What If All Politicians Were Always Under Oath?

I had a crazy thought the other day: What if all politicians were always under oath?

I’m specifically talking about the United States, as other countries might have something like this in place.

Here’s the idea: Starting with the moment a politician at the national level is sworn into office, they are considered to be under oath until they leave office. Everything they say would henceforth be under the scrutiny of an official, bipartisan fact-checking committee.

The intent would be to hold politicians accountable for everything they say as a public figure. This isn’t necessarily a commentary on the honesty of politicians; I doubt they’re any more or less honest than the rest of us on average. Rather, it seems to me that it’s a core part of a politician’s job to be honest to their constituents, and there shouldn’t only be consequences for lying during the limited times they’re under oath.

I think this would lead to several things happening:

  • Politicians may simply speak less. If they’re asked a question to which the answer isn’t in favor of the politician, they may just decline to answer. While this doesn’t aid the overall discussion, at least it would lead to fewer authority figures misrepresenting facts.
  • Politicians would become even better at massaging their words. Instead of saying, “Global warning doesn’t exist,” they might say, “I believe that global warming doesn’t exist.” Even though the latter statement represents a lie, if it actually is what the politician believes, it may not violate their oath.
  • We might see a decrease in situational bias. One of my least favorite things about politicians is when they adamantly say something to support their party, but when that exact same situation applies to the opposition, they say the exact opposite. If they’re under oath, they would be obligated to be more consistent.
  • It would lead to some grey areas between personal and political life. Like, if a mic caught a politician telling his/her spouse that they did in fact take out the trash the night before, but it turns out not to be true, it seems like that should not be persecuted at the level of political statements. But where exactly do you draw the line?

I know that conversations about politics can get heated, so while it’s fine to discuss this idea in the comments, please do not highlight specific politicians. I’d like to keep this discussion civil and bipartisan.

Given that, what do you think about this idea?

8 thoughts on “What If All Politicians Were Always Under Oath?”

  1. This reminds me of a book I read with my book club last year. It was called ‘The circle’ by Dave Eggers which was then adapted into a movie. While overall the book wasn’t that great, and I heard the movie was worse, it really does raise some interesting thoughts. The whole premise is about full transparency, where characters are literally recorded and streaming their lives 24/7. They really emphasize this for politicians, how there should be no closed door meetings if you are representing the public. And while I get the premise and do not disagree with the need for transparency, this story definitely took it too far. It is really an interesting thing to discuss and think about, because it is hard to lie when everything is visible and I can see how it would make things better. It would also discourage people from running for office for the wrong reason.
    I do wonder what it would be like if we only had politicians who truly wanted to make the world better, or at least their community. And if that were the case, I wouldn’t be too worried that they would lie when it mattered. But really, why do they lie? Is it for their own benefit? Or are their lies that are for the good of the people? Like the lies a parent tells their children?
    Interesting concept to think about really.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jacqi, and I really like your questions. My guess is that when politicians lie, they often do so to pursue a specific agenda that they believe is for the good of the people. I don’t think this is right, but I can see how they might convince themselves that they’re doing the right thing.

  2. That’s an interesting idea that has my head spinning. What would be the penalty for lying? Would it become routine for all politicians to preface everything they said by “I think,” so that the oath would lose meaning. Packaged like that, what followed the “I think” might still be untrue, and the truth of what followed might be fact checkable, but the speakers couldn’t be held liable because no one could know whether they really thought what they said they did. Although they might have said the opposite previously, their answer to that would just be that they changed their minds.

    We non-politicians wish that politicians would not lie to us, but most of us believe that they do. It’s sad that it’s become so normalized; recipients often find it insulting, hence maddening!

    There is a type of lying that has a strong genetic component. And research suggests that political beliefs are partly shaped by genetics, so it’s not too far out to wonder whether politicians’ personalities are too. If so, might comfort with lying be part of that genetic package? Given that the capability of genetic editing is fast approaching, what if lying genes can be found and their expression curtailed?

    • Dorothy: That’s fascinating about lying being tied to genetics. So feasible politicians could have a genetic test to show their predisposition to being honest?

      • So far, it’s just extreme lying cases, officially known as “pseudologia fantastica,” that have been tied to genetics. But, now that the CRISPR genome editing tool makes finding the many genes linked to specific complex traits relatively easy, a “lying predisposition” test may well arrive in the future.

  3. Jamey, first let me say that I’m not a reader. Meaning, I’m not one of those people that loves to read and sit all day and go through a good book or two. I’m saying that to say I checked out your book ” A Crowdfunders Strategy Guide” out of the library last week and I could not put it down. I originally went in looking for books on economic development but came across yours as it has been a side thought of mine for a while. I’m saying all this because I own a brand management company that focuses on political Consulting and brand management. Yesterday I decided that I would start my blog by taking people through my journey of following your book step-by-step. So I guess this comment would be my first blog comment (per your guidelines in your book). So to get to the post. I would say that politicians are like parents and their constituents are like their children. Sometimes you have to lie to your children to make them understand that what you’re doing for them would be better for them in the long run even though they may not like what you have to say at the time or understand the reason behind your choices. Also, I would say as a political consultant in Georgia being under oath all the time is not the real problem. The problem is that regular people run for office and then become politicians which is why I firmly believe in term limits. Long-serving politicians AKA 15 years or more become disconnected with their constituency base and then begin to play politics making them a politician (not all are this way but we have some seniors here in Georgia). It may sound crazy but people vote for people that they can relate to and then count on that person to be true to that campaign promises and stay connected with their constituency. What happens is what people now see as a rampant lying and misrepresentation of politicians is because they are targeting a select number of people that they know will vote for them and only massaging their rhetoric to those individuals. Therefore, excluding all other constituents in their districts. We the public should therefore not only hold our elected officials accountable but also stay informed and ask questions to the candidates that are running for office and require them to have some other guidelines for qualifying and running for office then being a high-school graduate and being over 18. There should be some level of guidelines to community service, nonprofit, business or corporate experience required to run for office. Those are my thoughts about this and I can’t wait to start my blog after I get my first 20 blogs to follow and comment on (per your instructions if your book). You came at the opportune time and thank you for allowing me to learn so much from your book to improve my business. Keep up the good work!

    • Davisha: Your comment means a lot to me, especially that (a) you read my book and (b) you’re acting on the advice in the book. Thank you!

      I hadn’t thought about the term limit idea, but that seems like a fantastic idea to curtail this type of behavior.

  4. I question whether we really want the truth or not. The general public is already split across pretty much every line you can think of. That’s largely because they each individually get to tell their own personal truth on social media on a daily basis. In large part I don’t think any of them are lying but they may just be wrong. When you get a whole bunch of other people on board with the same misunderstanding of the truth it becomes a movement. I don’t think politicians telling the truth would solve or fix anything and the fact that they can lie or at least lie through omission to their constituents is probably the only way anything ever actually gets done.


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