"Nixon Gives Medal of Freedom to G. Gordon Liddy"
"Experts agree that AIDS is a myth"
"Clinton Removed from Office for Lying about Consensual Affair"
What do you think about these headlines? You may quickly conclude that none of them ever happened and that is true. But there is more to it.
These are headlines that could have happened if citizens simply accepted what their leaders told them and refused to question anything. It demonstrates that we have it within ourselves the power to research what we are told.
Upon the news of a break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters in June 1972, much of the media and the public figured it was just politics. Even when allegations mounted that President Nixon had covered up White House connections to the break-in, most people believed Nixon when he said that there would be "no whitewash at the White House."
The decision by Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and some leaders in Congressto pursue the matter further was a decision to challenge or cross-examine the President's story. They were willing to acknowledge the possibility that Nixon had lied and covered up the matter, which first took the understanding of why Nixon had a motive to lie. Like most leaders, he feared embarrassment of getting caught and had trouble coming up with a convincing apology after the story took hold.
By his silence over the issue, President Reagan implied that there was no AIDS problem in the United States in the early to mid-1980s. As the number of cases of people, particularly young gay men, contracting a mysterious illness skyrocketed, more and more community leaders demanded action from Congress and the President to identify this disease and to fund research to find a cure for it. Yet it took years for Reagan to comprehend the problem and to speak of it.
Those who urged a new policy on AIDS challenged Reagan and other politicians on the grounds that government is not always a superior source of information. Politics often determines who leads government agencies charged with handling a general issue. Ignorance among politicians about the disease and, to some extent, homophobia prevented them for taking the problem seriously.
When the news broke that President Clinton had had an affair with Monica Lewinsky and then lied about it at a deposition, most Republicans and some Democrats wanted to impeach him. When Clinton made it clear he wasn't going to leave without a fight, Republicans in the House went ahead and impeached him. Name calling over his misconduct continued and was reported frequently to the public, with some going as far as to say that it was not only a legal issue, but a moral one.
With Clinton clearly guilty as charged, a sizable group in the public decided to defend the President against impeachment and removal from office. In doing so, they saw through the emotional pleas that some leaders made that leaving Clinton in office was a catastrophe in the making. These defenders calmly read the Constitution and concluded that Clinton had not committed treason, bribery, high crimes or misdemeanors (his lie at the deposition was not a crime, but rather a matter handled by the judge who fined him, reinstated a case against him and suspended his law license).
We must remember these lessons when we hear lies from our leaders. They have motivation to lie to us about serious matters because they are humans who have their own agendas - not just policies but their own viability as politicians. The government is also not the best source of information. On issues in which government agents may be involved (ex: Watergate, 9/11, etc.), we should not expect full candor or honesty from our leaders. And we should never cave in to a threat of a disaster without reasoning. Abandoning reason and failing to read history is the greatest disaster of all.
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