In 2005, former U.S. Sen. John Edwards said about his vote for war in
Iraq: "I was wrong [and] I take responsibility."
This statement, so simple, has been all too rare from politicians and
leading media voices. Instead, as the war rages on -- a war itself originally
based on lies -- our political arena still teems with icons more interested
in hiding the truth. That's no small matter. As the saying goes, the first step
to recovery is admitting the problem. Sadly, though, the flip side is also true
-- refusing to admit a problem will perpetuate that problem indefinitely.
President Bush said just two months ago that "we've never been for stay
the course." This, when for the last three years he has batted down any
questions about his Iraq policy by saying "stay the course."
Similarly, consider U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Independent-Conn.). Facing
a difficult Democratic primary challenge, Lieberman said of Iraq in July that
"the sooner we are out the better," and that, by the end of 2006, he would
support efforts to "begin to draw down significant numbers of American troops."
He later said that "no one wants to end the war in Iraq more than I do and
bring our troops home." But weeks after being re-elected, Lieberman is now
leading the charge for military escalation, sending a letter to President Bush
last week saying, "[I] strongly encourage you to send additional American
troops to Iraq."
Pundits and news analysts are employed to expose this sort of nonsense so
that our democratic discourse -- and the policy choices that come out of it
-- are grounded in fact. But that has not happened. Instead, we have seen a
furious stampede by the most prominent media figures to cover their own hides
with either more lies, or more out-of-the mainstream bluster.
Time Magazine's Joe Klein, for instance, last week claimed he has "been
opposed to the Iraq war ever since 2002." Readers were expected to forget about
his nationally televised declaration in late February 2003 -- the critical
days just before the invasion was ordered.
"War may well be the right decision at this point," Klein told NBC's Tim
Russert. "In fact, I think it probably is."
This followed venerated New York Times columnist David Brooks who, rather
than admitting the failure of his Iraq war cheerleading, lashed out at
anti-war challenges to pro-war incumbents, writing that "primary voters
shouldn't be allowed to define the choices in American politics" (apparently,
democracy and elections are no longer an acceptable way to run our country).
Weeks later, the Washington Post's Richard Cohen justified his support for the
war by flippantly writing that he thinks "the prudent use of violence could be
All of this might be fine if those spewing this rhetoric faced some form
of public rebuke that made clear such behavior is objectionable. But there has
been nothing of the kind.
The president was barely bothered by reporters about why he denied he ever
said "stay the course." Lieberman continues to be invited on Sunday talk shows
as a credible guest discussing Iraq, and no one asks him about his hypocrisy.
Meanwhile, Klein, Brooks and Cohen are still prominent news analysts for the
largest publications in America, playing key roles shaping a political debate
they now distort.
In other words, all of this is accepted without question, as if such
behavior should be treated like just another staple of American politics.
Of course, dishonesty and anti-democratic salvos and caustic statements
about violence are not new in politics -- but the ho-hum reaction to it is.
And that should trouble anyone interested in making sure America never again
embarks on another misguided military adventure that leaves thousands dead and
our national security in tatters.
How can we expect to change course in Iraq, if a president is given a pass
to claim he has never stayed the course in the first place? How can we expect
to hold lawmakers accountable if they are never questioned about their efforts
to deliberately mislead us? How can we expect the media to be a watchdog if its
leading analysts and news framers face no public sanctions when they disrespect
the truth or give credence to fringe ideologies?
A country whose national political conversation is dominated by voices
that deny their own complicity in national security tragedies; downplay human
casualties, and generally make dishonesty mundane, is a nation prevented from
reflecting on its bad decisions -- and thus is doomed to repeat such bad
decisions in the future.
David Sirota is the author of "Hostile Takeover" (Crown, 2006). He is a Democratic strategist who lives in Helena, Mont.
Copyright 2007 San Francisco Chronicle