Lying in Government: What it means for you and me

The NSA story has consumed the American media for the better part of three weeks now, but I think the public is missing an important piece of the puzzle.  The legality and importance of the surveillance program that is being operated by our government can be debated endlessly; it is something that I am still not sure I know what I think of just yet.  It can be debated whether what Edward Snowden did was the right thing.  But there is a piece of this that should not be debatable: the American government lied to its citizens and NO ONE took notice.  James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, lied under oath in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee and not a soul has said a word.

Here is the exchange from March 12, 2013, where Director Clapper is asked a question from United States Senator, Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Wyden: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Clapper: “No, sir”

Wyden: “It does not?”

Clapper: “Not wittingly.  There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect – but not wittingly.”

That is it.  That is the whole exchange in question.  In March of this year, the Director of National Intelligence was sworn under oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” and he answered that way.  Yet three months later, here we are.  We now know that the NSA does exactly what Director Clapper said we did not.  You can try to “spin” it any way you want, but he lied, plain and simple.

James Clapper lied and we, the American public, just don’t seem to care.  Is this really the point in our society that we have come to?  We are so used to our government not being honest with us that we simply don’t care.  As Liz Sidoti, a writer for the Associated Press, put it:

“Sometimes it feels as if the government operates in a parallel universe where lying has no consequences and everyone but the people it represents is complicit in deception.  Looking at episodes like this, it’s unsurprising that people have lost faith in their elected leaders and the institution of government.  This all reinforces what polls show people think: Washington plays by its own rules.”

Liz is absolutely spot on.  As a collective whole, we have no faith in our government because of instances like this. People have no faith in government because even when there is a blatant lie, our government ignores it.  Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, said that President Obama “certainly believes that Director Clapper has been straight and direct in the answers that he’s given.”  Look, I understand that secret classified meetings take place between the intelligence community and Congress, and there may have been times when Clapper has been more truthful with Congress than he was on that day in March, but to say he has been “straight and direct” is asinine.  The above-mentioned exchange is the opposite of “straight and direct” in just about everyway possible.

I yearn for the days when the public trusts its government again, regardless of political party.  American was at its peak when people had faith in the idea of government and that it was always going to work in the best interest of its people.  Those days seem long gone and show no signs of appearing on the horizon anytime soon.  Congress is at an all-time low for approval ratings and we have had presidents who share the blame.  The public lost faith in Clinton when he was less than truthful about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, people lost faith in George W. Bush when he went to war in Iraq, and now people have lost faith in President Obama and his executive branch through the scandals of the past month.  (Side note: my liberal friends are going to scream that this isn’t true or at least not on the same level.  I simply say to you look at the latest CNN poll that says that only 46% of people find Obama to be “honest”.  Only 46%!)  We need leaders we can trust again.  We need leaders that tell us the truth regardless of the political costs that may ensue.

Who is it going to be?  Who is going to save us from the current path we are on?  Obama clearly isn’t the answer, even though he promised to be the most transparent leader in history.  Congress isn’t the answer either; they have the lowest approval rating in history, at less than 10%.

Director Clapper responded to the criticism of his lie in Congress by saying, “(he) responded in what (he) thought was truthful, or least untruthful manner.”  He then argued that his response wasn’t “technically” false based on the semantics over the word “collection” (whatever that means).  That is your Director of National Intelligence, ladies and gentlemen.  That is someone who represents you and me in front of the world.  Scary isn’t it?

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