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Daily Journal
January 12, 2023
#90-12 KDJ

If politicians lie, don't elect them again

By Scott Reeder

Folks are wringing their hands over George Santos.

He’s a liar. And he got caught.

He said he graduated from college. He didn’t.

He said he had fancy jobs at Goldman Sachs and Citibank. They say they’ve never heard of him.

He said he was a successful real estate investor. He doesn’t own any property and is deep in debt.

So, what do you call someone like that? Congressman.

Yes, the Republican won a toss-up district in New York. And Democrats are crying foul.

The voters were tricked. Bamboozled. Deceived. Fooled.


Former Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin lied about graduating from college. State Sen. Sam McCann lied about being a Marine. Rod Blagojevich lied about, well, just about everything.

I’ve been covering politicians for 35 years. And I’ve been lied to for just as long. Some folks want Santos removed from office because of what he said to get there.

With Republicans holding a razor thin majority in the House, don’t hold your breath that they will remove one of their own for doing something that happened before he held office. In case you think I’m picking on the GOP, the Democrats aren’t any better at policing their own ranks.

When Bill Clinton said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” do you remember all of the Democrats in Congress lining up to remove him from office? Me neither.

Presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin once asked Lyndon Johnson why he had so often told people that his grandfather had died at the Alamo, when he knew it was not true.

Johnson, she said, confessed to the fraud, but had a ready explanation. “My grandfather wasn’t killed at the Alamo,” she recalled him saying. “He was killed at the Battle of San Jacinto, which Texans know was more important in achieving independence (from Mexico), but other Americans usually haven’t heard of. So, I moved him to the Alamo.”

“That seemed reasonable,” Goodwin told a group of reporters years ago, “until I did some further checking and found he hadn’t been killed in the Battle of San Jacinto either. He died in bed.”

When you find discrepancies in the stories of politicians, look out. Someone who refuses to deal honestly with their private life may well distort the reality while holding public office.

Remember Johnson distorted an ambiguous encounter between a North Vietnamese and U.S. ship in the Gulf of Tonkin into the pretext for war.

I once worked for a liar. Maybe “serial fableist” would be a better term. Almost every conversation I had with him was filled with lies and distortions. He lied about big things and small. And he often ended his conversations with, “Remember, I’ve got your back.”

Whenever he’d say that, I’d roll my eyes, tell him goodbye and hang up the phone. I’d ask myself why he lied so much, even about things that in no discernible way benefited him.

When he told me to lie for him, my answer was clear, “No.”

Some of the best career advice I ever received came from a public servant named Gene Callahan. He told me, he would always tell prospective employers two things: “I’ll never lie for you, and I’ll return all of my phone calls by the end of every day.”

Some folks might ask what does not lying and returning phone calls have to do with one another? One is about a lie of commission and the other about a lie of omission. Both are bad. He wasn’t the type to avoid calls so he wouldn’t have to answer tough questions.

His daughter, former U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, is one of the most honorable public servants I’ve ever covered. He raised her right. (Cheri and I worked together for a decade at the Quad-City Times.)

In our cynical age, it’s easy to dismiss all politicians as liars. Many are. But not all.

This growing cynicism stems from many things, not the least is the corrupt system that we find ourselves in. Most members of Congress and the Illinois General Assembly face either no or nominal opposition.

When a voter learns that they have been lied to, there is little they can do when they have no alternative on the ballot.

But what about the hotly contested races like that of George Santos? Well, the best disinfectant is sunlight. And in this case, the media organizations that covered the race let us down.

With the exception of the reporting from one small weekly newspaper in his district, we were never told of Santos’ deceptions until after he had been elected. New York is the last U.S. city with three daily newspapers, and it’s the center of the media universe. And nobody picked up that there was a liar in their midst?

The necessary shoe-leather reporting wasn’t done.

Journalism is being the public’s eyes and ears. That means going to the courthouse and checking candidate’s backgrounds for criminal convictions, calling schools to see if their education claims are true. One of my favorites is checking birthdates. You’d be surprised how many politicians lie about their age.

Unfortunately, less of that is happening. So, what can voters do when they learn that the candidate they voted for lied to them?

There isn’t a whole lot you can do about a liar — other than not elect them again.

Scott Reeder is a veteran Statehouse journalist and a staff writer with the Illinois Times. His email address is ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.

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