White lies are as common to political and diplomatic affairs as they are to the private lives of most people. Feigning enjoyment of an embassy gathering or toasting the longevity of an unimpressive candidate for office are forms of politeness that mislead few. But as with all white lies, the problem is that they spread so easily and that lines are very hard to draw. Is it still a white lie for a secretary of state to announce that he is going to one country when in reality he travels to another? Or to issue a letter of praise for a diplomat one has just fired? Is a politician's lying about one's family affairs to preserve privacy different from withholding information for the same purpose? One of the more infamous political lies of recent times is "I first learned from newspaper reports of the Watergate break-in. I was appalled at this senseless, illegal action, and I was shocked to learn that employees of the re-election committee were apparently among those guilty". Richard Nixon, 1973. Following Watergate, 69% of Americans agreed that "over the last ten years, this country's leaders have consistently lied to the people".
Political lies, so often assumed to be trivial by those who tell them, rarely are. They cannot be trivial when they affect so many people and when they are so peculiarly likely to be imitated, used to retaliate, and spread from a few to many. When political representative or entire governments arrogate to themselves the right to lie, they take power from the public that would not have been given up voluntarily.