When Is It Okay for the President to Lie?

by Dave Schuler on November 17, 2012

I have a question. When is it okay for the president to lie to the American people and/or Congress?

  • Never
  • Whenever he feels it’s necessary—it’s one of the things he was elected to do
  • When lives are at stake
  • Some other circumstances?

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Janis Gore November 17, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Doesn’t it come to “bearing false witness?”

No, don’t lie to go to war.

In war, if you a secret operation going on, when the reporter asks where Delta 6 is, say “How should I know?”

Icepick November 17, 2012 at 5:55 pm

It’s only acceptable for matters of national security. The problem is that that can be very loosely defined.

Example: I could see a necessity for the Nixon Administration to lie about negotiating with Red China before things were settled enough to go public. (I’m not saying this is what happened, as I simply don’t remember. It’s been 25 years or more since I read about that period in time.)

I can actually imagine scenarios in which the Administration may have been correct to fib about what went on in Benghazi and why. I have to say that in this particular case it seems stupid to do so, however, as eventually someone will get curious enough to figure it out. Well, normally I would think that. In these days ….

Andy November 17, 2012 at 8:44 pm

I think it’s kind of like the “Potter rule” for pornography – I can’t define it, but I know when a lie is ok or not when I hear it.

Janis Gore November 17, 2012 at 9:26 pm

You knew where Delta 6 was, didn’t you?

LibertyAtStake November 17, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Never. Saying nothing is always an option.

Janis Gore November 17, 2012 at 10:43 pm

You don’t have to answer. Bless you.

PD Shaw November 18, 2012 at 8:43 am

I don’t think its “o.k.” at all. A lie may be justified as the lesser of two evils, but its still wrong. As to the necessity of it, I suppose it depends. One of the advantages of electing people with at least some training in the legal arts is that it should be easy to avoid saying anything at all, even if it takes all day to say it.

steve November 18, 2012 at 8:44 am

First, you need to define lying. I think an awful lot of what is called lying, like campaign promises, are just aspirational goals. I also dont think the failure to include every possible explanation for an event is lying. I would be ok if a President occasionally just said “I dont know”, but if one does he will be accused of hiding stuff. Vague answers, heavily qualified are probably best most of the time until we know stuff for sure. The trade off there is that he will be accused of lying. So be it.

That said, I think national security issues are an exception to not lying. If an Iranian had turned and revealed every nuclear site and plan to us, I would just as soon the President lie if the press asked if we know everything about their plans if it would help us to keep the person who is providing us info safe and continuing to provide us info. Since I am not happy with just the President knowing this stuff, I think it should be shared with a congressional intel committee, but not the whole Congress.

Steve

Andy November 18, 2012 at 10:29 am

My previous snarky comment aside, I agree defining “lying” is important – politicians purposely spin, exaggerate and deal in half-truths all the time. I would therefore define “lying” narrowly as a statement that one knows is completely untrue. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” is an example of something that is clearly a lie.

I can think of one historical case where lying might be justified, specifically President Kennedy’s lie to the Congress, the American people and NATO that we traded traded missiles in Turkey to get Soviet missiles out of Cuba.

Jimbino November 18, 2012 at 10:53 am

Only for national security reasons, when the truth would help the enemy more than the Amerikan people, such as in Nixon’s preliminary negotiations with China, Kennedy’s contesting the Russians over Cuba, etc. It is never justified to lie to the Amerikan people after the threat has passed, as in the Bengazi situation, or when there is no threat, as in Reagan’s “arms for hostages,” or when the lying endangers Amerika, as in GW Bush’s lies over Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” or the CIA’s continued lies over the military and economic strength of the Soviet Union.

On the other hand, it would be compulsory to lie in the situation in which telling the truth threatens loss of a great leader because of his private practice of sex with the wrong person or in the wrong position.

Mark November 18, 2012 at 11:43 am

If a president has to lie about “something”, perhaps that “something” isn’t a policy or action that should be taken in the first place. What’s wrong with expecting an open, transparent, and honest government? Isn’t that some of the hope and change we were promised four years ago?

Jimbino November 18, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Mark,

You don’t seem to get the concept that coming forth with the truth, in the situation of national defense interests–just as in the case of ongoing criminal investigations or even trials–is not justified if it derails the process or arms the enemy.

That’s why we subject prosecution and defense attorneys, as well as jurors, to scrutiny after the trial, not before or during.

Steve Verdon November 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Never stop lying if you are a politician.

Really, not that hard.

Sheesh.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: