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[The Observer, Life Magazine, 1999]

“THE BROAD mass of a nation,” Adolf Hitler famously wrote in his bestseller, Mein Kampf (“I couldn't put it down!” - Der Sturmer), “will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.” What he neglected to add was, “just so long as you kick in their door at 3 am and machine gun them if they don't.”
  The Big Lie theory obviously held great appeal for both Bill Clinton and Jonathan Aitken. Here we have men who are seen - almost admiringly - as consummate deceivers, each one as slippery as a lightly buttered eel. But if they're that cunning, how come they wound up in the dock? And why did they choose to believe a self-confessed whopper merchant like Adolf? His Big Lie turned out to be nothing but a big lie. They really should have seen that one coming.
  If anything, Clinton and Aitken are terrible liars, subscribers to the Bart Simpson school of prevarication: “I didn't do it. Nobody saw me do it. You can't prove anything.” (Repeat until evidence emerges to the contrary.) Like ten-year-old cookie-jar thieves, they simply denied it all and professed outrage at their accusers through a spittle of crumbs. We've seen this sort of thing before. I see it every day. Ask my girlfriend, “Did you -” and she'll reflexively shoot back a guilty “No!” before you can get to “- pick up some milk while you were out?”. As for me, I don't even bother lying any more. Not that I'm of the “women can read your mind” school. A three-year-old chimpanzee could read my mind. In fact, many of the higher primates are more skilled at duplicity than I am. A mandrill has a better chance of flogging the Eiffel Tower to Bill Gates than I have of getting away with anything, ever.
  It's no picnic, being this artless. Because, apart from anything else, people expect you to lie. They rely on it. They base decisions on it. And when you don't, they feel let down. Misled. Deceived. Appalled that you should have stooped so low as to tell the truth. The inability to lie is not a virtue, it's a social handicap. Lies are comforting, necessary and normal. Imagine being doomed to honesty about, say, your partner's weight, family or sexual prowess. You would swiftly gain a profound understanding of Jean Paul Sartre's dictum, “Hell is other people”. Or try winning a job when you're the only one who failed to embroider your CV.

BOSS: “I see that you have little experience in the field of loan risk assessment. Why should I hire you when the other nine candidates had all been chief executive of the Banque Credit Suisse by the age of 30?”
YOU: “Um, no reason.”

  At the other extreme are liars so effective they enmesh themselves in a baroque fantasy universe where the con job becomes an end in itself. Here, skiving, adultery and all-round fecklessness can be savoured, then made to unhappen. Aged relatives possess the elastic resilience of Sonic The Hedgehog, snuffing it one moment only to be magically reborn - and die again - the next. This grifter's paradise inevitably crumbles when the over-ambitious charlatan botches a crucial detail, turning up at work the day after granny's fifth funeral in flippers, sunhat and a beer-stained toga.This is why it's important to stick to the rules. Rule one: a lie should be simple and memorable. Principally so you don't forget it yourself.

  Rule two: you should believe it before you utter it. If you can't fool yourself, what chance has your lie got of duping anybody else? Rule three: it should be undisputable. Do not lie about anything that can be refuted. Rule three is where Bill Clinton went adrift, although it does depend on how much trouble someone is willing to take to prove you wrong. Suppose I tell the insurance company that a gun-toting yardie gang filched my mobile phone. They're not going to spend millions on a special prosecutor to show that I left it in the pub. They won't need to, what with the chimp tugging at their sleeves and vigorously shaking its head.
  Aitken would appear to be an out-and-out malevolent sleazebag with the soul of a corkscrew, whose baroque, hubris-inspired web of corruption may have become an end in itself. Successful liars often become so enamoured of lying that they put far more effort into it than it would take to face up to reality. Bill Clinton strikes me as more of a fabulist, one who invents stories to improve upon the truth. We all know fabulists like this. It's just most of them aren't president.
  One friend of mine lives in a perpetually enhanced world, where myth becomes fact and fact is all the better for it. I went to meet him the other day. He had in tow a pair of very disappointed children. “They thought,” my friend told me, “that I said we were going to meet David Beckham.” I apologised for not being David Beckham and assured them that if I could be David Beckham for them, I would. “You know,” said my friend, “Dave is actually a brilliant footballer. He turned down a contract at Chelsea because blue doesn't suit his complexion.” The kiddies' faces visibly brightened. Before that day I had the sporting talent of a cheeseplant. Now I'm a midfield genius and the world is a happier place. If they ever want proof, I'll just fake an injury. Although, to stand any chance of convincing them, I'd have to pummel my metatarsals with a steam hammer first.
  Fabulists are brilliant at parties, less so in front of a grand jury. Clinton very likely thought that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” was an improvement upon “We did the sort of stuff teenagers get up to in Utah.” So - like Utah teenagers - Bill simply convinced himself that “sexual relations” don't include fellatio and cigar-play.
  It's been said in Clinton's defence that everybody lies about sex. Maybe. That women routinely do so is one of life's mercies. What's for certain is that every man, invariably, automatically, and without even referring the matter to his frontal lobes, lies about oral sex. All available evidence suggests that a fair few women aren't much good at it. Why will this not change? Because no man in his right mind will ever say so. The difference between a good blow job and a bad one is negligible compared to the chasm between a bad blow job and no blow job - which is only the beginning of what you'll get if you suggest for a second that there's a problem.

HER: Is something wrong? You can tell me.
HIM: Well. . .

  Even the most incompetent of bullshitters is never going to make that mistake twice. Or once. As Bill Clinton could tell you, lying may be wrong, but sometimes honesty is nothing short of madness.

All material on this site is copyrighted to David Bennun and may not be reprinted or reused without permission. No word of a lie.

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