To today’s politicians, Abraham Lincoln is still a total rock star, one of the presidents candidates from both parties most often cite as one they admire.
Hillary Clinton picked Abe — over her own husband and her old boss — as her favorite president. Donald Trump insists he can be more presidential than anybody — other than “the great Abe Lincoln.”
But for all the public fealty to Honest Abe, there’s little if any fealty to actual honesty by our leading candidates for president. In the Democrats’ presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton and the Republicans’ Donald Trump, we the people have likely chosen two of most provably dishonest candidates in modern history, all while insisting honesty, like, totally matters to us.
Who are we kidding? An Economist/YouGov poll asked 2,000 American adults what our most important qualification is for picking a president, and a plurality said “honest and trustworthy.” In the same poll, most Americans admitted they do not believe the current presidential front-runners are honest and trustworthy.
In a recent Washington Post/ABCNews poll, 59 percent said Hillary Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, while 69 percent said that about Trump.
So, whom do voters say they trust? Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, John Kasich and Marco Rubio. With the exception of Bernie Sanders — and not since Tenzing Norgay has anyone fought so hard to finish second — none of those guys are still in the hunt.
Let’s drop the façade. This election proves we do not care at all if our candidates are honest — in fact, we don’t care all that much if they are habitual liars.
To wit: A YouTube video mash-up of “Hillary Clinton lying for 13 minutes straight” has been viewed nearly 8 million times. While it includes mostly her well-documented flip-flops on a variety of issues, and only a couple of outright lies, it hardly paints the picture of a virtuous, straightforward candidate for president.
In addition to the flip-flops, Clinton has a long history of earning “False” ratings by PolitiFact, whether it was saying President George W. Bush decreased funding to the National Institutes of Health (he increased it), insisting she criticized the war in Iraq before then-Sen. Obama did (she did not), or asserting that the gun industry is the “only business in America that is wholly protected from any kind of liability” (it is not).
Then there are her biographical lies — claiming all of her grandparents were immigrants (only one was), or that she landed in Bosnia “under sniper fire” (she did not), or that she left the White House “dead broke” (nope), or that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary (who didn’t climb Mt. Everest until she was six).
Finally, of course, there’s the lie of all lies: Most conservatives still believe she lied to the public following the attacks in Benghazi, blaming a video instead of terrorism to protect the Obama administration’s foreign policy decisions in an election year.
All of this should tell you a lot about a person’s character — and yet, here we are on the precipice of a Sir Edmund Hillary Clinton nomination.
Donald Trump, however, may put Clinton to the test for the most lies told in the shortest amount of time.
Politico found that in 4.6 hours of speeches, Trump lied, on average, once every five minutes. Huffington Post reported 71 lies over the course of just one town hall.
In a debate, Trump was asked about having called for “up to a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods.” Trump interrupted: “that’s wrong. They were wrong,” he said, referring to the New York Times. “They are always wrong.”
The New York Times produced the audio. They were exactly right.
Just a few of Trump’s other outright lies:
A Trump ad shows Mexicans pouring across “our southern border” (the video was footage of Morocco.)
Trump tweeted an infographic asserting that blacks kill 81 percent of white homicide victims (the actual number is about 15 percent).
He said he knew nothing about David Duke (Trump, who claims to have “the world’s greatest memory,” had expressed familiarity with him before).
He asserted that Obama wants to accept 250,000 refugees from Syria (the actual number is 10,000).
He said the number of illegal immigrants in America was 30 million or higher (credible estimates go as high as 12 million).
The Daily Wire accumulated 101 of Trump’s lies, including that he never said George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction (he did), that MSNBC edited footage of an interview with him (it didn’t), and that Trump Winery is the largest on the East Coast (it’s not even the largest in Virginia).
In Trump’s “Art of the Deal,” he boasted about his slippery relationship with the truth: “I play to people’s fantasies . . . That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”
With all this rampant dishonesty flying around, the question isn’t whether we no longer care about honesty, but whether we ever truly did. Bill Clinton remains one of the most popular ex-Presidents ever, even despite lying under oath, a feat that rivals lying to George Washington (Benedict Arnold), lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission (Bernie Madoff) and lying to Oprah (James Frey) for the Hall of Fame of lie types.
It may feel good to say we care about a politician’s honesty. And boy do I wish we did. But if this election is any indication, it’s time to be honest with ourselves and admit the truth.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com.
This column originally appeared in the New York Daily News.