Is it just semantics, or is “political truth” an oxymoron?

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., April 7, 2014 – Politically speaking: Whatever happened to the truth? In a country of more than 315 million people, you would think we could find a few good men and women who were familiar with that concept and capable of delivering upon it. Yet, we seem unable to attract a sufficient number of individuals with the character to turn the tide against the more corrupt, “win at all costs” mentality that permeates our political Parties.

Instead, we are forced to choose among candidates who promise the world, then deliver little more than a dirt path that leads to nowhere. It’s all about manipulating the system to maintain and expand the political power of their Parties while paying back the surreptitious individuals and organizations that fund the debacle.

In recent weeks, we’ve once again had the Supreme Court not only condone the influence of money in politics but further enable its abuse. At the same time, we’ve witnessed embarrassingly inept Congressional Committees politicize significant issues that otherwise merit legitimate investigations.

Contrary to what certain Presidential hopefuls may think, it does matter whether the truth was told to the American people with regard to Benghazi or whether the facts were suppressed and distorted to provide political “cover.” More importantly, it matters if security decisions prior to the attack were made to conform to a political agenda (i.e., “Osama Bin Laden is dead, and al-Qaeda is on the run”).

This isn’t to suggest that any of the sinister alternatives were implemented but rather to highlight the importance of determining the answers with a degree of certitude that goes beyond some politician essentially saying “trust me.”

This past week, in reference to who altered the post-Benghazi talking points, we heard testimony that vacillated almost to the degree of saying “it depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.” It has been more than a year and a half, and we still don’t have a description and timeline of what senior members of the Administration did and when they did it in response to the deadly attack on a United States consulate.

Why do we tolerate this? Don’t we want the truth?

Correspondingly, Congress further humiliated itself in March by taking another step backward in investigating the IRS’s alleged abuse of power with regard to conservative 501(c)4 organizations. Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, once again exercised her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. This apparently inspired the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to throw what amounted to political tantrums to defend their respective Parties’ biases.

Why do we tolerate this? Don’t we want the truth?

Congress also stubbed its toe on successfully investigating the NSA and its surveillance of private citizens without substantive probable cause. Intelligence Committees in both the House and Senate have been stymied by obfuscation, delay, and outright misrepresentations.

Who can forget the testimony of James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence? On March 12, 2013, the following exchange occurred between Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and the Honorable Mr. Clapper.

Sen. Wyden: “So what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Dir. Clapper: “No, sir.”

Sen. Wyden: “It does not?”

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

When information to the contrary came to light in June of 2013, Dir. Clapper offered the following explanation in an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell: “I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner, by saying no.”

Is that today’s new standard? Does “most truthful” equate to “least untruthful” in the world in which we live?

In an interview with the National Journal, Dir. Clapper further claimed: “What I said was the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails. I stand by that.” 

Did you catch that nuance in his original answer? Maybe we’re not intelligent enough to understand “intelligence” … at least when were expected to accept misrepresentation to be a form of the truth.

Why do we tolerate this? Don’t we want the truth?

Next: Recall the shell game called “Fast and Furious” in which another American life was lost because of a political faux pas but little has been done to assign blame. The White House denied any knowledge of the operation, but later extended Executive Privilege to Attorney General Eric Holder to protect him from the subpoena power of Congress.

Then, the Department of Justice investigated itself and, not surprisingly, found itself to be guilty of no wrongdoing. Lower-level supervision was slapped on the wrist and told not to do it again. Meanwhile, U.S. Border Patrol officer Brian Terry remains dead.

Why do we tolerate this? Don’t we want the truth?

Similarly, the Department of Justice also investigated itself to determine whether it trampled upon the First Amendment when it secured the phone records of certain reporters and editors of the Associated Press and categorized Fox News correspondent, James Rosen, as a criminal “co-conspirator” so it could surveil his e-mails as well as seize his phone records.

On May 15, 2013, AG Holder testified to the House Judiciary Committee that, “In regard to potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material — this is not something I’ve ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be wise policy.” A week later, it was discovered that he had personally approved the search warrant with respect to James Rosen. Not surprisingly, the Department of Justice found itself guilty of no wrongdoing.

Why do we tolerate this? Don’t we want the truth?

Another favorite pastime is pretending that information doesn’t exist one day (when it appears to be unfavorable) and miraculously announcing its existence days later (when it appears to be favorable). In recent weeks, you could probably point to anywhere from 5 million to 7.1 million examples of how this works.

Creatively defining (or not defining) the basis for numbers is also part of the ruse. For example, under the current Administration, you are not “unemployed” even if you do not have a job and want one. You are only unemployed if you still qualify for unemployment benefits. You are also counted as a “newly insured individual” if you enrolled in the ACA even if you previously had insurance and were forced to surrender it because of the ACA.

These are not real-world definitions but rather political ones that foster a given Party’s agenda.

Similarly, in the prior Administration, a trillion dollars of debt-spending did not constitute an element of recorded debt as long as it was spent on a war. Speaking of which, “weapons of mass destruction” apparently need not be real; they only need to theoretically exist.

Clearly, the trend of offering misrepresentations as a substitute for the truth is not something new nor is it limited to a particular Party. It’s been a common practice for years and a veritable staple of both Parties. Perhaps the current Administration draws more attention because it brazenly promised to be the most transparent Administration in our Nation’s history. Then again, for all we know, it is.

Why do we tolerate this? Don’t we want the truth?

Let’s not even waste time discussing the blatant lying that takes place with regard to the political misappropriation of funds and sexual dalliances among our elected officials. We’ve simply come to expect it.

Perhaps Aaron Sorkin captured the essence of the corruption and frustration we see today in his brilliant 1992 screenplay about a certain “Code Red.” Although, it’s difficult to determine which metaphor best applies.

Does Tom Cruise’s portrayal of Lt. Daniel Kaffee represent our altruistic quest for the truth or our naiveté and sense of entitlement in his critical exchange with Jack Nicholson as Col. Nathan R. Jessep? Correspondingly, does Col. Jessep’s character represent the corruptive influence of power or our frustration with those who pretend to represent our interests.

Here’s the critical dialog. You decide.

Col. Jessep: “You want answers?”

Lt. Kaffee: “I think I’m entitled to them.”

Col. Jessep: “You want answers?”

Lt. Kaffee: “I want the truth!”

Col. Jessep: “You can’t handle the truth!

“Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? … I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.

“We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use ’em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I’d rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you’re entitled to!”

No matter how you interpret the metaphor, in the end, Aaron Sorkin hit upon the solution to our problems. All we need is “A Few Good Men” and women who can handle the truth and deliver it.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities Digital News (CDN).