A politician made a valiant attempt to defend the honor of a colleague last week and accidentally brought the whole British Parliament into disrepute. Or further disrepute. Or just possibly none of the above. Take your pick once I tell you the tale.
Sir Malcolm Bruce, a former deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, tried to defend Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael by saying that if every MP was kicked out of office for lying “we would clear out the House of Commons very fast.”
(Note: You can follow that link safely. Unlike the one in last Tuesday’s post, you won’t find any mankinis on the other end.)
Did Bruce mean that lying was widespread in public life? a BBC interviewer asked.
“No,” he said. “Well, yes.”
Or, just possibly, both of the above. I’m a great fan of all of the above and none of the above, especially when they’re not logical possibilities. They give us an illusion of choice and expansiveness and—well, I don’t think freedom is too high-flown a word for this. Sure, the world may be falling apart and the weather’s getting stranger by the year, but the range of what’s possible just expanded beyond what’s possible and if that ain’t freedom, my friend, what is?
So once again, take your pick. And if you want it to be both all of the above and none of the above at the same time, be my guest: Pick both. There’s no charge.
But back to our story. Carmichael got into trouble by authorizing a leak before the recent election and then denying that he knew anything about it, and it was the denial that caused the problem, not the leak or even that the information he leaked was apparently inaccurate. Or made up, which is a polite way of saying a lie. You can take your choice there too. We’re just rolling in choices today.
For the sake of both British and non-British readers, I won’t go into the details. Brits have already heard about it and for everyone else I’m already teetering on the edge of incomprehensibility with all this talk of Lib Dems and MPs and disrepute. A politician’s in disrepute? American readers are asking themselves. And this makes the news why? (Am I being unfair here? Are readers in other countries asking the same question?) Besides, the content is almost never what matters in these scandals, it’s cover-up that gets politicians in trouble. How come? Because that’s what we, the ordinary newspaper readers and evening news watchers, can wrap our heads around.
Oh, sure, if someone someone slept with someone they weren’t supposed to sleep with, we can follow that without waiting for the cover-up. But the real scandals? The ones involving billions of dollars, or pounds, or whatevers? The ones, say, involving the banks and the Great Recession of 2008? They’re so deeply incomprehensible that our eyes go glazy the minute we hear about them and I’d better end this paragraph fast or you’’ll all click onto something else.
I’m almost inclined to admire ol’ Malcolm. (Sorry, I just can’t call anyone “Sir.” Like ironing, it’s against my religion.) The impulse to defend a colleague, and for all I know a friend, led him to tell the truth as he knows it, which is that in politics almost everyone lies. Or maybe that should be everyone. Yet another chance to take your pick.
I don’t know which you chose just then, and I don’t suppose it changed anything, but didn’t it give you a wonderful feeling, as if your life had just grown larger?