Here's the difference, I suppose: A lie, according to the dictionary, is "a gross falsification." Deception is "falsification."

So I guess the question of whether the nation's chief law enforcement officer is a liar or deceiver comes down, appropriately, to what the meaning of "gross" is.

Whatever. Whether it's the intentionally misleading testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, or the tortured formulation of President Clinton as he too dealt with perjury accusations, those are just two examples of the clever truth-avoidance that Americans now perceive as commonplace, no more trustworthy than commercial advertising or its close cousin, the political campaign. 

So what's the big deal? I appreciate the question. The big deal is that a belief in our institutions has been the glue necessary to hold together our society. It's not an exaggeration to say that corrosive, justified cynicism has dissolved much of that trust and we're witnessing our country pull apart as a result.

Not only that, but much of it is shameless. Cleverness has so often blatantly replaced honesty that our leaders pride themselves on their ability to misrepresent for some "greater good," like national security, or whatever they believe is more important than being straightforward.

Look no further than voter apathy as evidence that we-the-people have decided that there's no use even bothering to participate anymore. After a while, anyone gets tired of being treated like a damned fool.

That's poison to a democracy. And that is the truth.