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Voters think George Washington lied. Honest Abe too.

February 22, 2010 |  9:06 am

Today is the 278th anniversary of George Washington's birth. The father of our country won plaudits from historians for declining a third term as president, along with the wigs and titles that would have marked the presidency as a continuation of British royalty. Though usually viewed as a fable, the story of Washington as a youngster chopping down a cherry tree has been handed down for generations, a way for parents to teach their children that nothing is more important than telling the truth -- as Washington reportedly did in the face of his father's anger over the fallen tree.

But it turns out that general American public distrust of politicians has been in evidence for a long time. Or maybe new data just shows that today's disgust with Washington (the town, not the man) is starting to affect the reputation of earlier giants. Either way, a new CNN/Opinion Corporation poll found that 74% of voters think the father of our country lied while in office.

And Washington's not the only one. According to the poll, 71% think Abraham Lincoln lied while in office. That's Honest Abe, the man who didn't charge the widow of a Revolutionary soldier for helping her get her pension, even paying her hotel bill and giving her the money to buy a ticket home.

What to make of this insipid cynicism? "It's all part of a rich tradition in American history -- the belief that politicians are not always telling the truth," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Whether it's based on cynicism or realism, or a little of both, it's an indication that Americans think that our government has been broken for many, many years."

With public distrust running high -- even the popular President Obama's public approval ratings have dropped below 50% in some polls -- a majority also thinks that what's broken can be fixed. Maybe that's the legacy of politicians offering hope.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo Credit: National Archives

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