The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

May 30, 2013

Covering things up doesn’t work


TARBORO — I used to kid that I never told a lie except to get out of trouble.  Actually, that was true, for a while, during my misspent youth.  There were times when I was a kid that I did tell some lies in order to get out of trouble.

It didn’t work, but I kept trying for a while.  Actually it made things worse and I had to pay a bigger penalty.

Maybe, during my lying days, when I was very young, if I had known that there was such a thing as “Taking the Fifth,” I may have gotten off a little better … nope, I don’t think so. I don’t think my Dad would have put up with that sort of thing.

I finally gave up lying for several reasons.

It didn’t work. It made things worse and it really gave you a bad reputation. I also learned if you didn’t lie, you didn’t have to remember what you said.

Back in the late 1940s, President Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here,” meaning that he, as president, should take responsibility for what his administration did. A few other presidents have taken that same attitude.

But not recently. It seems now that they take the same approach that I did when I was 7 years old.  Tell a lie. Try to cover it up. Take the Fifth.  Blame it on someone else, but never, ever take responsibility and admit you were wrong.

I think that President Obama’s administration is beginning to have some serious problems along the same lines that I had when I was 7 years old.

One way I can tell that this is happening is when the very liberal Democratic newspaper, The News & Observer, begins to run editorial cartoons featuring our president as having a screw loose somewhere in his handling of Benghazi, the IRS scandals and the AP records.

What’s now happening in Washington, and with this administration, is looking more like what occurred with the scandal of Watergate when President Nixon was in the White House in the early 1970s. The term Watergate has become synonymous with describing scandal and corruption.

Let’s look back, for a moment, at what did occur with Watergate.  In 1972, a group of burglars broke into the Democratic Party’s National Committee offices in the Watergate Hotel and were caught red-handed.

Nixon was re-elected in 1973, but by 1974 the Watergate investigation was in full swing and it would lead to Nixon’s resignation.  One thing that made Nixon finally decide he should leave office was when Republican Senator Barry Goldwater went to the White House and told the president that this is what he should do.

So, what does this have to do with the problems facing President Obama’s administration now?  The IRS and AP records could be similar depending on who knew what when and how far up the ladder of command it went.  The Benghazi thing is much worse because it cost American lives and certainly Watergate didn’t cause that.

The American people can be forgiving, for some things.  Remember President Bill Clinton wagging his finger at the American public via TV and saying, “I did not have sex with that woman.”  He was so sincere that I thought, ‘Gee, anyone that sincere must be telling the truth.’  I was wrong.

Okay, back to the ‘Taking the Fifth’ thing.  Actually, sometimes it seems some of them have been drinking a fifth of whiskey before they make some of the ridiculous decisions they make.  Anyway, Ms. Lois Lerner, the head of the Exempt Organizations division of the IRS has just taken the Fifth Amendment at the House Government Oversight Committee, refusing to testify on the grounds that she might incriminate herself.

In taking the fifth Ms. Lerner said, “I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations.  And I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”  Now, wait a minute.  If Ms. Lerner has done nothing wrong, then why does she need to ‘take the fifth’ on the grounds that she might incriminate herself?  But, maybe Ms. Lerner is

correct when she said she didn’t do any wrong herself, but is really ‘taking

the fifth’ to protect others higher up …and how high up might that be?

In the past many people have ‘taken the fifth.’  In 2002, former Enron chief Kenneth Lay and four other executives refused to talk about the giant energy company’s sudden financial collapse. Lay

told the lawmakers not to assume he was ‘taking the fifth’ because he had “something to hide.”  Lay was convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges in 2006, but died before his sentencing.

Charles Keating Jr. took the fifth in 1989 when questioned about the collapse of his Lincoln Savings and Loan that wiped out the life savings of many investors and cost taxpayers $3.4 billion.  Keating was convicted of fraud and served five years in prison.

The main question that still needs to be answered is how far up does this thing go?

Does it go up just a few more steps or does it go all the way up to where the buck should stop?

(Bob Harper is a Tarboro resident who writes a column of gneral interest.)