Nearly ten years ago I had a car accident. My wife and I had just finished bringing the groceries into the house. I got in the car to put it in the garage. This involves driving several blocks, so I pulled up and stopped at the intersection, where there was a red light. I was in the left lane. In front of me, straddling two lanes, was a contractor's truck. He was well forward of where he should have been, across the crosswalk, and poking a bit into the intersection.
We in Philadelphia are accustomed to shoddy driving, particularly by contractors. I didn't think much of it. Then the truck -- we still had a red light -- began to move. Backwards. Quite rapidly.
"I didn't want to block the box," he told me after he'd buckled a good part of the right side of my car. Philadelphia had recently started a public information campaign about not blocking intersections.
We traded insurance information. I called the police. He left before the police arrived -- you can do that in Pennsylvania. I figured it was no big deal, since he'd already admitted that he was at fault. The police report had my story.
And then, a few days later, I learned that his story had changed. He hadn't moved. I ran into him. I spent a fair amount of time on the phone with my insurance company and his. They both said it was his word against mine. The arbitration split the costs between us, and I was out a couple of hundred unnecessary dollars.
I've known my insurance agent for a very long time. He tried to comfort me. He told me that, in the insurance world, people lie with great frequency. I actually knew that. It had just never happened to me before. I confess I was a bit stunned.
Lying, of course, is not confined to car accidents in Philadelphia. Indeed, it has become a major spectator sport. I sometimes think that it will replace baseball as the national pastime.
Just look at National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who told Congress that the NSA wasn't doing massive data sweeps on American citizens. Then Edward Snowden proved him wrong. And Clapper apologized, saying he had responded to a question with the "least untruthful answer possible."
There's something about a personal declaration of moral bankruptcy.
It's not just the Obama administration. Apparently there's now an anti-Obamacare web video that shows Uncle Sam peering between a woman's legs at a gynecologist's office.
This from the people who brought us the state-mandated transvaginal ultrasound. And so add hypocrisy to the charge of mendacity.
There's an old song from the Vietnam War, "The Ballad of the Green Berets." I never liked it, because it's pretty jingoistic. But there's a line in there -- "Men who mean just what they say."
I'm comforted by the thought that lying may be starting to stop working. My contractor with his truck gouged me for a few hundred bucks, and got away with it. Mr. Clapper will keep his job -- apparently lying to Congress is okay if you have the right job. But the NSA's whole surveillance program is under serious assault, and American intervention in Syria is quite dead -- a casualty of George W. Bush's lies about Iraq. Obamacare seems quite healthy, despite the assaults. The budget battles continue, and the cover stories are unraveling.
Joseph Goebbels, one of the leaders of Nazi Germany, popularized the theory of the big lie: Say something really wacky, and keep saying it, and sooner or later people will start to believe you.
I think that's over. Or at least, I think it's beginning to be over.