Exclusively Online | Spring 2021 Issue

“A Lighter Look” — I Cannot Tell A Lie

Rick Meyer's regularly appearing column takes a lighter look at politics and public affairs around the world. This month: The Cherry Tree

By Jim Newton

A cherry tree stands tall in our cultural heritage. For 215 years, it has been an icon of telling the truth.

The tree is at the heart of “the most well-known and longest enduring legend about George Washington,” says Jay Richardson, who wrote about it as a history major at George Mason University. In Mount Vernon’s Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington, Richardson cites what we all know:

“When Washington was six years old, he received a hatchet as a gift and damaged his father’s cherry tree. When his father discovered what he had done, he became angry and confronted him. Young George bravely said, ‘I cannot tell a lie. . . .

” ‘I did cut it with my hatchet.’ ”

The tree has long been featured in comic strips and cartoons, “especially political cartoons,” Richardson says. Presidents from William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt to Richard Nixon, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have been targets of “cherry-tree themed cartoons.”

Sharpen your pencils. It’s Joe Biden’s turn.

That’s appropriate because some of the things Biden says are like the story about George Washington and the cherry tree:

Not true.

The cherry tree story about honesty is a lie.

It was invented, Richardson says, “by one of Washington’s first biographers, an itinerant minister and bookseller named Mason Locke Weems,” who tucked it into the fifth edition of The Life of Washington, published in 1806.

Biden’s lies aren’t whoppers like the ones Donald Trump tells. Nor are Biden’s false claims and misleading statements as numerous. In February, after we celebrated President’s Day, the Washington Post counted 78 Biden falsehoods during his first 100 days in office, in contrast to Trump’s 511.

To politicians who don’t tell the truth, the Post awards Pinocchios – cartoons of Geppetto’s puppet, whose nose grows when he lies. For our part, however, in honor of our nation’s icon of truth-telling, Blueprint will award Cherry Trees.

That makes Trump, with 30,573 misleading claims while he was president, a virtual forest in the wildwood of falsehoods.

But Biden’s thicket is growing.

Based on the Post’s fact-checking, we are awarding Biden:

  • 4 Cherry Trees, our maximum, for saying that children “starved to death” in Mexico because Trump let U.S. officers deport asylum seekers while claims were being adjudicated.

There is no documentation for any such deaths.

  • 3 Cherry Trees for claiming that “raising taxes, studies show, will not slow the economy at all.”

In fact, studies show that Biden’s proposed corporate tax increases will drag down economic growth before his recommendations for infrastructure spending kick in.

  • 2 Cherry Trees for saying he knows Chinese President Xi Jinping “pretty well” – because he “traveled 17,000 miles with him” while they were vice presidents.

No matter how it is calculated, Biden’s travel with Xi does not come close to 17,000 miles.

The next thing you know, Biden will be claiming that George Washington did, in fact, take a whack at a cherry tree.

Don’t do it, Joe. The story is a crock.

 

–––––

The Last Laugh:

“We honor, of course, the presidents, ranging from George Washington, who couldn’t tell a lie, to George Bush, who couldn’t tell the truth, to Bill Clinton, who couldn’t tell the difference.”

–– Jay Leno

Jim Newton

Jim Newton

Jim Newton is a veteran author, teacher and journalist who spent 25 years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, editorial page editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of four critically acclaimed books of biography and history, including "Man of Tomorrow: The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown." He teaches in Communication Studies and Public Policy at UCLA.

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