Monday, January 14, 2008

Of Lies and Liars

So, federal investigators are going to make an example of Olympic track star Marion Jones by sending her to prison for six months for lying to them about her use of steroids. What’s up with that, anyway? If they want to punish liars and make examples out of them, why don’t they punish people who lie about things that actually matter? You know, like George DUHbya Bush for lying the nation into a war over non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

What were the consequences of Marion Jones’ lie? For that egregious offense, Ms. Jones was stripped of her Olympic title and medals; she’s going away for six months; and she left a few pissed off federal officials (and probably a few Olympic officials) in the wake of her lie.

True, Ms. Jones won races that she might not otherwise have won without the benefit of steroid use, but her lying about steroid use had no influence on the outcome of her competitive events (other than to disqualify her and nullify her wins). Her lie to federal prosecutors was told after the fact of the race and had no bearing on the event’s initial outcome. Had she readily admitted her steroid use, the results would have been exactly the same—except for the prison time.

Compare that to the consequences of Bush’s lie: 3923 US military dead and thousands more wounded; hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead and wounded; 4 million Iraqis displaced; a nation in turmoil, its citizens living in a climate of fear and deprivation; another nation in the early stages of economic meltdown, its citizens living in fear.

Bush’s lie was told before the fact, before the action that was precipitated by the lie. In essence, it lent an aura of legitimacy to a dubious enterprise that sane people would have found illegal had the lie not been told.

Which lie had the more serious consequences? George Bush’s did; his lie killed many and destroyed much. Which liar received the harshest punishment? Marion Jones did; her lie destroyed only her Olympic record and her own reputation and credibility. Her lie killed no one (well, maybe a few federal prosecutors; we all know how much it just kills them when someone below the rank of, say, Congressperson lies to them).

If federal prosecutors want to make examples of liars, wouldn’t it be more effective for them to mete out punishment according to the severity of the lie? If the objective is to keep prisons full, they could start at the top of the political food chain and work their way down. When they reach the bottom they could start over again, and in this way keep the prisons full forever.

Think of it! Such a policy could spell the end of the War on (some) Drugs. Innocent 92-year old women need never again fear being gunned down in their living rooms by overzealous SWAT teams. Babies might never again have their fingers shot off as trigger-happy thugs shoot their mothers to death. It might even mark the return of sanity to a nation that’s desperately in need of some.

None of this is meant to imply there’s no justice in this country. There’s an abundance of justice providing you’re white enough to deserve it and rich enough to buy it.