A history of presidential deception

Steve Corbin is emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa.
Steve Corbin is emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa.

George Washington was a role model when he said “I cannot tell a lie.” Furthermore, he portrayed honesty during eight years as our first president. Washington set the standard for presidents to come, including Honest Abe.

However, half-truths and downright fabrications have recently invaded America’s presidency. Some presidents either lived in a bubble or were so narcissistic they believed the rules of candor didn’t apply to them.

Witness these faux pas moments:

• Dwight Eisenhower denied we had U2 spy planes flying over the Soviet Union; one was shot down provoking an international incident.

• John Kennedy stated in 1961”The United States plans no military intervention in Cuba.” We invaded Cuba, the Bay of Pigs debacle strengthened Castro, Soviet Union built bases in Cuba and a missile crisis occurred.

• Lyndon Johnson declared in August 1964 an unprovoked attack occurred in Vietman’s Gulf of Tonkin. In 1965 Johnson admitted “it was a lie.”

• Richard Nixon: Watergate and “I am not a crook” says it all.

• Ronald Reagan: The Iran-Contra affair started in 1985. When details of missile exchanges leaked in 1986, Reagan said “We did not, I repeat, did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we.” Later Reagan said: “I lied.”

• George H.W. Bush: “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Truth: new taxes.

• Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” which led to “it was wrong. I misled people.”


• George W. Bush’s near treason statement that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction lead to 6,845 deceased American soldiers and 900,000 injured.

• Barack Obama pushed the Affordable Healthcare Act and promised “if you like the plan you have, you can keep it.” Not true.

Trump’s significant presidential competitor, Hillary Clinton, claimed she landed in Bosnia under sniper fire in 1996; false.

With our 45th president we now have, in his own words, “truthful hyperbole, an innocent form of exaggeration” (The art of the deal, 1987).

• Trump does not have onesie-twosie misstatements of fact. PolitiFact, an independent fact-checking organization, examined 356 claims by Mr. Trump, finding two-thirds of them were “mostly false or false” and 62 were “pants on fire” false.

During our 45th president’s first week in office, the Washington Post documented 24 false or misleading statements.

Steve Schmidt, manager of Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, reflected on the cascade of Mr. Trump’s fabrications of truth by saying they were “a direct assault on the very idea of representative democracy.”

Peggy Noonan, a conservative writer for the Wall Street Journal may have summarized the situation we are in with our 45th president the best: “A friend called a new word to my attention. It speaks of the moment we’re in. It is kakistocracy, from the Greek. It means government by the worse people, by the least qualified or most unprincipled. We’re on our way there, aren’t we? We’re going to have to make our way through it together.”


• Mr. President: your post-truth, double talk, cover up and alternative fact statements have become a standard of your administration. They must come to an end. Americans and our allies deserve and demand an honest president; otherwise there’s no credibility, integrity or trust. Please contemplate the words, so apropos today, of the novelist from your Mother’s native Scotland, Walter Scott: “Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive.”

• Steve Corbin, emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa, is one of 12 district leaders in Iowa for the non-partisan and not-for-profit group No Labels. More information: www.NoLabels.org. Comments: Steven.B.Corbin@gmail.com



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