When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequencesby Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman's When Presidents Lie is a compelling/i>
Lying has become pervasive in American Life--but what happens when the falsehoods are perpetrated by the Oval Office? As the lies told by our government become more and more intricate, they begin to weave a tapestry of deception that creates problems far larger than those lied about in the first place.
Eric Alterman's When Presidents Lie is a compelling historical examination of four specific post-World War II presidential lies whose consequences were greater than could ever have been predicted. FDR told the American people that peace was secure in Europe, setting the stage for McCarthyism and the cold war. John F. Kennedy's unyielding stance during the Cuban missile crisis masked his secret deal with the Soviet Union. Misrepresented aggression at the Gulf of Tonkin by the North Vietnamese gave LBJ the power to start a war. Finally, Ronald Reagan's Central American wars ended in the ignominy of the Iran-contra scandal.
In light of George W. Bush's war in Iraq, which Alterman examines in the book's conclusion, When Presidents Lie is a warning--one more relevant today than ever before--that the only way to prevent these lies is America's collective demand for truth.
Here, he traces four instances of presidential lying that have returned to haunt the republic, undercutting not only the policies they were intended to support, but the integrity of the presidency. He's not interested in transgressions of a private nature, targeting instead "presidential lying about matters of state that is alleged to be undertaken for the public good." In other words, bad statecraft based on the premise that the people are too ignorant or emotionally immature to see all the cards. Public trust, the bond between government and the rabble, gets a screwing. Alterman zooms in on four instances of deceit that had unintended systemic consequences as old as the Greek hubris-nemesis sequence; each created self-destructive blowback wherein not only the nation was deceived, but the deceivers fooled themselves. The first is the painful irony of the 1945 Yalta conference: Stalin, "vicious killer atop the Soviet evil empire," honored the deal struck there, while Roosevelt and Churchill, "perhaps the twentieth century's two greatest champions of freedom and democracy," reneged, with the subsequent disavowal of their concessions leading to the Cold War. Then came Kennedy's fibbing about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the undisclosed trade for Turkish missile sites that made the US stance look terrifically tough. The secret American aggressions that brought the US to the Gulf of Tonkin, and the unparalleled war-making powers granted to the presidency, crushed the work of Lyndon Johnson, who had "begun to build a domestic legacy that might even have surpassed that of FDR." And perhaps the most appalling fallout of the Iran-Contra imbroglio was the collapse of the press as an investigative agency: lying was mundane and not worth the bother of reporting. As for Bush II, "the virtue of truth . . . for all practical purposes, became entirely operational."
Throws bones worth chewing on long and hard.
Agent: Tina Bennett/Janklow & Nesbit
Meet the Author
Eric Alterman, media columnist for the Nation, is professor of English at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, senior fellow of the Center for American Progress, and “Altercation” weblogger for MSNBC.com. He is the author of five previous books, including What Liberal Media? and Sound and Fury.
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