Of course, lying entails the risk of getting caught. Embarrassing, yes. Lethal, no. Adam Wheeler was charged with larceny and identity fraud (because of the $45,000 in grants and scholarship funds he received), but he's the exception. Not long ago, the ABC News Sunday-morning program This Week started fact-checking statements guests make on the air, and more than a few political Pinocchios were discovered. The show's interim anchor, Jake Tapper, didn't notice any difficulty booking guests, though. "I keep thinking of that Seinfeld episode in which George says, 'Jerry, just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it,'" Tapper says. "That's what we're all fighting here—the George Costanza standard."

Yet who among us has not had his George Costanza moment? "Lying is something almost everybody does at some time," says Jay S. Kwawer, director of the William Alanson White Institute, a New York City psychoanalytic training and treatment center. "What these politicians have done is no different from whispering 'I love you' when you're unbuttoning a girl's blouse."

Which is to say: The consequences of your good-natured embellishment will be determined within the context of your subsequent performance.

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