Episode 9: Lying as a Way of Life
Last episode, we had the unmitigated gall to suggest that George W. Bush, the duly elected . . . er, well . . . duly selected President of the United States is, in fact, a bald-faced-dirty-low-down-double-dealing-the-truth-would-get- caught-in-his-gullet-like-a-fishbone-liar-liar-pants-on-fire-prevaricator. Proving ourselves utterly incapable, it would seem, of seeing the error of our overtly partisan ways, we do it all over again in this week’s episode.
The Last Chance Democracy Café:
Lying as a Way of Life
by Steven C. Day
I realize that I’ve already spent a good deal of time talking about George W. Bush’s striking propensity to tell lies. But what can I say? There are some dead dogs you just can’t bring yourself to stop beating: This is one of them. So, with Winston’s permission, let me share a letter he sent on this topic to his oldest son, Robert (If it doesn’t sound altogether like the Winston you’ve come to know and love, remember this is the first time you’ve experienced him stone cold sober).
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My best to Janet and the children. And speaking of Janet, if I did anything to embarrass her — again — at your party last Friday, and God knows I probably did, then tell her I’m sorry — again. You both know I can’t be trusted in polite company, so you really have no one but yourselves to blame. Thanks for inviting me just the same, though — it was fun.
But on to the concern you raised in your last letter. You’re afraid that I’m being too open in expressing my opinion that George W. Bush is a liar. I know you’re no fan of Bush yourself, but being a good son, you’re worried that by being so vociferous on the subject I may end up offending people and even soiling my reputation from my years as a judge. Well, I guess that’s a chance I’m going to have to take. Because to not call Bush a liar, would make me a liar. And, as you well know, I used up my quota of lies, including the ones I shamefully told your mother, a long time ago. So these days I try, as much as I can, to always speak the truth.
The word — “lying” — really doesn’t cut it though, does it? I mean, lying just sounds too much like a seven-year-old telling a teacher that the dog ate his homework, or a woman saying to an inexperienced lover, “That was the best ever, baby, really.” Or even a president telling the nation, “I did not have sex with that woman.” Spoken in the abstract, the word sounds small — even petty.
But there’s nothing small or petty about George W. Bush’s lying. So flagrant is his pattern of falsehoods, in fact, that it’s produced its own literary genre. Here are just a few of the titles: “The Lies of George W. Bush” (Corn), “The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq” (Scheer, Scheer, Chaudhry), “Weapons of Mass Deception” (Rampton, Stauber), “Big Lies” (Conason), “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” (Franken).
Good books all, but with a common problem — the same problem that afflicts medical texts that tend to become outdated, due to the advance of medical science, even before they’re published. Similarly, no matter how quickly the publisher rushes into press a book in this “Be Still My Lying President” series, inevitably, it will be woefully out-of-date by the time it actually hits the shelves. A whole avalanche of new whoppers having in the meanwhile appeared.
Deceit isn’t a character flaw for George W. Bush. It’s a way of life.
Not all of his fibs are big deals in themselves, of course. There are the small pathetic ones — like the time he claimed his administration had nothing to do with the “Mission Accomplished” banner displayed during his photo-op onboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, only to have it later proven that the White House had itself manufactured it. Then there was the time Communications Director Dan Bartlett tried to “sex up” the story of Bush’s clandestine Thanksgiving flight to Iraq (speaking of photo-ops), by claiming the president’s safety had been put at risk at one point during the trip when a British Airways pilot radioed, “Did I just see Air Force One?” The White House had to quickly backtrack, however, when British Airways denied the incident occurred.
And, of course, there are also the small, but mean lies that seem to slip so easily off the tongues of this administration: For example, the false reports that Clinton staffers trashed the White House and Air Force One before leaving office.
But many Bush lies are big deals. Take the administration’s treatment of stem cell research, a field that offers real hope to sufferers of devastating diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes. No doubt about it, this was a politically dicey issue for Bush. If he had approved the use of federal funds for stem cell research, it would have outraged his core constituency in the Christian Right — a bunch not generally known for maintaining their sense of humor when crossed. But the alternative, of having sick and disabled Americans publicly berating Bush for denying them what may well be their last, best hope, was equally the stuff of a Karl Rove nightmare.
So, Bush did what he usually does when faced with a politically unpopular choice. He took the third option. He lied.
And, as with so many of Bush’s lies, it was really quite a clever one. (No doubt about it, if skillful deception were a virtue, George W. Bush would be destined for sainthood — Saint George W., the patron saint of two-faced chickenhawks). Thus, as though adorned with the robes of Solomon, Bush cut the baby in two. He announced that he would permit federal funding for stem cell research, but only as to some “60-plus existing cell lines,” more than enough, he assured us, for the important work to go forward. In no event, however, could federal money be used for research on new cell lines (since that would involve the wanton slaughter of additional small clumps of innocent cells).
Genius. Sheer genius. Of course, it was also pure malarkey. For one thing, there really weren’t 60 viable existing cell lines — more like 11, a number that offers far less genetic diversity than what’s needed for research. And even these few lines were ill-equipped for use in human trials, because they were grown with the assistance of mouse cells, creating a risk of human infection (a problem solved in later cell lines that are ineligible for federal funding under Bush’s decree).
But then, Bush has never been one to let scientific truth stand in the way of political expediency. Global warming anyone? You remember, that nasty business of mankind helping to raise the temperature of the Earth, perhaps ushering in the greatest catastrophe in human history. Haven’t heard much about it lately, have we? Well, it hasn’t gone away. We recently ended the warmest decade of the last 140 years. While it was only a drop in the bucket compared to what is predicted for the coming century, that change was enough to cause significant alterations in weather patterns resulting in a number of human catastrophes, including an unusually large number of violent storms.
As for the future, the 2001 United Nations report on climate change predicts that global temperatures will rise by as much as five degrees Celsius by the end of the century. That would be at least in the neighborhood of what’s required to melt arctic glaciers and Greenland’s ice sheet, submerging island nations and coastal areas. It would almost certainly cause massive economic disruption, loss of productive farmland, the spread of diseases (already starting to happen with, for example, West Nile virus) and the creation of vast new populations of refugees. And incredibly, it’s beginning to look like this may actually be an understatement of the danger facing the planet: New research indicates that the earth is warming even more rapidly than previously thought. Particularly alarming, are recent studies suggesting that global warming has the potential of altering the Gulf Stream in ways that could bring on a new ice age — and not in some distant epoch, but in our own lifetimes.
But here’s the rub: If we ever do get serious about reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, the energy and power industries will be among the biggest economic losers. These are, of course, the very multinational corporate giants nearest and dearest to Bush’s heart, bank account and, perhaps most importantly, campaign war chest.
So where do his priorities lie — with the salvation of the planet, or the salvation of his campaign contributors’ sky-high profits? Yeah, I know, the question kind of made me laugh, too. Of course, he’s going to take care of his corporate sponsors. Mother Earth be damned. That’s who Bush is. But how to sell it? After all, this global warming stuff is kind of scary, even apocalyptic. Trying to forthrightly argue, “Well, okay, so New York City, Washington DC, New Orleans and all of those other coastal cities may end up underwater, and, sure, there may be widespread starvation, migration of tropical diseases into the United States, mass extinction of animal species and the like, but, golly, we have to make sure Halliburton is able to pay off on that huge deferred compensation package it gave Cheney,” might not play all that well.
Enter option number three: Lie, lie and then lie some more. The big lie here, of course, is Bush’s persistent misrepresentation of the weight of scientific opinion on global warming. From the start, he’s conveyed a “tempest in a teapot” attitude toward the subject. “I think it’s an issue we need to take very seriously. But I don’t think we know the solution to global warming yet. And I don’t think we’ve got all the facts before we make decisions,” is how he put it during the second presidential debate. In other words, since we really don’t have a clue what’s going on, let’s move slowly in responding to the problem — very slowly. But, as Bush surely knew, the scientific consensus favoring the view that human-generated greenhouse gases bear significant responsibility for increasing global temperatures was by then overwhelming.
This consensus, if anything, has become even more overwhelming today, due, in part, to a report issued in June of 2001 by The National Academy of Science at Bush’s own request. The NAS committee concluded that global warming is a reality and “most likely due to human activities.” Ouch. So what was Bush supposed to do now? A report by a highly prestigious organization — and not just any report — one he himself had requested — had just proven him dead wrong. Was it time to accept that the jig was up? Time to start taking the threat to our world seriously? Yeah, right.
Nope, just send out press secretary Ari Fleischer to argue that while “the report concludes that the Earth is warming . . . it is inconclusive on why — whether it’s man-made causes or whether it’s natural causes.” As David Corn notes in his book “The Lies of George W. Bush,” “That was not spinning. That was prevaricating.” But then, why would we expect anything else?
That’s one thing you have to give Bush credit for: When it comes to lying, he isn’t afraid to think big. There’s no messing around with lies about having sex with an intern for him. No, sir, his are lies of substance (many of them). He lies, as we have seen, about the very real possibility of an environmental Armageddon. He lies about the nature of his tax cuts and other issues of economic fairness. He lies about the degree to which his administration is snuggling up to polluters, instead of enforcing environmental laws. He lies about efforts to open up our few remaining natural wildlife areas to development by his corporate sponsors. He lies about being compassionate, at the very moment his crowd is working night and day to slash and burn the entire social safety net. And, oh yeah, he lied in order to drag the United States into a disastrous and utterly unnecessary war in Iraq.
I’m sorry, Bobby, but there’s no way I can be a good boy and keep my mouth shut about this. To ignore Bush’s lies would be a sin, pure and simple — which, it occurs to me, means that a large percentage of the nation’s press corps will eventually end up in hell. And boy, do I plan to give them a piece of my mind when they get there.
What’s truly amazing, of course, is the way Bush keeps getting away with it. Polls continue to show that a majority of Americans regard him as an honest man (though the number has been falling of late). It is, as the French scientist (excuse me, I mean Freedom scientist) says in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, “an event sociological.” Some sort of mass delusion seems to be at play. Maybe it really is the fluoride in the water.
Here’s my prediction: A few years from now a flurry of pop psychology books will be published trying to explain, by one crank theory or another, why so many people were taken in. Titles will include, “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: What Were We Thinking?,” “Codependent Nation: Why We Took the Abuse,” “He Promised the Good Times Would Never End,” “The President Who Broke My Heart,” “He Seemed Like Such a Nice Boy,” “When Good Citizens Make Bad Choices” and “Lying Presidents and the Voters Who Love Them.”
Then finally, the controversy will be settled once and for all with the publication of the best-selling-blockbuster, “Maybe We Were All Just Mind-Numbingly Stupid.”
I don’t know, Bobby, maybe you’re right and nothing I do or say will make any difference anyway. Maybe those of us fighting the lies are just beating our heads against the wall. But there’s one thing I know for sure: No meaningful discussion of the problems facing this country will ever be possible so long as the debate is focused around an Alice in Wonderland world of Bush’s creation. We need to step back through the looking glass, discard all the lies and half-truths, and respond to the world as it really is. Only then will we stand a chance of starting to build a better world for those grandkids you gave me. And that’s something worth fighting for.
So I’m sorry if my bluntness sometimes makes you cringe. But don’t expect me to change. Because if there’s one thing this country doesn’t need right now, it’s one more person running with the crowd.
Love all around,
The Old Grump
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When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 25 years. Contact Steven at .
© Copyright Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001
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February 27th, 2006 at 11:59 pm
What is amazing to me is that this series is LESS severe than it would be if it were written now rather than 2 years ago. One would have hoped things would be better now, not worse.