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Still Lying, Still Allowed To Lie

I'm sorry, but there are moments when I just feel like a total alien who stumbled onto some planet full of bizarre life forms.  They call this place America, and it sure is weird.  And, lemme tell ya, I know what I'm talking about here.  I've visited some pretty weird places in this part of the universe. 

Try this on for size as an example.  You might think that a president who is widely known for lying, who leads a party also known for the same, who is at the end of his term and virtually without any punitive power worth speaking of, and who is widely despised at home and abroad - you might think such a president would get a serious grilling when sitting down with the American media for an exit interview.  And, even if that might seem like a giant leap for some, perhaps you'd at least be surprised if such an individual was allowed to continue to tell revisionist historical lies without being called to account in the slightest for doing so. 

Yeah, well, different galaxy, I guess.  On Planet America it seems a lot more like it's still 2002, and a frightened, compliant press is still learning how to embarrass itself by becoming a tool of a massively deceitful White House.  Now that it's almost 2009, they've got it down to a science.  Only today they don't even have the pathetic and shamefully flimsy excuse they did back then, in the wake of the 9/11 scare. 

So here's what happens when one of America's most prominent journalists - Charles Gibson - sits down to interview George W. Bush.  Bush, of course isn't doing the interview because he can't think of what else to do with himself anymore (although if you ask him what comes next after January 20, that's pretty much exactly what it looks like).  He isn't just killing time, waiting for Cheney to dream up some other target for the administration's predatory instincts.  He's got an agenda, which is why he's been granting a plethora of (safe) interviews lately.  And that agenda is to write the first draft of history.  Just like Jackie did her Camelot rap, successfully constructing the frame through which the Kennedy administration would long be seen, so a ham-fisted Burt and Ernie - er, sorry, George and Laura - are running around trying to rehabilitate, for the sake of history, the worst presidency ever. 

According to the Washington Post, this is the implementation of a strategy put together at a White House meeting two months ago, where it was decided that administration officials should reiterate key talking points in their speeches and interviews.  Per a memo obtained by the LA Times, those include pointing out that the president "‘kept the American people safe' after the September 11 terrorist attacks, lifted the economy after 2001 through tax cuts, curbed AIDS in Africa and maintained 'the honor and the dignity of his office'".  That's a cute list, isn't it?  In a certain nausea-inducing way.  I don't even know where to get started with that, and it's probably better for all of us if I don't.  One thing I do have to say, though.  Just as in our movie rating system, what passes as the standard for honor and dignity in the White House is so very America.  You can murder in cold blood as many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis as you need to to get your rocks off, and that's fine.  But if you actually do get your rocks off - literally, the old-fashioned way - you're considered obscene.  Go figure, eh?  Like I said, it's a wacky little planet. 

Of course, George W. Bush trying to save his legacy is not, in and of itself, so outlandish.  A politician who doesn't spin is like a conservative who doesn't lie.  It does happen.  It has actually been observed in nature.  Just not that often.  The outlandish part is, first, the magnitude of the tales being told and sold.  And, second, that a still obscenely compliant media allows these to be promulgated, without challenge, completely disregarding any notion of fulfilling a public service mandate to actually inform the people, let alone to hold the country's leaders accountable.  What a concept, eh - a critical media and governmental accountability?  I guess all that hardball stuff is only for Democrats. 

Anyhow, here's a good example, for starters: 

GIBSON:  What were you most unprepared for?  

BUSH:  Well, I think I was unprepared for war.  In other words, I didn't campaign and say, "Please vote for me, I'll be able to handle an attack."  In other words, I didn't anticipate war.  Presidents - one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen. 

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whatever really happened on 9/11, the very best case scenario one might make is not that this president was unprepared for war, but rather that he was unprepared for defense.  That's unforgivable, and had he been a Democrat who also ignored five-alarm warning bells prior to 9/11, and who spent the entire month prior on vacation after being warned about the danger, he would indeed never have been forgiven, least of all by Mssrs. Bush, Cheney and Rove.  And then, of course, there's the impression that Bush's response to this question leaves, suggesting that the principal war of his administration - the one in Iraq - was somehow thrust upon him.  A real interviewer would never have just let this statement go.  This was the ultimate war of choice, conducted for the ultimate of disingenuous reasons. 

Here's another: 

GIBSON:  Given the fact that you did start campaigning for change, said you were going to change the ways of Washington, do you feel you did in any way?  Or did 9/11 really stand in the way of doing it?  

BUSH:  No, you know - actually, 9/11 unified the country, and that was a moment where Washington decided to work together.  I think one of the big disappointments of the presidency has been the fact that the tone in Washington got worse, not better.  ...  I mean, there were moments of bipartisanship.  But the tone was rough.  And I was obviously partially responsible because I was the President, although I tried hard not to call people names and bring the office down during my presidency. 

Again, this is remarkably disingenuous, all the more so because it feigns humility and quasi-responsibility.  Bush may not have called his opponents names, but he sure as hell marginalized them as rarely ever before in history, and he sure as hell polarized the country.  If you weren't with the president, then you were with the terrorists.  If you didn't agree to his invasion of a country that had not a thing to do with 9/11 nor any other justification for attack, then you couldn't be trusted with America's national security.  Let's not kid ourselves here, people.  There's no Democratic equivalent to Karl Rove.  There's no liberal guy called The Hammer, like Tom DeLay was for the GOP.  No Democrat ever ran an ad morphing the face of a triple-amputee Republican Vietnam vet into that of Osama bin Laden.  True, damn few Republicans - the folks who are so keen on maintaining American security, remember - actually made it over to the jungles of Southeast Asia forty years ago, but that ain't why ads like those used against Max Cleland in 2002 were never used against the right.  It's a matter of integrity, and there was rarely an occasion when the Bush administration showed any of it.  Moreover, Charles Gibson knows that. 

But the greatest crime of the Bush administration, of course, was always Iraq, and it is here that the abomination-in-chief lies the most egregiously and the most shamefully.  And it is here where he is given the greatest free pass by the media: 

GIBSON:  You've always said there's no do-overs as President.  If you had one?  

BUSH:  I don't know - the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq.  A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein.  It wasn't just people in my administration;  a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence.  And, you know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess. 

GIBSON:  If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?  

BUSH:  Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld.  In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war?  Absolutely.  

GIBSON:  No, if you had known he didn't.  

BUSH:  Oh, I see what you're saying.  You know, that's an interesting question.  That is a do-over that I can't do.  It's hard for me to speculate. 

This astonishing little dialogue packs more deceit, and more permission to engage in deceit, into one passage than any ‘blivet' (ten pounds of bullshit in a five pound bag) I've ever seen.  Or a thousand blivets.  Stacked in a manure warehouse.  In the Republic of Crap.  On the planet Turd.  What an amazing string of lies.  And all of it unanswered. 

It starts with the intelligence "failure", which was no failure at all.  Is this 2008 - nearly 2009 - or am I stuck in some sort of time warp here?  With all that has been revealed about the lies that were lied, the omissions omitted, and the exaggerations exaggerated, do we still live in a country where the president can continue to tell this tall tale yet again?  Is it really possible that a journalist would let such an absurd claim go unchallenged still to this day?  Can we really continue to allow this rogue president to surround himself in exonerating complicity, pretending that everyone had the same intelligence reports that he did?  And, even more ridiculously, that they all concurred that war was the preferred option at that point?  Is that why the Bush administration couldn't get even half the votes it needed at the United Nations for a war resolution?  Even after beating Security Council member-states over the head with skyscraper-sized sticks?  Even after offering them more carrots than in all of Bunny Heaven? 

It gets worse.  To claim that Saddam was unwilling to let the weapons inspectors in is just a sickening and complete inversion of the truth, a full 180 degrees.  The inspectors were, of course, absolutely in Iraq.  Indeed, not only were they there, they were begging the United States government to tell them where the WMD could be found, an obvious thing to do given that the Bush administration was running around telling the world that it not only knew for sure there were WMD, but even knew where the weapons were located.  This is the most massive lie.  And, of course, it comes with other cool benefits as well.  If you're already lying in claiming that the inspectors were refused entry, you no longer have to overtly lie about how they left.  If they were never there, they could never have been forced to leave in order to avoid being obliterated by Bush's bomber squadrons.  Nor, if they had never been there carrying out most of their inspections, could they ever have begged for just a few more weeks to finish their work.  Doesn't it all just fit together nicely? 

And where, exactly was Charles Gibson, so-called ‘journalist', throughout all this?  Is this really what it means to be at the top of this profession?  That you allow those whom you're supposed to be keeping watch over for the benefit of an entire country (not to mention the rest of the world) to say anything - including absolutely the worst self-serving rubbish - without challenge?  Why not just sign on to the GOP payroll and get it over with?  Or perhaps he already has. 

Then there's Bush telling us that, gosh, he really can't "speculate" on whether or not there would have been an invasion had there been no WMD.  That's just classic.  As if the decision wasn't his.  As if they didn't build nearly their entire case on the WMD threat.  As if Saddam just absolutely had to go, but Mubarak and Musharraf and Abdullah didn't even get a good talking to about democracy.  As if Saddam's depredations were enough to justify an American invasion, even though we had previously covered for him at his worst, and even as we say almost nothing while Darfur melts down into a genocidal ocean of blood. 

Then, on top of all these lies, are the frustratingly silent ones that no one ever mentions, and never really did (and, excuse me for my petulance, but shouldn't journalists be doing this?).  Like this one:  Suppose the Bush people had been right in their lies about WMD, after all - so what?  Dozens of countries have them, including now North Korea, and the Bush administration never seems to have a problem with that, except when it does.  Whatever happened to deterrence, the little dynamic that kept the Soviet Union and the United States from unleashing their tens of thousands of nuclear weapons against each other for over four decades?  When did that stop mattering?  Does anyone seriously imagine that a nuclear Saddam would have attacked the United States?  Knowing that he and his country would instantly have been atomized in response?  And, speaking of inconvenient questions, what were we doing invading a country that had never attacked nor even threatened this country? 

Somebody please awaken me from this nightmare!  Really, I don't mind a politician acting like a politician.  I suppose this is a sad fact in its own right, but truth be told, my expectations there are not huge. 

But what's up with an American media, itself drenched in blood up to its earlobes, still offering this guy a free pass, and a global megaphone?  Hey, Charlie Gibson - do you really earn enough to bury all that shame?  Me, I wouldn't have thought there was that much money anywhere on the planet. 

As for that good ol' boy, America's first cracker president, it seems he has managed to figure out a couple of things, after all.  Talking about his parents, who have no doubt been in agony for eight years now (how would you like to have produced Caligula?), he offered up this slightly too accurate assessment of their feelings as he leaves the White House: 

BUSH:  And so, no doubt they're going to be relieved to have their boy out of the limelight.  And I bet a lot of our friends will be relieved, too. 

Ya got that one right, pal, albeit for all the wrong reasons.  Which is no doubt what also produced the following exchange: 

GIBSON:  And final question, just to finish the sentence:  I will leave the presidency with a feeling of? 

BUSH:  I will leave the presidency with my head held high. 

Maybe this is the kind of nonsense Gibson had in mind when he asked, "Is the president too much in a bubble?"  To which Bush responded: 

BUSH:  I mean, believe me you understand what's going on in the world. This idea about how the President doesn't understand this, that, or the other, just simply is not the case. I mean, there's a lot of information that comes through the White House. 

Yeah, no doubt Cheney's there every morning to provide the president with "information" about how well it's all going.  No doubt that makes it easy to leave the White House with your head held high, even after you've wrecked everything in sight. 

That, plus a fawning press that would never dream of being so rude as to interrupt your fantasy with the cognitive dissonance provoked by a tough question or two. 

Lordy, lord.  Take me back to my home planet, please. 

This one's way too messed up!

David Michael Green

David Michael Green

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.

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