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    Is honesty really the best policy?

    Politicians rarely tell the truth, so why should ophthalmologists...right?

    Every American pupil is familiar with the story of the George Washington who, as a 6 year old, received the gift of a small hatchet. In a sequence of events, chronicled by the author Mason Locke Weems, the young George promptly put his tool into action in the family garden:

    "George," said his father, "do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? "This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet." "Run to my arms, you dearest boy," cried his father in transports, "run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold."1

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    The lesson garnered by children from this story is that honesty is a virtue and strength, admired by others, and a predictor of greatness. While many parents want their children to inculcate this life lesson, there are two caveats that we should keep in mind. One is that Weems' testimony to George's veracity is thought to be pure fabrication2. Caveat number two is that, if George Washington was nonetheless a scrupulously honest political leader, he was apparently the last. According to noted political science historian Rupert Pupkin, when cornered by a direct question whose truthful answer would be embarrassing, successful politicians will prevaricate 97.3% of the time.3

    Here are just a few famous examples:

    "I am not a crook." - Richard Nixon in televised speech

    "I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." - Bill Clinton in televised speech

    "Russia is not going to try to annex Crimea." - Vladimir Putin to BBC

    "If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan." - Barack Obama

    Peter J. McDonnell, MD
    He is director of The Wilmer Eye Institute, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of ...

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