For those who came of age in the American South, there was a certain behavior that was discouraged. My Southern mother would not use the noun liar (or the verb lying) but Big Daddy called it “mendacity.”
“Ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity,” Big Daddy bellowed at Brick in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.”
My own father preferred “venal.”
Perhaps he liked that label because he was raised Catholic, but the “venality” he deplored didn’t mean bribery or corruption. It was more akin to posturing — pretending to be more important than you actually were. My mother’s cousin, a pilot in World War II, filled this billet when I was a youngster.
When our large, extended family would gather at Ocean Drive Beach in July, the former pilot would give us details of his wartime heroism. After he had staggered off the porch at night, the adults who remained would refill their Dixie Cups with Makers Mark and begin their edit of this man’s actual story.
At these reunions, the male children were housed in a single room just off the porch where, providentially, there was a double-sashed window that we kids could open-up and listen, in the darkness, to the conversation. And for us the real fun began when this self-proclaimed, self-styled hero left the building.
As our family began to disperse — or simply lost interest in these summer time reunions — many of my cousins went off to college and read about the mendacity of Huey Long, Walter Bilbo, Cotton Ed Smith and a host of other Southern born autocrats who were good, solid examples of small people who claimed an exalted, or a semi-heroic history — a history retold when they ran for office.
Nonetheless, many were surprised with the news that George Santos, recently elected to the House, had pushed the limits of this age-old practice to include Holocaust-connected ancestors; an elite college education; and a job at Goldman Sachs.
Many of us in the South wander, from time to time, into fiction when trading stories with our friends. It is pretty much understood that if you are sitting on a porch in the late evening, with a vodka tonic in one hand and an Auturo Fuente Hemingway (cigar) in the other, that there is going to be some embellishment.
It is understood that one is not under oath, that creativity is actually encouraged, that nobody is going to pull-out their cell phone and Google any allegation of fact or any dollar figure put into play.
But we in the South know that when one is not sipping Glenlivet Single Malt (12 years in the cask) Scotch whiskey; is not conversing on a Google-free, screened-in porch; that he, or she, is expected to stay somewhere in the vicinity of the truth. This is especially the true when the speaker of wisdom and alleged truth is seeking a job in the United States House of Representatives — starting salary $174,000.00.
Those of us raised around tobacco barns and hog-killings know that beneath a thin, translucent patina of apparent indifference, most crackers expect some balance when it comes to resume’ embellishment. When there is enhancement we like to believe that exaggeration will be on the margins and surrounded by other stuff that is somewhat, slightly true.
“Tell us your story, George, but keep some of it — maybe 30% of it — legit.”
But our new friend George Santos threw the long ball going for the coveted resume’ trifecta — religion, education and job experience — thinking that nobody would check-out his story. Apparently he is unaware that reporters at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and a thousand bedroom-based, pajama-wearing podcasters are still willing to pick up their cellphone and call the Admissions Office at Baruch College.
But George got away with it — he got away with it until after the voting.
So now we’ve got the — “If I’ve offended anyone with my embellishment” — apology; and the standard-issue reply from his Republican colleagues, “Well, you know what, you Democrats do the same thing.”
But, apparently, we won’t get much more.
George obviously believes that this will blow over, dissipate, and Kevin McCarthy needed George’s vote if oiceshe was to end the voting marathon last month.
But the fact is that most of us had mothers or fathers or grandparents who would slap us on the back of the head saying — “Stop the lying Scott.”
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.