Politicians: Thou Shall Not Lie


September 29, 2010
by Suada Kolovic
In the world of politics, having officials lie to the public is hardly new. Over the years, a parade of politicians from both parties – from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton getting caught exaggerating the danger of her 1996 trip to Bosnia to Representative Mark Kirk apologizing for misleading statements he made about serving in the first Iraq war – have had to account for what opponents portrayed as exaggerations.

In the world of politics, having officials lie to the public is hardly new. Over the years, a parade of politicians from both parties – from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton getting caught exaggerating the danger of her 1996 trip to Bosnia to Representative Mark Kirk apologizing for misleading statements he made about serving in the first Iraq war – have had to account for what opponents portrayed as exaggerations.

But lying about academic credentials is a new low, most recently exhibited by Christine O'Donnell. Last month, public relations consultant O'Donnell won Delaware's GOP Senate primary beating a favored longtime congressman. When she ran for the seat in 2006, she said she had a degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University but when it was revealed to be untrue, her campaign said Fairleigh Dickinson had withheld the degree because of outstanding student loans. The university gave her a degree on August 28, two weeks before the Delaware primary. Her campaign said she had completed a final course requirement this past summer.

So, why would politicians lie about something that can be easily checked? James A. Thurber, a professor of government at American University who studied ethic in politics, recently spoke to the Chronicle and explained, “People respect individuals and candidates who have certain credentials, and they're seen as almost necessary for office. It's fairly rare for someone to run for Senate who does not have an undergraduate degree, and most have law degrees or master's degrees. A candidate might be embarrassed about his or her academic background. They might think that no one will check it out.” He explains they get away with it once or twice and think they won't get caught; it’s when people eventually begin to believe their own lie when it really becomes a problem.

With the internet as accessible as it is, the truth is just a click away. So, whether you’re lying on a resume for a potential employer or a college application or scholarship is getting caught worth the risk?

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