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What if presidential hopefuls had to be honest?

WASHINGTON — Today, a special Election Year episode of my "What If" columns, in which I provide scientifically accurate answers to allegedly unanswerable hypothetical questions.

What if candidates for president were required to have a computer chip implanted in their brains that compelled them to answer every question as honestly and as fully as possible, not permitting evasion, obfuscation or "no comment"?

Within eight years, the vaunted Chip of Truth would turn the United States into a clownish banana republic, ripe for foreign conquest and/or colonization. Here's why:

Despite any prior agreements about fairness and decency, the guarantee of complete candor would result in an escalating war of slyly induced political suicides.

Through the media, or through planted surrogates at public events, or even through late-night satirists taking advantage of the free-shot situation, candidates would be ambushed with questions that could generate only politically devastating answers: "What is the crummiest state you've visited so far? Yeah, what's the second crummiest?" "What's the funniest ethnic joke you've ever heard?" "How often, and in what circumstances, do you pick your nose, and how do you customarily dispose of the results?" "Please describe your most lurid sexual fantasy and then enact it here through pantomime."

The first election held under the auspices of the Chip of Truth would be a fiasco. Without the ability to lie, the candidates would endure indescribable public humiliation. By the following campaign, no respectable person would run for president. Only empty-headed narcissists with intense personality disorders and no sense of shame would willingly expose themselves to this sort of pitiless public personal scrutiny. The next election would be between Paris Hilton and Ashlee Simpson.

In Beijing, Hu Jintao would smile.

What if John McCain were a leprechaun?

For the sake of fairness and accuracy, we must acknowledge that we have no reason to believe this is true, despite, you know . . . all indications.

Still, it's preposterous. For one thing, if he were a leprechaun, McCain would have far greater personal wealth than he does. Leprechauns are known to maintain hidden caches of pure gold, the location of which they will reveal only if at some point in their lives they are captured and subject to intense, coercive interrogation. Then, they must surrender their wealth and, um, become like normal people, but vaguely leprechaunlike.

Okay, we're going on to the next question because we're a little uncomfortable with where this one is headed.

What if Barack Obama were exactly the same person he is but were named Stanley P. Nussbaum?

First, let's list the positives:

(1) His initials would no longer be "B.O."

(2)

Yeah, that's about it.

Obama often makes fun of how burdensome his African-sounding name is, but that's because he never considered the double whammy of being a black person with a Jewish name. It's simply an insupportable albatross for a politician.

Here's proof. If you Google the term "black Jewish politician," you get only two hits. And they both refer to a woman named Oona King. Ms. King is not even an American; she's a Brit. But, more significantly, both Google hits are about how she was once pelted with eggs and vegetables.

So, a Jewish-surnamed Obama never becomes a U.S. senator, never a contender for president. In fact, his name pushes him toward the retail trades, where his genius for soaring philosophical oratory is virtually useless, and his admitted weakness with detail and paperwork are fatal flaws. In this flagging economy, Stanley P. Nussbaum files for bankruptcy, takes to drink and winds up on the street, ranting at passers-by in bitter, but strangely eloquent, tirades.

What if Hillary Clinton had recognized the mathematical realities of her situation, decided to stop being so stubborn and graciously threw in the towel months ago?

We'd have had a serious street-hygiene problem from all those flying pigs.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Chat with him online at noon Tuesdays at www.

washingtonpost.com.

What if presidential hopefuls had to be honest? 05/24/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:38pm]

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