Lying Down on the Job

I'VE finally figured out what's gone wrong with the presidential campaign. It's not that the two nominees are usually aiming straight for each other's jugular. We've come to expect that every four years. No, what's wrong with this campaign is that the fine art of lying has died a quiet death.

Take Gary Hart, for example. Obviously, he lacked training in the finer art of lying. He forgot the cardinal rule: never get caught. And if you do get caught, you might as well try the truth. Look at the campaign of 1884, which instead of focusing on the issues, degenerated into one of personal abuse and vilification (sound familiar?). The Republican party led by James G. Blaine coined the catchy phrase, "Ma, ma, where's my pa?" to needle Grover Cleveland about his illegitimate child. But Cleveland admitted his responsibility and look where that got him. "Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha!"

Another essential rule about lying is that the timing has to be perfect, a subtlety to which vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle is not attuned. When someone asks you about your decision to use family connections in joining the National Guard during the Vietnam War, the right lie is not: "I did not know in 1969 that I would be in this room today."

Everyone knows that hindsight is always more perceptive than foresight, but perception, among other words, seems to be absent from Quayle's vocabulary. Of course, everyone regrets one past act or another, but it just isn't wise to answer a question about integrity and personal ethics with a comment about your early ambitions.

LYING, and lying well, is especially important in such advanced times as our own, when television cameras and microphones can pick up every gesture, every word, every nuance and display them to millions of titillated viewers. Recently, my employer said to me, "You'll find in the law profession, you don't always say what you believe." This was a lawyer speaking, one of those people who are supposed to fight for truth, justice, and the American way (actually, scratch the last term; after listening to all the campaign rhetoric, I'm not sure just what that phrase means anymore).

Politics is, and must be, deceptive. Even though George Bush may think of his grandchildren as "the little brown ones," it's not necessary to proclaim that loudly to the President and the rest of the American public. Tact, which is merely a milder form of lying, is essential in politics, and it's time Bush learned that lesson.

Bush should also learn that there are some situations where brazen lies and intentional deceptions won't work. I'm referring to Barbara Bush. Does anyone really believe Barbara Bush is out there in the ghettos, teaching youngsters how to read? Does anyone really think that George walks around the vicepresidential living room, slapping Barbara on the butt after a tremendous meal? Bush's familial affections just don't match up to Dukakis' loving relationship with his wife. He shouldn't even try to compete.

It must be admitted, however, that there are some situations where neither truth nor lies would help. Paula Parkinson's allegations about an affair between herself and Quayle, whether true or not, is still effectively damaging. It's an unfortunate truth that smear campaigns are truly like tar, no matter what you do, it sticks.

Although the extinction of the fine art of lying ought to be lamented, public figures can still get by without the ability to lie. Look at Ronald Reagan. All you have to do is flash your charming smile and let your sincere but vague manner show through, and you too could acquire his Teflon coat of armor. Perhaps he should market his secret. It could make him millions, as well as provide us with a new generation of truly effective leaders who could, in all sincerity, say (and not break into peals of laughter) "Let's do this one for the Gipper!"