Political InQueery: Lying Liars and the Lies They Think They Can Get Away With

Tom MacMaster, a white man with brown hair and a beardIf aliens are evaluating whether to visit Earth and reveal their secrets of the universe, they had better not be looking at TMZ.com in their analysis, or they'd certainly reject the idea. Once again, two scandals about men who misappropriated technology and then lied about it have made headlines, and once again not much is happening because of it. If a politician or activist falls in the forest, will anyone notice? Here I've listed a few notable aspects of the "caught red-handed" denial game political operatives play. Gentlemen, consider yourselves prime candidates for the Douchebag Decree.

Adopt a "persona" separate from yourself so that you can feel some distance from your inappropriate behavior—Some men would choose to abuse a dating website if they were going to pretend to be someone they're not, but Tom MacMaster went so far as to create an entire person with her own history and political agenda, and posted under her name for years: Amina Arraff, a lesbian Syrian activist. He was making a point, he says, by creating this character and writing articles by her for years before suddenly Amina was kidnapped by Syrian security forces. Which of course didn't happen, but which sucked up rescue resources anyway. But even when looking at liars who don't go to such extremes in getting what they want (recipients for crotch photos, underage sex, and so on), they often report, once they've admitted their behavior happened, that it didn't mean anything or that it wasn't really their behavior. But before they admit it...

Larry Craig, a white man with gray hair, in front of a photoshopped bathroom stallDeny that any of it actually occurred—I think most of us remember Bill Clinton standing at a podium wagging his finger and saying he did nothing wrong with a certain intern. Or Larry Craig insisting he is not gay. Or more recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger denying he'd fathered a child with his mistress, or Tony Weiner characterizing his posed photos as a prank someone was playing—on him. MacMaster also denied he was actually Amina, for a long time, until last week, IP addresses what they are. At some point, the denials look all too easily like what they are: a stall for more time and a desperate hope the storm will blow away. And I would suggest that this hope is really more about men not wanting to lose power and the access they've found to the behavior they enjoy.

Once you've admitted it happened, provide a justification—Rep. Weiner followed the David Duchovny model and said he would be entering treatment this week for sex addiction. I can't know if this is at the core of his behavior or not, although I'm a little wary of excusing predatory sexual behavior (it came out over the weekend that he's been sending photos to 17-year-olds) via a mental illness diagnosis. But I worry about the easy answer in these cases. MacMaster, on his blog, wrote:

While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not mısleading as to the situation on the ground, I do not believe that I have harmed anyone—I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.

Mark Sanford, a white man with brown hairWait a minute. Much more than the narrative "voice" was fictional here. The character was fictional. What happened to the fictional character was fictional. A white middle-aged man who describes action in a Middle Eastern country is something Edward Said would describe as neo-colonialist, but because MacMaster feels "strongly" about it, he has license to create whatever he likes in order to justify his agenda? I would argue that MacMaster has harmed people: He's harmed actual activists inside and outside Syria who are working toward their own liberation, he's reinforced ideology about Syria that it is merely a backwards culture so hostile to LGBT people (Amina's character was an out lesbian) and activists that it would kidnap and possibly kill her. He muddied the story coming out of Syria and took attention away from the protestors on the ground and placed it instead on a lie. And he sees no problem with his behavior at all.

Wait a while, then reinvent yourself away from the spotlight—As Political InQueery reported last summer, there is an afterlife for the people embroiled in scandal, at least sexual scandal. Bill Clinton, Gary Condit, Mark Sanford, and Bob Packwood have all moved on to perfectly successful enterprises. Eliot Spitzer is a commentator. People seem to have forgiven them their dalliances with women, and what else can we presume is the reason for this if not the sexist notion that all men fool around from time to time?

Scandals involving money, bribery, or forgery not related to spending time with one's secret (opposite-sex) love are much more harshly treated. Charlie Rangel was brought up on ethics charges. Rep. William Jefferson is serving a 13-year sentence for keeping $90,000 in his freezer, and mayors Sheila Dixon and Kwame Kilpatrick also were sentenced for financial shenanigans, although the majority of Kilpatrick's sentence is for a probation violation, and he was first scandalized for sexting someone on his staff. Now Rep. Maxine Waters will be going through one form of ethics charges or another (it hasn't been decided which House process she'll opt for) regarding using her influence to help her husband's investments. It seems that taking advantage of one's power over women is forgivable, but taking advantage of one's power over banks is not.

Something else of note: All of the elected officials facing or serving time for these financial ethics violations are people of color. Anyone want to hazard a guess what that might be about?

Previously: The Danger of Conscientiousness, Yes We Might

Comments

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Readings on MacMaster

Great post, Everett!

I have been following the MacMaster/Amina story since the story broke and just wanted to share some of what I've been reading...

First of all, Liz Henry of BlogHer and Geek Feminism was one of the folks who helped follow the paper-less Internet trail from Amina to MacMaster (as did Ali Abunimah from the Electronic Intifada). I highly recommend checking out her blog! http://bookmaniac.org/

Two gay Syrian bloggers respond at GayMiddleEast.com
http://gaymiddleeast.com/news/news%20317.htm

And both the New Yorker and the Rumpus have good responses to the gumption MacMaster had to do this...thing he did.
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/closeread/2011/06/the-road-to-the-...
http://therumpus.net/2011/06/a-note-to-my-fellow-white-males/

____________
Kjerstin Johnson, editor-in-chief
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Thanks Kjerstin, and thanks

Thanks Kjerstin, and thanks for posting those great links here, too!

Excellent!

This is great, Everett. I haven't been so grossed out by a literary fakery since the Navahoax, and I wouldn't have thought to connect it to the Weiner saga, but the parallel you've drawn is dead-on. Both are absolutely about entitlement. Even MacMaster's new apology is basically about how he thought he'd miss writing in Amina's voice too much to stop (can't have that!) and how no one would've listened to him if they had known he was a white guy. Total Privilege Denying Dude. Not that any of it makes sense to me, but I don't know how he dreamed up the faux-kidnapping without knowing it would end this way.

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I think the

I think the writer-as-hoaxster is particularly fascinating/awful to me, given that writers are looking for the publishing industry to "notice" them. James Frey, MacMaster, and also revealed today, Bill Graber, pretending to be Paula Brooks of a column entitled "Lez Get Real," all have lied in order to secure footholds on their writing careers, access to fame for their personas, and like you say, money and entitlement. As if white cis men don't have enough of the publishing industry predisposed to listen to whatever they have to say. I'm looking at you, V.S. Naipaul.

OMGWTF

Paula, the founder of Lez Get Real?? "Amina" WROTE FOR Lez Get Real. This is getting way bizarre.

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Yes, that Paula! Now wrap

Yes, that Paula! Now wrap your brain around the concept of two heterosexual men pretending to be lesbians who don't know the other's faking it too, flirting with each other AS lesbians. That is some bottomless effed up right there.

"People seem to have forgiven

"People seem to have forgiven them their dalliances with women, and what else can we presume is the reason for this if not the sexist notion that all men fool around from time to time?"

I'm so tired of hearing that men can't help cheating because it's in their nature. We are human beings, not dogs. We can control ourselves. Or at least should be able to. Thanks for the post!

Thanks, Dot!

Thanks, Dot!

An alarming mix of humor, politics, pop culture, and queeritude. Author of Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of an Accident-Prone Transsexual.

Can we go a little further?

I think you make important points here, particularly with regards to the discrepancies between white men and women and people of color.

However- I'm not entirely convinced that all of these actions should be quite as prone to public scrutiny and professional repercussions as they are. If someone cheats, that's pretty low, yes. but I really believe that it's a matter that should be resolved between them and their partner(s).

Now when it's a matter of someone abusing their power... that's when I have a problem with it. And granted, power is at the center of most of these stories.

So, I guess what I'm tired of is the conflation of sexuality with deviance. It's the abuse of power that's we really ought to be paying attention to. That abuse is what I think is most dangerous and telling about some of the people who are in, well, positions of power in this country and all over the world.

True, I'm not willing to say

True, I'm not willing to say that taking endless crotch pictures of oneself and transmitting them to some number of people counts as sexuality per se, though it does smack of, in a 5-minute psych evaluation, feelings of sexual inadequacy and a big dose of narcissism (which certainly are not mutually exclusive). When conservative politicians market themselves on a moralist platform, these "episodes" of infidelity, procreation, and photo montages have a particular importance, however—not only are they simply inconsistent with the "Christian" values social platform, but they remind us that these values are ideologically, not spiritually based. I put in the example of Larry Craig because as a Senator he voted time and again against any LGBT support. If a politician's voting capacity and preference is based on secrets and bigotry, then I would rather, as a taxpaying resident of this country, see them removed from office when those secrets and prejudices are exposed.

If I were coming at this strictly from a Foucaldian perspective, then sure, there is a lot more to say about power, power over, and abuses within the political and legal system. I agree that simply cheating on one's partner isn't necessarily an abuse of official power, but in the material day-to-day reality of Washington, trysts quickly become enmeshed in the individual's congressional or executive authority—they use their power to cover up, buy people out, silence witnesses, while preaching that the rest of us should subscribe to some moral code that they themselves have impunity from. Once they put themselves into the public sphere, I think it gets difficult to say that they can keep their privacy when they falter, especially as most politicians, when able, trot out their families and partners as part of showing off how electable they are. Senator Paul even posed with his niece and nephew because he has no kids of his own.

If I didn't see the same actions stemming from multiple scandals while the juggernaut of our political system kept on running, I might be lulled into the sense that these are merely local moments. I think it's clear this is a systemic problem. There's abuse, but there's also context.

An alarming mix of humor, politics, pop culture, and queeritude. Author of Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of an Accident-Prone Transsexual.

Oops. That last line is my

Oops. That last line is my signature. I forgot I even had one.

An alarming mix of humor, politics, pop culture, and queeritude. Author of Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of an Accident-Prone Transsexual.

Great post. You made such

Great post. You made such good points and used some amazing references to prove your point.