George W. Bush is a liar. There, I said it -- the "L" word. Someone in Washington had to.
Thanks to AWOL WMD, people all across America have the "L" word on their lips, but here in D.C. it's still a hard one to mouth. Few Washington-based commentators and fewer politicians have done so.
On Sunday, June 22, The New York Times had a chance to be the first big-league outfit to say it plainly. But the headline on Washington-based reporter David E. Rosenbaum's story, "Bush May Have Exaggerated, but Did He Lie?" was a tip that the story would pull up short. Rosenbaum considered a narrow question -- whether Mr. Bush has told any neat, tidy, obvious lies -- and concluded he has not (a couple of fibs and distortions, maybe, but no lies).
Whether the president twisted intelligence on WMD "can probably be answered conclusively only by historians when all the evidence and consequences are known," Rosenbaum wrote. (So, our kids get to pay the debt for our imperial aspirations and our tax breaks, and someday they'll be the first to know how it all happened. Great.)
Distance seems to make criticism easier. The Times' Princeton-based columnist Paul Krugman has written that the administration "systematically and brazenly distorts the facts" and is "choosing and exaggerating intelligence" and "misleading the public."
Close, but still no "L" word.
Boston-based William Rivers Pitt isn't daunted: The administration "lied us into a war," writes the high-school teacher who moonlights as a columnist for Truthout.org. "Trust a teacher on this. We can spot liars who have not done their homework a mile away."
A full-page ad in The New York Times last week by MoveOn.org and Win Without War, groups with members across the nation, put it plainly and hoisted the president on his own pointed WMD -- words of mass distortion. Under the headline "MISLEADER" the ad stacked up five of Mr. Bush's pre-war whoppers and noted, "It would be a tragedy if young men and women were sent to die for a lie." (Full disclosure: TomPaine.com liked the ad so much, we paid to run it in the June 30 issue of The Weekly Standard.)
Harley Sorensen, writing on SFGate.com, gets the prize for directness: "Why mince words? These are the facts: 1) President George W. Bush is a liar. 2) Secretary of State Colin Powell is a liar. 3) Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is a liar. 4) National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice is a liar." No mincing there.
So the word is out there in different forms -- lie, lies, lying, liar. When will Mr. Bush's putative opponents in government, the Democrats, decide it's time to tell it like it is?
Democrats have accused the president of "a pattern of deception and deceit" (Sen. Bob Graham), said he's not been "entirely truthful" (Howard Dean), and led us to war based on "unfounded assertions" (Rep. Dennis Kucinich). Strong stuff, but no "L" word.
Opposition worthy of the name would push the GOP-controlled House and Senate hearings beyond the question of what the intelligence community knew about WMD, where it seems stalled.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, could invoke committee rules that would allow his minority party to launch a full investigation. But he won't -- reportedly for fear of being seen as partisan.
If this isn't the time for partisanship -- after all, we're talking about manipulations that led the nation into war -- when is? Rockefeller's timidity is allowing committee Republicans to cover what looks more every day like a lie of literally global magnitude.
Perhaps Dems fear the day when WMD are found (and they will be found, by hook or by crook). But they needn't worry -- even if misleading the nation to war weren't an issue, Mr. Bush's record is full of lies.
The president says he supports our troops -- but he proposed cutting veterans' benefits and sidestepped a law meant to protect the health of soldiers headed for combat. His "leave no child behind" pledge is a fraud -- he's vastly underfunded his own education plan, and he signed the recent tax bill even after his GOP minions sneakily removed provisions benefiting low-income families. Mr. Bush says he's a "compassionate conservative," but only a hard-hearted radical would push his Robin-Hood-in-reverse tax policies. He says he wants to expand national service programs, but he's presiding over a huge cut in AmeriCorps programs. Candidate Bush promised to be "a uniter, not a divider," but his foreign policies have profoundly divided the international community, isolated America and devalued her stock in the eyes of world.
Mr. Bush's administration is built on lies, which means the granddaddy of them all is his promise to restore "honor and integrity" to the Oval Office.
Presidential Brain Karl Rove must be worried. Rove knows that any president's popularity rests more on whether voters think he's a believable and admirable leader than on the substance of issues. George W. Bush has that going for him -- people might not like his policies (if they understand them at all), but they like his swagger and certitude, and they trust him to do what he says.
But that trust could crumble if questions linger about whether the White House deceived us into war. Few of the president's allies could or would defend that -- even GOP-TV (a.k.a. Fox News) would have trouble explaining away that one.
John Moyers is Editor-in-Chief of TomPaine.com.
Copyright 2003 TomPaine.com