Is it a serious moral failing for a politician to lie?

Position:ASK THE RABBIS: CAMPAIGN EDITION
 
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INDEPENDENT

Yup.

Rabbi Gershon Winkler

Walking Stick Foundation

Thousand Oaks, CA

HUMANIST

Let's not be naive. "Spinning," or reframing the facts, is a job requirement of politicians and political surrogates. But once truth-telling is allowed to slide down the slippery slope, it is easy to see how outright lies can become just as commonplace as "spin." And some statements are clearly whoppers. But are these moral failings or just the way the system works? If the latter, then the real moral failing is ours if we believe that what politicians say is an ironclad guarantee of how they will act once in office. If the former, is it likewise a moral failing if the media give politicians a pass and do not challenge these claims and assertions when there is clear evidence to the contrary?

Of course, the problem with unrestrained and matter-of-fact false-telling (a word that doesn't exist yet, but should) is that we can never know what to believe. Or whom to trust. And this leaves us in a state of disequilibrium. Like having to deal with a capricious deity who acts on a whim and with no sense of predictability and justice.

Instead, we need leaders who may change their minds but are mostly dependable and reliable. And who trust us to handle difficult truths. Along these lines, I believe that doctors who withhold critical prognoses also do us a disservice. And so do religious teachers who perpetuate myths that have long been disproven.

Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer

The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism

New York, NY

RENEWAL

Those who are privileged to be public servants should hold themselves to high ethical standards. The quality 1 most hope to find in my elected officials is integrity, which includes both seeking and speaking truth.

One of our tradition's names for God is Dayan ha-Emet: the Judge of Truth or the True Judge. The Hebrew word emet ("true" or "truth") is spelled aleph-mem-tav. the first letter of the aleph-bet, the last letter and the letter in the middle. In our striving to emulate the One, we're called to pursue truth in beginnings, endings and everything in between. This holds for all of us--including those who aspire to serve in public office.

Jewish tradition holds that with teshuvah (re/turning-toward-God), missteps can be forgiven, so when we misspeak, we can realign. But that same tradition calls on all of us to live out our highest ideals, including the ideal of speaking truth even when doing so is inconvenient.

At the same time, our contemporary "Gotcha!" culture makes sport of entrapping politicians, which inhibits their (and our) willingness to speak complex truths. I...

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