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Friday, August 17, 2012

Joe Biden, Villains, and Lies

Joe Biden made a legendary gaffe this week, telling people that Romney, if elected, was going to “put y’all back in chains.”

Of course it was a stupid thing to say, but peoples’ reactions to it are even stupider. Withdraw from the ticket? Come on. Politicians have said many, many things that were far less innocuous and have lived to tell the tale. But not all of them do.

“Villain, you lie!”

 This declaration was made famous by Horace Greeley, who ran for president in 1872 against Ulysses Grant. Greeley was an unfortunate candidate and an unusual guy. He was a fat, bald vegetarian who believed in utopian communes. He always wore a coat and a white hat, even when it was hot out. Well, he lost badly to Grant and he didn’t take defeat well. Before the electoral ballots were even counted, he was admitted into an insane asylum for hallucinations, and died shortly after.

I mention him now for two reasons. 1.) He ran for president at a time when the threat of “putting y’all back in chains” really WOULD have meant slavery. 2.) I like his phrase of “Villain, you lie!” I wish candidates would say that to each other now. Instead, they whine and sort of call each other villainous liars, but never directly and never to each other, and only when the press is around to hear.

Now we have men who claim false indignation whenever they think it will suit them best. I’m not condoning Biden’s remark; it was the opposite of smooth and appropriate. But come on. Romney didn’t even try to win voters at his NAACP speech last spring. Some say he was being matter-of-fact, refusing to pander, and hey, unlike Obama, at least he showed up. But I say that to stand there and claim that he’ll help poor, unemployed black people by promoting family values and traditional marriage is akin to some guy telling me he’ll support women’s rights by making Viagra accessible to everyone. Insulting. To that I’d say, “Villain, you lie!”

But what do I know? I’m neither poor, unemployed, nor black, and I don’t claim to understand the plight of those who are, any better than Romney actually does. And with the advent of truthiness, I’m not sure I even know what a lie is anymore, or for that matter, a villain.

Case in point: I had been nagging Monty all week to call Jack about the divorce. After playing phone tag for several days they finally talked last night, for over an hour. I was reading in bed when Monty straggled in, past our usual bedtime.

“So,” I said, “how did it go?” Monty didn’t answer, instead he sighed and collapsed onto the bed, landing face down, his head in the pillows. “That bad?”

He raised his head to speak. “Worse.”


He rolled over, lying on his back and looking up at me. “Jack didn’t tell you the whole story. He left out a pretty important detail.’

I nudged him with my foot. “Okay. What?”

Petra’s leaving Jack because she caught him cheating on her with a waitress fromthe restaurant.” Monty paused to emphasize the shock value of his statement. I could feel my mouth hanging open. “Her name is Jessie. She’s sixteen years younger than Jack is, and he told me he’s in love with her.”

            I knitted my eyebrows together and bit my lip, trying to keep my face neutral while I digested this information. But my attempt to do so didn’t work.

            “You’re trying not to laugh, aren’t you?” he asked.

            “Yes!” I said, and laughter escaped as I spoke. “And I don’t know why. It’s really not funny.”

            Monty laughed too. “It’s sort of funny. I didn’t know Jack had it in him. But it was idiotic. Now Petra wants to take him for everything he has. Meanwhile, this twenty-five-year-old waitress has him wrapped around her finger. He can’t win.”

            “Did you tell him that?”

            “No. But I told him he was stupid not to leave Petra first.”

            I shook my head. “You didn’t.”

            “Lucy, you wanted me to call him, and you knew I’d be honest.”

            “So?” I demanded.

            “So,” he said, poking my leg gently with his finger, “don’t act angry or surprised.”

            With that he yawned, got up and went to go brush his teeth, leaving me with a ton of questions. Why didn’t Jack confess his indiscretions to me? We’ve been friends for so long, how could he imagine that I’d judge him? Even if technically, in this situation, he’s the villain and the liar, how could he not know that I’d still be on his side? But then – and this was the most pressing question of all – how could he do that to Petra, the wife to whom he had vowed his enduring love and fidelity?

            Chances are I won’t get answers. I can’t pledge my support and question Jack’s actions at the same time. And false indignation over a situation I don’t fully understand would make me a hypocrite. But I’ll also skip the blatant honesty. Saying “Villain, you lie!” was one of the many things Greeley was mocked for, so I suppose you could conclude that this phrase, while catchy, drove him to his death.

            I really don’t want that to happen to me.


November Surprise, a novel featuring Lucy and the past six presidential campaigns, got a glowing review from To read it, click here.

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