What do we make of a lie that no one is supposed to believe? Now, I am not talking about lies of etiquette. When we run into an acquaintance whom we have not seen for years, and we spend a few minutes in pleasant conversation before he says, “We’ll have to get together sometime,” this is clearly a remark we are not expected to take seriously. Anyone really wishing our company would say something along the lines of, “Would you like to come over for dinner next Thursday?” In no way would he use the disingenuous expression that everyone immediately recognizes as a well-mannered gesture just prior to saying, “I have to run.” Not that there is anything illogical about this, for a lie does not have to be believed in order to be successful. In this case, success is defined in terms of the goal of being polite. No, I am talking about lies that are unique to politics.
For example, during the Bush administration, the Czech Republic agreed to participate in a missile defense program that would protect it from Iran. In other words, if the Iranians ever developed a nuclear weapon, along with the missile technology that would enable them to deliver such a weapon, we all know that at the first opportunity, they would launch that missile at their sworn enemy. That is, the missile would fly right past Israel, across the Mediterranean, and toward the Czech Republic, which has so offended the Iranians that they have vowed to wipe it off the map. Eventually, the Iranians might get around to attacking Israel, but first things first.
A lie, of course. But who was supposed to believe it? Certainly not you and I. We both know that the system was being designed to protect Poland and the Czech Republic from Russian aggression. As for the Czechs, they knew better. The Israelis knew better. The Russians certainly knew better. And as for the Iranians, they must have been rolling their eyeballs. Perhaps the lie was intended to deceive the American people, at least those who, unlike and you and me, lack the necessary sophistication to understand foreign affairs. But why would the Bush administration feel it necessary to deceive the kind of people whom we might see during the Jaywalking segment of the Tonight Show?
Although interesting in its own right, that is not the lie that concerns me. Rather, it is the whopper told by Nancy Pelosi this week to the effect that using the chain-weighted CPI to determine the cost-of-living increases for Social Security would not constitute a cut in benefits. Rather, she said, it would strengthen Social Security. This is reminiscent of the remark made by a major during the Vietnam War, regarding Ben Tre, that “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” In any event, this lie told by Nancy Pelosi is not to be confused with the one told about five years ago by then candidate Obama during an interview, when he flatly denied his willingness to use the chain-weighted CPI as the index for the COLA. He expected us to believe that lie, just long enough to be elected. Nor is it to be confused with the one told by Joe Biden when he guaranteed there would be no changes in Social Security, which he wanted us to believe until his reelection had been secured. No, the lie that interests me is the one told by Nancy Pelosi that no one is expected to believe, not for a moment.
It may be that while no one is expected to believe the lie, we are expected to believe that she believes it. In other words, we are not expected to believe that using the chain-weighted CPI is not a cut, but she hopes that we will not hold her accountable, owing to the "fact" that she does not have a firm grasp of financial matters. Though we might count her a fool, yet we at least will not think her a knave. It worked for Ronald Reagan.
Alternatively, it may be that I was too hasty taking this kind of lie out of the realm of etiquette. Perhaps she was just trying to be polite. By stating without apology that Social Security was going to be cut, she would be reminding us of our impotence. It is not nice to make people feel small and helpless. She knows, as do we, that there is nothing we can do to stop our elected officials from cutting the entitlements, but she is too nice a person to rub it in. So, she told the little white lie that using the chain-weighted CPI would not be a cut, much in the way that in her youth she would doubtlessly tell some of her suitors that she “already had a date,” thereby saving their egos.
Of course, there is one last possibility so horrible I do not wish to consider it: that more Americans would be suited for the Jaywalking segment than I care to imagine. Maybe they will believe her lie after all.