By Bob Hegamin AN OPINION October 15, 2000
"A state law prohibiting malicious lies in political ads was thrown out by the state Supreme Court yesterday on the grounds it chills the free speech guaranteed under the First Amendment…… " The minority opinion chastised the court with "Today, the Washington State Supreme Court becomes the first court in the history of the Republic to declare First Amendment protection for calculated lies,……." (Seattle Post Intelligencer State law against lies in political ads is thrown out June 12, 1998)
The 5-4 decision of the Washington State Supreme Court on this issue boggles the mind, as five Justices used the First Amendment to justify allowing candidates to deceive the voter. Lying by candidates in political campaigns or by officials in government is fraud, regardless of the circumstance. In microcosm, the Washington State Supreme Court -- the executor of the law -- had discarded the notion that America is a land of basically honest people.
The idea that candidates can lie in their political ads leads naturally to the conclusion that they can continue lying to defend them. The Court's ruling has assured the electorate that their only choice will remain "between the lesser of two evils", which now could very well be between two liars. Obviously, once in office, the winner can legitimately renege on every promise or ideology made during the campaign. The state Supreme Court should be censured for having created a loophole for unethical candidates with enough money to buy their way into office. What need is there for campaign issues and supporting documentation when lies will do?
Can the electorate correct the situation? It could, by requiring candidates voluntarily submit, in writing, to a code of honor in which a violation would mean the voluntary withdrawal of the candidate from seeking the political office. It could start with the following principle.
The West Point honor code, which is upheld by the cadets themselves, is a vow not to lie, cheat, or steal, or to let others to do so. (Reader's Digest AMERICA A to Z The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. Pleasantville, New York/Montreal))
Washingtonians should be reminded that political parties within nations have fallen because their leaders had lied with exaggerations, omissions, distortions, and half-truths. People just simply lost faith in their officials to lead as disenchantment set in.
Washingtonians, however, continue to forgive their leaders their many serious faults, but would they really let the city or the state, for that matter, be destroyed by officials for their lack of ethics? Someone once said: "Ours is not a wicked country, and we cannot abide a wicked government." But, something as simple as lying in elective office is unethical and a first step toward "wickedness.” Successful candidates, whose campaigns are based on a foundation of "political" lies, eventually develop an aloofness and controlled defense against the people, who may not want to put up with a "wicked government" but are forced to tolerate one anyway.
Have Washingtonians lost hope in their political system? Not quite yet, but it appears that a growing number of officials are now being described as "decadent", "inept", and "egocentric." Do all elected officials have to come from the same pool of candidates? Absolutely not, because candidates with strong ethics for good government continue to seek office. Their numbers won't increase, however, if they're going to be handicapped by the Washington State Supreme Court.