We have heard so many lies from George W. Bush, that it feels like we are lost in a Dickensian back alley where everything is hidden in shadows, grimy, and smelling to the heavens. How many of his lies will be investigated by his Republican-controlled Congress? He may be trying to fool all of the people all of the time but when will all the people say that enough is enough?
How many lies can Congress investigate at once? How much money Congress would save if it did not spend so much time investigating malfeasance? The Washington Post estimates that Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr spent $47 million investigating Bill Clinton’s involvement with Monica Lewinsky and with Whitewater. Special Prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh spent about $47.4 million on the Iran-Contra investigation. Several investigators spent $84 million on various members of the Clinton administration. Heaven knows how much the Watergate and Warren Commission investigations cost. How many school lunches could you get? How many Pell grants? How many extensions of unemployment checks? How many restored highways, bridges, and school buildings?
Now Congress is probing what the president knew about the disclosure of the identity of Natalie Plame, the CIA agent whose name was revealed by journalist Robert Novak of Crossfire fame. Did the president know? Did he condone it? Why does he vow to find Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein but claims to have no clue where to look for the source of the Plame leak? Or is just another expedient lie, like so many he has told to How do the folks outside the Beltway regard the latest White House scandals? Will they send him back to the White House in a landslide? Will they vote along party lines? Or will they be non-partisan in their reactions to them? Will those who cheered Kenneth Starr’s investigations of President Clinton urge an independent prosecutor to investigate the Plame leak?
Questions, questions...Why do the voters continue to support the president (51% on the latest Gallop Poll) despite his obvious corruption? Is it the “he may be a sum’bitch but he’s OUR sum’ bitch” political philosophy? You’re loyal to your own side because you believe that they’re the good guys; they believe in the same things that you believe in even if they are not quite truthful?
All politicians lie and everybody knows that they do. Is doesn’t matter what the meaning of “is” is. They all lie. Is that it?
Apparently, the electorate prefers it that way! Consider what happened to politicians who tried to tell the truth. During his campaign, Bill Clinton promised that if elected, he would do for gays what President Truman did for African-Americans; he would eliminate anti-gay policies in the military by executive order. Once in office, this promise met with a firestorm of controversy. The Joint Chiefs of Staff threatened to resign if he forced the military to change. Prominent Democrats, former Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia leading the pack, brought so much pressure that Clinton backed down. Thus was born the blatantly hypocritical “Don’t Ask, don’t tell” policy. We’ll just pretend to be straight so that everyone, including Phyllis Schafly (gay son), Dick Cheney (lesbian daughter), and Newt Gingrich (lesbian sister) can pretend that they have no gay or lesbian relatives. They made lies an official policy to enable more lies by allegedly moral people.
Then there was Senator Walter Mondale who challenged Ronald Reagan in his 1984 reelection bid. He told the American people, that he wouldn’t lie to them; he would raise taxes. The next time we saw Mondale in the news he was the U.S. ambassador to Japan. Sayonara Senator Mondale.
Jimmy Carter called for the American people to regard the energy issue as the “moral equivalent of war.” The public blamed the oil crisis on him rather than on their own gas guzzling habits or on the auto industry that colluded with the oil companies to get rich.
Determined to keep his campaign promises, at least to his moneyed supporters, George W. Bush promised that he would cut taxes and he did despite the damage that this cut did to our economy. It may be the only promise he has kept: His “No-child left behind” education policy has fallen by the wayside as his wars consume all of our resources. “Compassionate conservatism?” One wag calls it “Compassionate colonialism.” He was going to be a “uniter, not a divider.” This from the most partisan president in recent history.
Going back just to the presidents in my lifetime, Dwight Eisenhower had a wartime relationship with his secretary but presented himself as the soul of patriarchal rectitude. John F. Kennedy chased anyone in skirts and romanced them in the White House while aides and reporters looked the other way. Lyndon B. Johnson lied to Congress about the Tonkin Gulf and he was an inveterate womanizer. I don’t need to enumerate Richard Nixon’s lies they are too many to name though adultery doesn’t seem to be on his list. Did the essentially decent Gerald Ford really believe that pardoning Nixon would “put the long national nightmare behind us”? And what explains Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter’s apparent attempt to squelch the nascent Sandinista government in Nicaragua even while declaring himself to champion human rights? Ronald Reagan swore before a national audience that he didn’t know about the arms being sold to the Contras. Bush I claimed to be out of the loop during Iran-Contra and swore that he would not raise taxes until he faced the fiscal realities of running a country. And Bill Clinton, well, as they say in Arkansas, folks knew they couldn’t keep that dog on the porch. And those are just the lies we know about.
What about all the governmental lies we don’t know about? Do we want absolute truth from our leaders? White lies? Half truths? Great big whoppers? The oath of office declares that the president will uphold the Constitution; it doesn’t say that he won’t tell a lie. What if, like Pinocchio, their noses grew whenever they prevaricated? I don’t know if one can lead an absolutely truthful life, but to our leaders I say, we the people draw the line when your lies cost us the lives of our children.
When George W. Bush declared war on terrorism and attacked Afghanistan, he said the war would last a very long time. It may have been the last time he told us the truth. I felt a chill as I thought about four or eight, God forbid years of a Bush-Cheney-Ashcroft-Rumsfeld administration gone wild with war-time powers. One need only to gaze into John Ashcroft’s Cotton Mather-glazed eyes to see all of our civil liberties disappearing.
As this war churns on, young Americans die for what? They die with honor, believing that they are safeguarding our freedoms, believing in patriotism while their leaders play them like so many pawns in their acquisitive games. Many patriotic Americans have closed ranks, refusing to question a president in a time of war.
Those of us who question must persuade our neighbors to put an end to this administration. It isn’t the first time that a president has been replaced in the midst of a war. We can survive it. We have less than a year to defeat this president. To quote a source he claims to know well: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” You’ll note that “Blessed be the warmongers” is not on the list.
Rosa Maria Pegueros is an associate professor of history at the University of Rhode Island. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org