Is it better for politicians to lie or to speak the truth?


Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson








I am amazed at the outcry that has grown up around the recent revelations about a presidential candidate whose remarks at a fundraiser raised eyebrows.

Remember Jack Nicholson’s iconic one-liner in A Few Good Men? “You can’t handle the truth,” he said.

So, is that the lesson we take away from this latest news flash?  Is the moral teaching at issue that we prefer people vying to be the “leader of the free world” to lie whenever they get the chance and apologize if they get caught telling the truth?

I have spent more than twenty-five years sitting in courtrooms and deposition rooms listening to people testify under oath.  Often, as soon as they take their hands off the Bible, they plunge into bizarre lies.  Sometimes the tales they spin are so transparently false that even people who are on their side have a hard time keeping a straight face.

Why do they lie?  It is in their self-interest.  It’s as simple as that.  

Lying corrupts the legal system.

Does truth-telling corrupt the political process?

I don’t see how it could.

If we catch a candidate in a  moment of candor, we gain a valuable insight into what makes him tick.  For a minute or two, we see beyond the “message” crafted by his handlers.  In the current political process where campaign events are so carefully orchestrated that we never get beyond talking points, it is refreshing to hear someone say what is really on his mind.

This doesn’t mean that we have to like his particular version of the unvarnished truth.  We may disagree entirely with him and turn our backs on him for saying it.

That’s the price tag that comes with truth-telling. But at least we can evaluate what he really stands for.

So, what is all the hubbub about in the last few days?

Have we come to a point in American political campaigns where we want our leaders to lie to us, to be careful only to say what they believe we want to hear?

Was Jack Nicholson right?  Can we not handle the truth?



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