A Lying Tongue Lasts Only a Moment

By Veith, Gene Edward | The American Enterprise, May 1999 | Go to article overview

A Lying Tongue Lasts Only a Moment


Veith, Gene Edward, The American Enterprise


Listening to President Clinton's explanation of how he didn't really lie in his grand jury testimony brought back fond memories of my grad school days. What Clinton did was take the words sex, alone, and is and proceed to "deconstruct" them. That is, he took ordinary terms whose meaning seems perfectly clear and dissected them so closely that they dissolved into contradictions, uncertainties, and conundrums. He was not lying because, in his rendering of the words, he was never alone with Miss Lewinsky (since other people were in the White House), and they never had sex (since he did not consider oral sex to be sex). If the Independent Counsel and the grand jury had other definitions in mind, these would simply be their reading of the words. In a tour de force that would have won him an A in any literary criticism seminar, the President presented meaning as inherently problematic, hinging completely on each individual's interpretation.

The President's performance was complemented by the "White House spokesmen," who also must have taken their share of English lit. seminars. According to contemporary critical theory, interpretation itself is a matter of constructing paradigms--also known as "plausibility structures" or "interpretive models"--to account for data. White House spinmasters proved adept at accounting for even the most incriminating evidence, by offering a succession of possible scenarios in which they depicted Miss Lewinsky at various times as a stalker, a tool of the right-wing conspiracy, and a troubled youth whom the President was counseling.

In the nation's colleges and universities, students are taught that truth is not discovered, but built. If there is no objective truth, of course, it is impossible to lie. Or, put another way, if there is no objective truth, everything is a lie.

Thinkers in pre-modern times believed in a vast array of truths--rational, empirical, moral, and theological. "Modern" thinkers restricted truth to what can be known through the scientific method. The "postmodernists" have taken the next step, rejecting even scientific certainty and dismantling the category of objective truth altogether.

Having allowed these redefinitions to take place, it should not be shocking to us to discover that some of our most contemporary political leaders are fluent liars. Nor should we be surprised at the "promising young journalists" who get caught making up news stories, the TV producers who mix fact and fiction, the deceptive advertisers, the new profession of "spin doctors." These and other cadres of new liars are simply acting out what they were taught in school.

Postmodern relativism has become a commonplace not only in the academic world but on nearly every level of the culture. …

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