Introduction to Lies The Government Told You
During the 1980 presidential campaign, a joke made the rounds in the Reagan camp. George Washington, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter die and go to Heaven. In a chance meeting about how they got there, Washington boasts, “I never told a lie.” Not to be outdone, Nixon proclaims, “I never told the truth.” A determined Carter can’t resist: “I never knew the difference!”
What is a lie? What is the truth? What is the difference? One could not begin to count all the words, ink, and paper spent addressing those three questions, even though the answers are implicated in almost every thought and every word and every act that everyone perceives, utters, and engages upon every day of our adult lives.
Truth is identity between intellect and reality. A lie is a knowing and intentional violation of the truth. The difference between the two often depends on whether one is in the governing class or the governed class.
We have all come to expect some lying in our lives and have engaged in lying to some extent; perhaps to avoid or postpone a crisis, or to serve a higher good, or because telling a lie was easier under the circumstances than telling the truth, and the consequences of the lie were harmless. This is all normal human behavior, and it can range from being critical to existence to being innocuous.
If a ship captain is secretly ferrying innocents from slavery to freedom, and his ship is stopped on the high seas by agents of the government that enslaved his passengers, should he lie about their true identities? When a coworker asks how you are during a miserable day, should you lie to avoid a painful but harmless and useless conversation? Can silence be a lie when one has a lawful or moral duty to tell the truth? These are issues with which we wrestle almost every day.
In a free society, we expect the government to wrestle with them as well, but it does not; it is not concerned with truth. The government lies to us regularly, consistently, systematically, and daily on matters great and small, but it prosecutes and jails those who lie to it. For example, a male drug dealer with a heavy foreign accent and minimal understanding of English stupidly tells an FBI agent that his name is Nancy Reagan, and he is arrested, prosecuted, and jailed for lying to the government. Another FBI agent tells the cultural guru Martha Stewart, in an informal conversation in the presence of others, that she is not the target of a federal criminal probe, and she replies that she did not sell a certain stock on a certain day. They both lied, but she went to jail and the FBI agent kept his job.
What is it about the government and its agents and employees that they can lie to us with impunity, but we risk being sent to jail if we lie to them?
Throughout this book, I will suggest answers to these and similar questions. As I do so, you’ll see a chip on my shoulder. I am angry that we allow the government to lie to us, that we expect it to do so, and even take comfort in the illusions created thereby. When I told friends about the title of this book, I frequently joked that it would be four thousand pages in length. Most laughed; but none doubted that there have been enough government lies to consume that many printed pages.
When you recall that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States mandate a free and open society, one in which the government works for us, you can see where the chip on my shoulder came from. It is morally reprehensible for any government to lie to anyone over whom it has lawful authority. But in a free and open society where we are the employers, and the government workers are the employees, every government employee — from a public school janitor to a state governor, from a soldier to an FBI agent, from a cop to the President — has a lawful obligation to be truthful to his or her employers, and it is utterly and completely and unconditionally unacceptable to treat as normal that they should lie to us.
And yet, treat it as normal we do. Just look at the names of the chapters in this book — from “All Men Are Created Equal” to “Congress Shall Make No Law . . . Abridging the Freedom of Speech,” from “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” to “Your Boys Are Not Going to Be Sent into Any Foreign Wars” to “We Don’t Torture” — and you will see the stuff of which historical myth is made. Every one of those well-known, well-worn, well-stated canards is a goal the government has never reached but claims it has. Each has become a bald-faced lie, a perpetrated myth, a grasp at power, a monstrous deception. And most of us recognize that.
Why do we believe government-generated myths? Why do we allow the use of myth to enhance government power? Why do we condone the government’s use of deception to crush our freedom, steal our property, and destroy our lives? And how does the government get away with all this?
These are the questions we will explore in the coming pages, as we tear through American history from 1776 to 2010, and expose the use of myth to seize power and the power of deception to delude the public. When the public is deluded by the very folks it has hired to defend its freedom, the delusion interferes with that freedom by denying us accurate information with which we can decide in whose hands we should repose government power. Would Americans have reelected FDR had they known that he caused the attack on Pearl Harbor? Would voters have chosen LBJ, the supposed u201Cpeace candidateu201D in 1964, had they known he was secretly planning to ramp up the Vietnam War? Would George W. Bush have been reelected in 2004 if we knew he was illegally spying on us, concocting evidence for war, torturing people, and lying about it?
Government lies take on a life of their own since they breed more lies to substantiate the original lies. Government lies induce government lawbreaking, and government lawbreaking means someone is suffering a loss of life, liberty, or property because of some event not caused by the person suffering; and it also means that the lawbreaker walks free in the corridors of power to strike again.
Government lies are a direct assault on freedom because, if believed, if accepted as truth, the lies dupe individuals into making choices they would not make were the truth known. Government lies seduce us into surrendering freedom and accepting unlawful behavior and irretrievable loss as somehow warranted, and they establish a precedent for similar thefts of freedom and personal loss in the future.
In my previous books, I have targeted government excess. In Constitutional Chaos: What Happens When the Government Breaks Its Own Laws, I argued that government lawbreaking is a serious, yet hidden problem recognized primarily by those who benefit from or are victimized by it, and if unchecked, will lead to tyranny. In The Constitution in Exile: How the Federal Government Has Seized Power by Rewriting the Supreme Law of the Land, I made the case that the feds have systematically stolen power from the States and freedom from individuals, under the guise of interpreting the Constitution, and much of that power and many of those freedoms will be impossible to reclaim. In A Nation of Sheep, I showed that government in America hates freedom, that it defends its power and not our rights, even though our rights are natural, come from our humanity, and as Jefferson stated, are “inalienable.” In Dred Scott’s Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America, I demonstrated that any government that thinks it can suspend the free will of the innocent is fatal to life, fatal to freedom, and breeds horrors that can last for centuries.
In the pages that follow, I continue with my theme that the government is not your friend. The lies told to us by our own government, and accepted by our grandparents and our parents and our children, have destroyed the lives, stolen the freedom, crushed the God-given rights, and seized the property of those who got in the way of official government deception. Why has our government rejected America’s first principles of individual freedom, guaranteed rights, limited government, free enterprise, private property, and the right to be left alone? And why has it denied doing so?
Before you start reading this book, I suggest you flip back to the quotations I have selected as representational themes of this book and reread them. Hold me to these themes, and at the end of the book, decide for yourself if I have supported them.
Come with me now on a tour of myth, power, and deception in America; woven into the fabric of our history, perpetrated even as you read this, and accepted by millions as the norm.
Andrew P. Napolitano [send him mail], a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at the Fox News Channel. His latest book is Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American History, (Nelson, 2010).