Once upon a time in
Don't believe it? Here's the key clause from the text of the bill: "When records are retained for data collection and research-related purposes, the division ... shall not acknowledge the existence of records as to a particular juvenile and shall lawfully answer any inquiry or subpoena by stating no records exist."
Back then, more'n a decade ago, we kept reading that section and rubbing our eyes. But the wording was always the same, the message unwavering: Thou shalt bear false witness. A forgotten spokesperson for the state explained that the proposed law wasn't any different from a court's expunging a criminal record. Even though that bill would have let that department retain records rather than expunge them, and then deny they existed. Even under subpoena. It sounded like something out of "1984." As when poor
At the same time,
Called on to address the
Has ever a speaker paid a greater compliment to his audience?
And yet the great man confessed himself perturbed. "My complaint," Mark Twain told the members of the club, "simply concerns the decay of the art of lying. No high-minded man, no man of right feeling, can contemplate the lumbering and slovenly lying of the present day without grieving to see a noble art so prostituted. ... Indeed, if this finest of the fine arts had everywhere received the attention, encouragement, and conscientious practice and development which this club has devoted to it, I should not need to utter this lament or shed a single tear. I do not say this to flatter. I say it in a spirit of just and appreciative recognition."
Mr. Clemens' defense of lying remains unmatched, yet he does not convince. Because it is his very truthfulness that makes his case so strong, his cynicism so charming. Mark Twain, it is clear, never told a bigger lie than when he claimed to be in favor of lying. His every word winks.
If only our modern PR types would defend lying with the same verve and candor, they might win us over. Instead, bureaucrats may engage not in an honest, forthright lies but the worst sort of truth -- the misleading half lie. It makes the direct and unblinking lie seem honest by comparison.
The more this public "servant" of the past explained, the less convincing, or even convinced, he sounded. Yes, the bill could have been better worded, he admitted. As if the difference between a truth and a lie were only a matter of wording and not a matter of the essence.
This bureaucrat's was the kind of performance that made one yearn for the days of
Now there was an honest man.
To go back and read Mark Twain's words about the decline of lying in his time is to be struck by how little, really, he had to complain about. How dare Mark Twain grouse about the state of the art when his contemporaries included statesmen like
How compare the artful embellishments of a Blaine or Conkling to the bald and unconvincing narratives even our most skillful practitioners offer today? What are our contemporary transparencies compared to the works of those old masters? The art of lying has declined considerably since. Who didn't watch those dreadful videotapes years ago of
Compared to the sheer verve and sweep of an
But there is some solace: Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken, honest advocates of the lie deluxe, aren't around to see how low the Art Eternal has sunk. In their time the lie was a work of beauty and imagination. In ours we had been obliged to seriously consider a proposal that would oblige officials to lie. It's like trying to legislate art.