“Of course,” the late P.J. O’Rourke wrote in Parliament of Whores, by way of explaining why government is boring, “politicians don’t tell the truth …. But neither do politicians tell huge, entertaining whoppers: ‘Why, send yours truly to Capitol Hill, and I’ll ship the swag home in boxcar lots. … There’ll be government jobs for your dog. … Social Security checks will come in the mail not just when you retire at sixty-five but when you retire each night to bed. Vote for me, folks, and you’ll be farting through silk.'”
O’Rourke seems to have actually preferred a more prosaic style of political falsehood: In 2016, the long-time Republican endorsed Hillary Clinton for president over whopper-prone Donald Trump, citing her “lies and empty promises.” She’s “wrong about absolutely everything,” he said, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.”
What, I wonder, would O’Rourke (who died last year) have made of US Representative George Santos (R-NY), elected from New York’s 3rd congressional district last November?
Since the election, Santos has been caught in lies concerning where he went to school, whether he graduated, where he’s worked, whether he’s Jewish and whether his grandparents fled the Holocaust, whether his mom was at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and died of a related cancer, whether he’s a drag queen who goes by the name “Kitara Ravache,” whether he actually appeared in an episode of Hannah Montana, and where all that money that he “loaned” his campaign actually came from, etc.
“There are three kinds of lies,” Mark Twain wrote, (falsely!) quoting Benjamin Disraeli: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Politicians also tell three kinds of lies.
The first kind are lies about themselves — their experiences, their resumes, etc. Hillary Clinton didn’t come under sniper fire when visiting Bosnia. Joe Biden didn’t graduate at the top of his class in law school. Donald Trump can’t even stop himself from lying about winning golf tournaments.
The second kind are lies about policy, and range from what legislation a candidate really supports or opposes (then votes the other way on when elected) to what the actual policies will accomplish.
So far, Santos’s long list of lies really only involves the first of those two kinds. He hasn’t been in office long enough for us to know whether he’ll follow through on his stated policy positions.
The third kind of lie is one which Santos actually helps expose simply because his over-the-top technique draws our attention to it.
That lie is the claim that we, the poor, benighted, helpless public, desperately need politicians to solve our problems. That they’re somehow better, smarter, wiser, and more honest than the rest of us. That without them, we’re lost.
Is George Santos honest? Clearly not.
Is he any more dishonest than Mitch McConnell or Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer or Kevin McCarthy? Not a whit.
He’s probably less dangerous than boring ol’ Mitch, Nancy, Chuck, and Kevin, though. His outrageous lies were aimed at acquiring power. Their mostly unnoticed lies are aimed at exercising that power.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.