He sat there for 2 1/2 hours and his pants never once caught fire.
That’s not easy to do, but all the great ones seem to manage it somehow. President Clinton stared into the lens and declared that he had never “had sex with that woman.” Despite the enormity of his lie, not the tiniest wisp of smoke rose from his fly.
On the other hand, George W. Bush only had to announce in the most unequivocal of terms that Saddam Hussein was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction and the smoke could be seen rising above Baghdad like the ash cloud from Mount St. Helens.
Of course, George W. was a terrible liar. The more he practised, the worse he got. He and his daddy and their Middle East oil buddies would have been better known as weapons of mass distraction.
When I was 11 years old, or thereabouts, “I shot an arrow into the air, it fell to Earth I know not where.” That’s what I said, quoting a little poem from one of our textbooks, but it wasn’t strictly true.
The arrow I fired into the air didn’t quite make it back to Earth. Instead, it embedded itself in the soft furry underside of one of my mother’s beautiful white pet rabbits.
At that age, there was little to choose between George Washington (remember the story of the cherry tree and how he told his father he could not tell a lie?) and me except he could not tell a lie and I could.
I swore up and down it wasn’t me who fired the fatal shot. Sure it was my arrow. And sure we were playing cowboys and Indians at the time and sure I was an Indian. But what did that prove? In the end, it was my word against the rabbit’s and the rabbit in question was very dead. Unlike George W., I was an excellent liar.
I could have waited for Oprah and confessed all to her, I suppose, but after several years the burden of guilt was so great I could not carry it any longer. I waited until the guy I blamed it on was dead and then told all. I think I was a better high school principal and husband after that.
There can be little doubt but that Lance Armstrong is among the greatest liars in the history of the world.
In fact, he may be like Gordie Howe in the song, “Gordie Howe was the greatest of them all/The greatest of them all/Yes the greatest of them all.” Of course, the song was sung about hockey and arguably the greatest player of his time, not Gordie as a liar.
No one will ever know the true motivation that prompted little old Lance to confess everything to Queen Oprah. It isn’t as though she’s a father confessor. I don’t even know if Lance is Catholic.
But if she’s going to go into the confessing business, she should at least get herself one of those little boxes, put on a clerical collar and set up shop. If she does celebrities only, and charges them an appropriate fee, she could be rich inside of six months. I know she’s already rich, but I think she made that honestly.
Tiger Woods, to his credit (if anything can be said to his credit), didn’t confess anything to anyone. He came clean, if clean is the proper term. Perhaps he had sense enough to know when he was caught.
I watched the interview with the great O with an open mind. I already knew the extent of Armstrong’s capacity to deceive the whole world for a full decade, and the depth of his cruelty in destroying the careers and reputations of people who tried to stand up to him.
But being a school principal for many years has taught me that people can change, can regret the damage they did and try to make amends by saying “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
So, I watched and waited for indications that the man was truly contrite. I mean, I know contrite. I was contrite when I blamed one of my best friends for smashing an upright lamp in a poker game. I didn’t tell him that I blamed him, and I didn’t tell Other Half it was me. That’s what I mean by contrite.
Armstrong was about as contrite as a male dog held fast in the grip of his most recent love. If he had shown the same degree of sincerity in his admission of “the truth” as he had in his telling of the lies in the first place, I might have believed him. When he was lying in public over the last decade of doping, he was using the same passionate language as the church pastor denying untoward activities with the church organist.
When he was “telling the truth” with Oprah, his face was as carefully under control as a toddler’s pointing at a wet spot on the floor and then at his brother and saying calmly, “He did it.”
He did raise hundreds of millions for cancer research, but how does that square with the lives he ruined?
I can buy a new lamp and have my friend give it to Other Half for her birthday, but does that make up for what I did in the first place?
OK, so it’s hardly the same thing, but it’s the principle that counts, in this case the principal being me.
The bottom line is that as a fellow liar I can forgive Lance Armstrong for his multitude of verbal indiscretions and acts of cruelty over the years, but I am not willing to see him admitted to competitive sport again in his lifetime or mine.
For the tens of thousands of young people who would see him so involved again, his example is just too easy to follow.
Ed Smith is an author who lives in
Springdale. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.