Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 12) transports me back 25 years ago to October 1987, as the Congressional Investigative Committee on the Iran-Contra arms for hostages scandal wrote its final report. The somewhat convoluted scandal connecting Iran with Nicaragua was this: President Reagan wanted to arm the contras in Nicaragua to fight their insurgency, but Congress had passed the Boland Amendment preventing such arming. At the same time American hostages were being held in Iran, which was in the midst of a war against Iraq, (and we were arming Iraq). National Security Adviser John Poindexter, Secretary of State George Shultz, Marine Colonel Oliver North, and others in the Reagan Administration began a covert operation to sell arms to Iran, in exchange for the hostages release, and then use the proceeds from the arms sales to funnel weapons to the contras, circumventing the law against it by laundering the money through the country of Brunei. One of the key questions of the proceedings centered on the concept of plausible deniability. Poindexter, Shultz, North, and others were all questioned about the President’s knowledge of the affair. They all claimed that they had shielded the President, giving him plausible deniability should the covert action ever be uncovered. In essence, they all claimed to have lied or withheld significant national security information from the President, although Poindexter did admit to having the President sign off on the arms for hostage deal in December of 1985, something which he regretted doing because it caused political embarrassment. So, while Administration officials were spanning the globe trumpeting the need to stop the flow of arms into Iran (Operation Staunch), we were secretly one of the arms suppliers. So much for loyalty to our core values and to our credibility.
Any ordinary citizen watching these events unfold would have been able to resonate quite clearly with Psalm 12. Help, Lord, for no one does right anymore; those who are faithful have disappeared from the earth. Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts. I wonder if this Psalm came to Jesus’ mind as his most loyal followers lost faith and denied him. I don’t know which of the scandals that haunted King David’s administration the Psalmist is referring to here, but whatever was going on, the casual observer would no doubt be able to sing his song of disillusionment. All the officials were prone to play the plausible deniability card. The covert deception was masked with flattering claims of allegiance to the truth. The victims of such deceptive deniability, according to the Psalmist, are the poor and needy. The poor are plundered and the needy groan, so the song goes, when people deny the truth.
The usage of plausible deniability has seen exponential growth in our current political climate, with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling giving it a twist. Because corporations are now deemed people, with Constitutional protections, we now have super-pacs with anonymous donors who have an unlimited capacity to influence elections, free to trumpet the most egregious falsehoods to demonize an opponent, and the only restriction is that their political candidate cannot have prior knowledge or help coordinate the messages. The anonymous underlyings do all the dirty work, engaging in what amounts to libel and slander, and the candidates are free and clear. Plausible deniability. Help Lord, indeed, for no one is faithful anymore, Everyone lies to their neighbor; they harbor deception in their hearts. And the poor and needy groan, as a reported half a billion dollars of money has been siphoned away from productive and charitable activities into the deception business. For me, the other tragedy of the deception and hatefulness of public political speech is that is does filter down into the personal conversations between friends and family. A legitimate search for truth among opposing viewpoints and ideologies has quickly denigrated this season into libelous attacks and innuendo. May we all find ways to have our own words purified in a crucible, refined seven times, before ever saying or writing something that demeans and diminishes the personhood of those we share community with. Help us Lord.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.