Jake O'Kane: As someone with a PhD in advanced physics, I'd never lie to you
When you compare Bill Clinton with our pitiful parade of amateur liars you realise just how far behind the United States we are when it comes to the art of political deceit
I’M NOT so naive as to get annoyed by politicians lying; what annoys me is politicians insulting my intelligence by lying badly.
I yearn for the days of the great political liars. Men like President Bill Clinton, who famously stared straight into the eyes of America and stated categorically: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." Damn it, now that’s how to tell a lie – and he’d have gotten away with it too, if Monica had been a bit more fastidious with her laundry routine.
When you compare Bill with our pitiful parade of amateur liars you realise just how far behind the US we are when it comes to the art of political deceit.
During the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, a new phrase entered the local lexicon – ‘constructive ambiguity’. Orwellian in nature, this phrase was the euphemism used to plaster over a multitude of lies told during the negotiations. The term itself dates back to an earlier peace negotiation, namely between the US and Vietnam and brokered by Henry Kissinger, a man who managed to walk away from the Watergate scandal unscathed; some achievement.
Our politicians would find it difficult to bluff a 10-year-old in a game of poker. Asked a difficult question, their body language immediately screams ‘LIAR’! They sweat, they squirm, they stutter and so desperately avoid direct eye contact they look like they’re having a stroke. We unfortunates at home, watching this unedifying spectacle, are left screaming at the television, "For God’s sake, man up, do your job, and lie like a professional politician".
I admit technological advances have made lying somewhat harder. Where once a document could have been conveniently lost, an email trail remains forever, irrevocably pointing its accusing timeline of blame. Barack Obama once stated that he fully expected every email he’d written while in office to one day appear on the front of a newspaper. That was a president who understood the reality of modern communication and the limitations it places on users.
As the DUP and Sinn Fein fight to apportion blame for the failure of recent negotiations by trying to tie down who said what to whom and when, it all seemed rather petty and trivial. It makes no difference to us ordinary folk whether the sixth or 10th iteration of the document was an agreement or not; the reality is no final agreement was reached. Does the fact one party may have lied over the reality of an agreement really matter? It only matters if you want to prove you were the good child who played by the rules and the other bad child did not.
Another popular euphemism is being ‘economical with the truth’. This concept covers occasions where an outright lie isn’t necessary, where a refusal to be completely candid will suffice; a classic example being Gerry Adams’s continued denial he’d ever been a member of the IRA.
The two most powerful men in the world today have brought lying to a completely new level – it has, in fact, become an integral part of their administrations. Donald Trump is such a congenital liar that he may no longer be able to discern where the truth lies. Vladimir Putin has utilised disinformation from his earliest days as a member of the KGB, and has no compunction in offering a blank denial to an incident such as the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury during the week.
Not that lying is confined to the world of politics. Last week saw the golden boy of British cycling, Sir Bradley Wiggins, condemned by Parliament’s Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee report into ‘combating doping in sport’. The Committee decided his use of the asthma drug triamcinolone fell outside the parameters of fair usage.
In the world of sport, the term for this behaviour is ‘gaming the system’ which, translated, means using every possible advantage to win, up to the very edge of cheating. In it’s mildest form, it involves competitors utilising the best that sports medicine and training has to offer to gain any advantage over their competition. At it’s worst, it’s Team Sky cyclists sucking on the exhaust of their tour bus to justify using triamcinolone.
In this disingenuous world it’s best to believe nothing and question everything, except of course what I tell you. I mean, as someone with a PhD in advanced physics and speaker of nine languages, you know I’d never lie to you.