- - Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Virtue doesn’t sell like it used to, and one variety in particular has been put on the back shelf. Billy Joel wasn’t kidding when he sang, “Honesty is such a lonely word.” Honesty only matters where truth is valued, and in the noisy cacophony of the digital age it’s often difficult to recognize the genuine article. But it’s still important to try.

Honesty matters in a presidential candidate because what the voters see and hear should be what the voters get. Barack Obama pledged to “fundamentally transform” the nation and he wasn’t kidding. If America had understood that he meant to transform their country to something the people wouldn’t recognize, they would have chosen differently. But they can’t say they weren’t warned.

Hillary Clinton is something else. A new NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll conducted last week found that only 11 percent of respondents believe the Democratic presidential candidate is “honest and trustworthy.” That’s another way of saying 9 out of 10 Americans say she’s a liar. Not much of a qualification for high office. She earned her abysmal rating by, among other things, trashing the facts collected by the FBI about her use of a private server while she was secretary of State.

Last Monday Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Bob Goodlatte of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, sent a letter to Channing Phillips, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, pointing out four instances in which Mrs. Clinton’s sworn testimony before Congress last year was contradicted by the findings of FBI Director James Comey. First, whether she sent or received emails marked classified at the time; second, whether she used one or more email servers; third, whether her lawyers reviewed each email she had stored on her personal server, and fourth, whether she returned all of her work-related emails to the State Department.

The Republican chairmen provided transcripts of Mrs. Clinton’s testimony together with Mr. Comey’s refutation of her statements, just in case her falsehoods weren’t already self-evident. That the Justice Department has already declined to prosecute Mrs. Clinton for her mishandling of classified information renders any chance of legal action against her as between zero and none. The court of public opinion is a separate matter. Despite her qualification to be the poster child for dishonesty, Hillary maintains a lead, some polls say by 6 points, over Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump didn’t score much higher in the Honesty Derby, at 16 percent. But there is no inventory of blatant Trump lies as there is for Mrs. Clinton. His rating is likely based upon his tendency to shift positions, as he has done in softening his stance on deporting illegals and blocking Muslims from entering the U.S.

Could honesty be one of those old-fashioned virtues, like chastity, that starched-collar Americans revere but no one else does? If truthfulness doesn’t matter to voters anymore, it should. Civilization was built, stone by stone and brick by brick, held together by the mortar of trust. The handshake was adopted to show hands empty of a weapon. Without trust, every person is a potential adversary. The first task of a leader, whether of a tribe or a nation, is to allay suspicion of betrayal. Only Hillary knows why she lies, if indeed she knows herself, but like the schemer who shows his hands and keeps a trick up his sleeve, Hillary may be hiding something.

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people,” John Adams said. “It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” If honesty — a fundamental trait of “a moral and religious people” — no longer matters, then our Constitution and our way of life is headed for the back shelf, there to remain as a curiosity of a better people.

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