more than double the rate under Obama. Even when confronted by the facts, she continued to try and spin a web of deception. The nonpartisan Factcheck.org has also found blatant whoppers told by Bachmann on many other topics; she claimed in a debate that Obama’s administration approved only one new oil drilling permit; in fact more than 200 had been approved. She even lied to hide federal subsidies received by her family farm and her husband’s business—all while calling for smaller government. Can we trust a president who repeatedly plays fast and loose with the truth?
Huntsman misleads on healthcare: As Governor of Utah, John Huntsman supported mandates to require all Utah residents to have health insurance. Utah’s director of health, Dr. David Sundwall, and others have confirmed that Huntsman supported the mandates (which were rejected by the Utah legislature). But on the presidential campaign trail, Huntsman seems to have developed amnesia. Speaking about the healthcare insurance mandates in Obama’s healthcare plan, Hunstman said, “If I had a chance to repeal it, I would.” He also lied to reporters, Washington Monthly reported, stating earlier this year that “I didn’t push mandates with the legislature.”
Santorum covers up role in lobbying scandal: Santorum has tried to sweep under the rug his role as Senate liaison to the K Street Project, a Republican Party plan rewarding Republican lobbyists with access to influential officials. It was started by GOP strategist Grover Norquist and Tom DeLay (who later resigned as House Majority Leader and was convicted of money laundering). But after the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal broke, Santorum repeatedly lied about his involvement. He told the Pittsburg Post-Gazette that “"I had absolutely nothing to do--never met, never talked, never coordinated, never did anything -- with Grover Norquist and the -- quote -- K Street Project." Santorum’s account has been disproved repeatedly. The website Crooks and Liars posted a video of him sharing a podium with Norquist at a 2005 press conference. Norquist himself confirmed that at a 2002 meeting with Santorum and lobbyists, he described the K Street projet and passed out a list of lobbyists to see. Norquist later commented that Santorum “has gotten me in to talk to all those guys.”
Rick Perry’s lies and hypocrisy: Perry denounced Wall Street bailouts by Congress--yet he wrote a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2008 urging Congress to pass the TARP bill giving the bailout to big banks. Perry also falsely claimed that a loan program he oversaw as Texas Agricultural Commissioner wasn’t bailed out by taxpayers. Salon.com called Perry’s debate claim that there was no bailout “both inaccurate and ridiculous. Pants on fire!” Even Fox News’ Neil Cavuto confronted Perry on his bailout hypocrisy: “So aren’t you guilty of the same behavior you rail against as a presidential candidate?” The nonpartisan website Politifact gave Perry a “pants on fire” liar liar rating for falsely claiming in a video ad that the President created “zero job,” since the Congressional Budget Office confirms that the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (the stimulus bill) created or saved 1.3 million to 3.6 million jobs. Moody’s Economy reported 2.5 million jobs were saved or created. In either case, that's a big boost since the Bush presidency, when the economy was losing up to 820,000 jobs each month. Moreover, arguably a key reason why more jobs haven’t been created has been House Republicans blocking passage of the President’s jobs bill. Perry also lied about a dying cancer patient. Defending his support of a vaccine to prevent young girls from getting cervical cancer, he claimed that “I got lobbied by a 31-year-old young lady who had stage 4 cervical cancer.” But in fact, ABC News revealed that Perry never met the woman until after he issued the mandate. He also deceived voters in a debate by blaming the federal government for Texas’ staggering number of uninsured people. He failed to mention that as Governor, Perry wanted Texas to drop out of the federal Medicaid program and deprive 2.6 million Texans of healthcare coverage. Moreover, according to the Commonwealth Fund, Texas health care performance ranks a dismal 46th out of 50 states, though Perry continues to call Texas healthcare the best in the nation. Now that’s a Texas-sized whopper!
The views in this column reflect the views of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine.