Before the social media age brought society to heel, people could get away with bald-faced lies regularly. Moreover, with minimal access to information in the past, including fewer independent news journalists, some politicians got away with unbridled lying. Here are some well-known incidences of U.S. politicians being caught lying to the public.
1. Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq
Anyone old enough to remember 9/11 and its aftermath will remember the most famous lie of them all — that Saddam Hussain's regime had weapons of mass destruction in their possession and they would use them on American citizens. Of course, they didn't, and twenty years later, more than one million Iraqi civilians lost their lives from the subsequent violence.
2. North Vietnamese Had Attacked the US in the Gulf of Tonkin
President Lyndon B. Johnson set off alarms when he said that the North Vietnamese were planning to attack the US in the Gulf of Tonkin. Thus, after this announcement the Nixon presidency and all that… happened.
3. Trickle-Down Economics
Trickle-down economics is one of those things the government has told us that simply never worked. Yet, somehow, people still believe it works. Make it make sense.
4. The Vietnam War
The litany of mistruths presented over the Vietnam War comes to light in this post. One observer lists dozens of Vietnam War-based lies, including the Gulf of Tonkin incident, calling the Tet Offensive a military failure, and claiming Russian and Chinese Communist forces were now infiltrating the Vietnamese Army.
5. The National Security Agency
“I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions … I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon, and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”
These were the words of Edward Snowdon in an interview shortly after leaking the National Security Agency's phone-hacking practices in 2013. Snowdon has since sought refuge in Russia, though his revelation opened many eyes to the scale of private citizens' information the government was (and still is) accessing. In the following decade, the subsequent lack of national trust in U.S. security methods declined even further.
6. Obama’s Healthcare Faux Pas
“If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” were President Obama's famous last words when pushing his revolutionary new healthcare plan in 2013. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) gave 30 million previously uninsured citizens access to free healthcare, though it came with much collateral damage.
Millions of previously happy healthcare customers now had to pay higher premiums for a smaller pool of providers, thus losing their healthcare plan.
7. Bill Clinton's Relations
“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky,” said Bill Clinton in his famous televised speech in 1998 following his affair with 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky.
His lie led to perjury charges and a subsequent impeachment trial, lasting 21 days and embarrassing First Lady Hillary Clinton.
8. JFK and the Russian Nukes
On the 1960 campaign trail, John F. Kennedy asserted that the Soviet Union had more nuclear missiles than America. This statement became one of his key talking points, summarized in a simple “missile gap” soundbite.
However, once in office, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara conceded there was no missile gap. The late U.S. president likely knew all along, though before the scrutiny of a modern media age arrived, politicians had far fewer issues with accountability.
9. Iran-Contra Affair
In the '80s, President Reagan's administration sold arms to the Iranian military, which was supposed to be under an embargo. They used these sales to fund the Contras, a right-wing Nicaraguan rebel group. Congress had already banned funding to the group, though the administration found a loophole using non-appropriated funds.
10. Gerald Ford vs. Jimmy Carter
During a debate between President Gerald Ford and presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter in 1976, Ford declared there was “no Soviet take over of Eastern Europe.” As the moderator offered Ford a backtrack lifeline, Ford doubled down, and some experts believe it cost him key votes from Eastern European immigrants.
11. Michele Bachmann's HPV Gaffe
Former Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann professed after a 2011 Republican debate that the human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) could cause “mental retardation.” She made this claim based on no evidence or foresight, and ultimately it undermined her credibility, losing the nomination to Mitt Romney.
The most famous political lie of all came from President Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential election run-in. After the famed break-in at the Democratic National Convention's Watergate office building, the incumbent President Nixon declared that his administration had no part in the scandal.
He won reelection, though thanks to some dogged journalism from the Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Nixon's cover-up didn't last very long.
13. Joe Biden's Entire Career
Whether it was his arrest with Nelson Mandela, being awarded a full academic law school scholarship, or even being the first in his family to graduate college, President Joe Biden is renowned for being liberal with more than just policies. Aside from his amusing “Corn Pop” anecdote, few other of Biden's illustrious achievements sound feasible.
14. Trump's Inauguration Exaggeration
After the 2017 presidential inauguration, President Donald Trump's press secretary boasted of how many people showed up to cheer on his swearing-in. Speaking after the event at C.I.A. headquarters, the former President caused a stir after boasting that he saw a “million-and-a-half people,” when in reality, it was dwarfed by his predecessor's inauguration, and Trump's publicity team cited “alternative facts” were to blame.
15. Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Popular belief states that the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force a swift Japanese surrender. However, they didn't mention that Japan was suing for peace before this happened. In reality, the atomic bomb also represented a clear message to Stalin's Soviet Union about who would be in charge of the global order following World War Two.
16. The Declaration of Independence
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” reads this famous, stirring declaration. Following the Thirteen Colonies' divorce from the British Monarchy, the American Dream began. However, with surging wealth inequality, rising productivity, and falling wages, one could argue this promise was not honored.
Raised in England and with a career background in international education, Ben now lives in Southern Spain with his wife and son, having lived on three continents, including Africa, Asia, and North America. He has worked diverse jobs ranging from traveling film projectionist to landscape gardener.
He offers a unique, well-traveled perspective on life, with several specialties related to his travels. Ben loves writing about food, music, parenting, education, culture, and film, among many other topics. His passion is Gen-X geekery, namely movies, music, and television.
He has spent the last few years building his writing portfolio, starting as a short fiction author for a Hong Kong publisher, then moving into freelance articles and features, with bylines for various online publications, such as Wealth of Geeks, Fansided, and Detour Magazine.