Lately I've been wondering what might have happened if President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had just told the truth.
Not so much about 9/11, although it would have helped if they'd offered a few reasons why they thought Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks. America has its share of enemies, so a little hard proof would have gone a long way.
And it would have helped if Bush had clearly explained our "special relationship" with the Saudis, and how for more than 60 years we've been shoring up a dictatorship in exchange for some control over our oil supplies. In the light of the fact that 15 hijackers came from there, I mean.
And not about the war in Afghanistan, either. If you were sipping the Kool-Aid at that point, you thought we were going into Afghanistan to capture Osama. But it wouldn't have hurt to explain why we failed.
Mostly, I'm thinking about the mess in Iraq. What if Bush and Cheney had leveled with us from the beginning?
"My fellow Americans," they would have said, "Saddam Hussein hates our guts. He has tons and tons of oil. The world's oil resources are dwindling and the competition is fierce. Our economy would collapse if oil went up to, say, $120 a barrel. Now, how many American lives would you spend to get our good American hands on that good Iraqi oil? Oh, and by the way, Saddam Hussein's an evil man."
Not only would industry get behind an immediate attack, but I'm guessing those patriots at NASCAR and almost everyone else in the country who drives a car would jump on that bandwagon. "One thousand lives, 10,000?" they would say. "How many lives did we give up in Vietnam for nothing? Fifty-five thousand? We could go 55, and I'll see you 60."
Those of us against war would still be howling in protest. But at least we'd know what we were really protesting against. And unless we're driving horse-drawn buggies, it would have to give us pause.
It would be refreshing to hear the truth every now and then, instead of one lie after another - first it's weapons of mass destruction, then we want to bring democracy to Iraq, then we have to stop a civil war, and now we're afraid of the chaos we would leave behind. Who knows what half-assed rationale they'll think of next?
Iran, too, would benefit from a good dose of honesty. How about something along the lines of, "Ahmadinejad has missiles, he's a little bit loopy in the head, and he's sitting on the Straits of Hormuz. He could stop two-thirds of the world's oil supply just by blockading the straits. Let's give him a little taste up front of what he might be in for if he screws with our supply chain."
The American people would probably go, "Hell, yeah!" Not because we hate the Iranians. (Who doesn't feel sorry for the Iranians? Their president is about as dumb, ill-informed and misspoken as ours is.) And not because of Israel, and certainly not because nine years down the road (according to the best estimates) Ahmadinejad might have nuclear weapons. But because we want to keep that oil flowing into our economic pipeline.
America has been swallowed by a tidal wave of lies, and it's not just a Bush thing.
Take the drug wars, for example. Drugs are bad. Drugs are evil. Nonsense. Drugs are great. They feel great. They do all sorts of interesting things to your body and your mind. For a while. And then they take everything you have, including your soul, and then they take your life. Why don't we teach our young people the truth?
Or sex. Right now, our tax dollars are paying for television ads that say, "Successful people wait to have sex until they're married." God help us, you only have to look at presidential candidates to know that isn't true.
And don't get me started about food. If you think you need a "fourth meal" when you're already so obese you have to pay for two seats on the bus, or that a calzone needs to weigh over a pound, or that endless pasta drowning in sauce is healthy - well, you deserve what you get.
Lying has become endemic in this country, and it's not because, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men," we can't handle the truth.
Even Bush gets lied to. I found an interesting tidbit this weekend in a New York Times Magazine piece about an Iraqi intellectual named Kanan Makiya. He's the one who sold the Bush administration the tale that the Iraqis would meet American troops with flowers and dancing in the streets. He believed that Ahmed Chalabi, a known crook, would become his country's Nelson Mandela. Leaving Makiya's delusions aside, he tells reporter Dexter Filkins about a meeting before the invasion in the Oval Office with Bush and Condoleezza Rice.
Bush was bragging enthusiastically about America's two-pronged campaign: first, topple Saddam and then rebuild the country. He turned to Rice and said, "Our preparations for rebuilding Iraq are well advanced, right?" And, according to Makiya, "Rice looked down. She could not look him in the eye. And she said, 'Yes, Mr. President.' She looked at the floor."
You almost feel sorry for the dumb jerk, don't you? Come on, people, we're already sinking. Just tell the damned truth already.
Joyce Marcel is a columnist and journalist in southern Vermont. A collection of her columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com.