Politicians never learn. Representative Anthony Weiner, democrat from New York, recently bowed to political pressure and resigned from Congress. At the press conference where he made the announcement, he went on to apologize for the distraction he had caused, and thank his wife, who is pregnant with their first child, for sticking by his side.
Weiner Tweeted a photo of himself in his underwear to a woman not his wife. Then he lied to cover it up, saying he was hacked. Embarrassing photos and revelations continued to emerge. Porn star Ginger Lee, who had exchanged emails with Weiner, also held a press conference in which she claimed he had urged her to lie.
What Weiner, and many other politicians over the years, don’t realize is that the real political sin isn’t the act they are accused of doing, but rather the lying that ensues to try and cover it up.
There are many prime examples of this type of behavior. President Clinton was caught cheating during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But what got the road toward impeachment going wasn’t the cheating; it was the fact that he lied about it. It enabled the investigation to dig deep into the relationship, and when it became clear he lied under oath, they went for the jugular and tried to impeach him. If he had just come clean, admitted his misbehavior, apologized to his family and asked for forgiveness, he would have been fine, at least politically. Many would have thought less of him, but most would just consider it a private issue and move on.
The same could be said of President Nixon and the Watergate scandal. It wasn’t so much the actual act that got him into trouble, it was the cover-up, which grew and grew, leading to a deeper and deeper hole. If he had just stated, right in the beginning, that some of his underlings had done something wrong, and he was sorry that it happened, apologized for it, and moved on, it would never have escalated into the scenario where it led to his resignation.
Many other examples abound. Former Presidential contender John Edwards is charged with one count of conspiracy, four counts of accepting illegal contributions and one count of making false statements by not disclosing payments he received. The payments were to cover up an affair he was having. Once again, the affair didn’t do him in, but the cover-up did.
The married former Governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, tried to hide the fact he was out of the country having a tryst by using the alibi that he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail.
A great but lesser known example occurred in a race for the California State Assembly. Rich Sybert was a shoo-in to win, running against an inexperienced opponent. He was the perfect candidate; he had a Harvard degree, a Presidential fellow and was a member of former Governor Pete Wilson’s Cabinet. During the campaign, his opponent noticed his signs were being torn down. He told an aide to drive around town with a camcorder to catch the culprit.
The aide filmed none other than Sybert ripping up Strickland’s signs. The next morning, they tipped off the press that Sybert was destroying the signs. Nothing was said about the videotape. Sybert vehemently denied it. Then the aide let it be known Sybert had been caught on video. That lie ended his political career. Polls showed that it wasn’t the tearing down of the signs that did it; it was the lie.
America is a very forgiving nation, and we are a very forgiving people. Why is it that people hate Barry Bonds, and even many Yankee fans, myself included, have a hard time rooting for Alex Rodriguez? It’s not so much that they cheated; it’s that they blatantly lied about it. Bonds still tries to deny that he knew he was taking steroids, and Rodriguez only admitted it after he was caught red-handed. Previously, he was so bold as to ask a reporter how steroids are even taken, because he would have no idea, since he would do such a thing.
Yet the public loves players such as Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi. Why? Because they came out and admitted what they had done, apologized for it, and asked for forgiveness.
So why do politicians continue to lie about their misdeeds, and try to cover them up? There are a lot of reasons for it. First and foremost, they are obviously immune from any feelings of guilt over telling lies and half-truths, since they do that all the time when they talk about whatever opponent is running against them.
But mainly, the reasons stem from the kind of people that run for office in the first place, and the type of people they become once they are entrenched in their position for any length of time. A psychology professor from Temple University recently published a study explaining that the typical politician is a “Type T” personality, who thrives on uncertainty and risk. They also have an extremely high level of self-confidence. That may enable them to get up in front of large audiences and talk about what needs to be done, but it also leads to a feeling that they are above the law. After all, they can write laws and tell other people what to do. A successful politician, or really someone successful in just about any line of work, will also have a strong base of followers who are constantly praising them and hanging on their every word. That leads to a feeling that one can get away with anything.
Henry Kissinger famously said, “Power is the great aphrodisiac.” Another famous saying is, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” No truer words have been spoken.