I went to Harvard. It was summer school between my sophomore and junior years at Occidental College. At the time, almost anyone could get in if you paid the tuition and showed up. It was no big deal. But for a time when asked where I went to college, I sometimes would say Harvard just to see the reaction. It was remarkable. People looked at me differently. They made their own assumptions. God, it was so easy.
I stopped because it got way too complicated. People would ask what classes I attended, or what degree, or how was Boston in the winter? I would have to pile it in, one lie after another—too much work and too many “facts” to keep straight, but still great fun while it lasted.
Then there is a friend from my New York days. He became a billionaire in real estate, a real success story, but he had a complex about his last name. He thought it made his family sound too ethnic. After his kids were grown, he convinced them to change the name to the one he chose. It has a nice ring and is very American.
After all, this is America, the land of reinvention.
We all create masks. We create them slowly, one little half-truth after another. Usually the little ones are to ourselves, like hey, yeah, I was the star of that game in Little League, which later in life we embellish in the telling. We pass them first to our new friends, lovers, colleagues at work, then on to our spouses and children.
It is human nature. I would use the word “only” except that would make it seem either more or less than ordinary. But that is what it is: ordinary. It is an ordinary condition of human life that we seek greater meaning in our lives. We wish to be more than we are. We want immortality on this earth.
But there is a line.
Corporate executives routinely are fired for falsifying resumes. Bank loans are rejected for claiming incomes that do not exist. Life insurance policies are denied for hiding medical conditions. President Clinton was impeached by the House (albeit not convicted by the Senate)—not for having “sex with that girl;” it was because he lied about it.
I bring this up because the town is abuzz about City Council candidate Jon Madison. When he came to Laguna, he apparently created a public persona that consisted of a pack of lies. His apparent lies include: a set of three degrees, including a PhD, from Cornell; completing all three in five years; a law degree from UCLA; being a lawyer; his date of birth; his original name.
As a private citizen, that is his privilege. But as a candidate, it is not. As a candidate, he is public property and is expected to be a model if not of rectitude, at least of some semblance of his real history.
Perhaps our expectations are too high. I certainly think so. It used to be politicians could have personal privacy. FDR, JFK and Lyndon Johnson each had a series of mistresses and the press looked the other way. Dwight Eisenhower, while the Supreme Commander of the joint military forces in Europe during WWII, had his mistress. Only blatantly illegal cash payoffs were considered fair game.
Now, the 24/7 news coverage and drive for sensationalism is so pervasive the press exploits every mendacity.
Jon Madison’s only real mistake was being so convinced of his own myth he did not bother to clean it up when he ran for public office. It probably never crossed his mind it only took two clicks on the alumni directory to check his college credentials. If he considered how his supporters might react, he must have thought they would not care. He must have thought he was untouchable.
He must have thought it did not matter.
Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and now lives in Laguna Beach. He makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur and is involved in many non-profits.