San Franciso Chronicle
January 30, 2008
Oh, sweet Jesus, someone actually counted.
Two independent nonprofit journalism groups apparently took enough laudanum and beat down whatever healthy sense of human decency they had in order to plunge straight into that quivering mountain of incompetence that is the official record of the Bush administration, all the false quotes and all the lie-strewn press conferences and all the squinty-eyed fabrications from Dubya, Colin Powell, Condi and Cheney and Rummy et al., that took place in the two years after Sept. 11, 2001, and added them all up.
Is it helpful to know the exact number? Does it make a difference? After all, presidential lying isn't exactly a revelation. Pretty much a national pastime, really. Bill Clinton lied in a harmless civil lawsuit, and was even impeached for it. Of course, his little oral fixation didn't lead us into an unwinnable trillion-dollar war that will scar the nation for multiple generations and has wasted 4,000 American lives and resulted in tens of thousands of wounded, crippled and brain-damaged U.S. soldiers. But that's just splitting hairs, really.
After all, it's common knowledge that, say, George Bush Sr. lied about Iran-Contra and "read my lips" Ronald Reagan lied like a nasty old rug about Iran and aiding the Contras, Lyndon Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin to gain support for the Vietnam War, Harry Truman probably lied about Hiroshima and John F. Kennedy probably lied about the Bay of Pigs, and, well, all presidents lie, really, to some degree or another and with varying degrees of success and historic consequence. Is it not sort of pointless to whine about it?
Fair enough. But there is something truly special about Bush 43. Something so unique, so poisonous and strange that historians are busy right this minute rewriting not only their books, but their entire way of thinking about how we measure and interpret political malfeasance.
It has to do with matters of scale. It has to do with audacity, with sheer recklessness, with BushCo's stunning contempt for all national and international law and historic precedent and human decency. It is the sense that, at bare minimum, the most significant lies told by previous administrations were, by and large, not calculated stabs to the very heart and infrastructure of the entire nation. They were not designed, as Bush's clearly were, specifically to pervert the entire American experiment, to violently shift us from peace-promoting and defense-oriented protector to an arrogant, insular, pre-emptive attacker, widely loathed and mistrusted worldwide.
See, BushCo rewrote the formulas. From WMD to tax cuts, AmeriCorp to Iraq, this administration has officially reset the bar to an all-time low as to what's possible for a truly dreadful, inept president to get away with without some sort of significant repercussion, impeachment or numerous lightning bolts raining down on his soft little monkey skull. Sure, it took leveraging America's most brutal and heartbreaking tragedy in a generation to pull it off, but does the fact the administration exploited 9/11 like a pedophile exploits a child take anything away from the astonishing depth of the abuse?
But maybe you still argue that, even at a whopping 935 calculated lies told specifically to lead us into a bogus war, it makes no difference. Maybe you argue that a lie is a lie, and Bush is no better or worse than Clinton or Reagan and here is a giant cocktail of jaded, raging apathy. Let's all chug it together, shall we?
Fine. If it's a fact that all presidents lie anyway, if there's little we can do to stop them, then let us put forth a new hope. Let us now wish for the next president to lie just as passionately, as powerfully, as strategically as BushCo, and get away with it just as extraordinarily.
But let's make one significant change. Let's urge the new president to lie, well, in the other direction, to lie not in the service of horrific war or in the name of powermongering or to line the pockets of corporate cronies, or even to cover up stupid personal behavior, but rather in the name of sliding through an agenda of - oh my God can you believe I'm going to say it? - peace, nonviolence, international respect, humanitarianism, sex positivism, religious tolerance, progressive education. I know. Crazy.
Yes. Give us now a president who lies, calculatedly and strategically, straight in the face of the hard-right neocons and the evangelicals and the corporate cretins. Let his or her army of lies lull these groups into a false sense of complacency and/or utter soul-deadening fear so they will keep their mouths shut while the rest of us get some real work done.
"As an angry, well-armed God is my witness, I will never push through a national handgun ban," would be a good lie for this new president, thus shutting up the National Rifle Association and assuaging the bogus American cowboy mythology, as his or her army of crazy hippies do the exact opposite and quietly work to make the nation safer and more humane.
The horror! The outcry! Whatever.
Or how about this: "All foreign religions clearly hate and wish harm upon America, and therefore it shall be the policy of this administration to never, under any circumstances, attempt to understand other beliefs, to open our schools and textbooks to include honest religious information, or generally re-educate the absolutist, Christian-drunk American populace." And then begin a quiet, subversive national program to revolutionize the spiritual IQ of forthcoming generations. The terrible lie!
"America must remain aggressive and antagonistic to all questionable nations who do not cower properly to our demands. We shall close our borders and police the Internet and maintain nasty vigilance on all citizens at all times. This is the only way to true national security." What's the direct opposite of such a promise? Do it, prez!
"And finally, I shall never abolish the death penalty, legalize marijuana, approve gay marriage, promote honest sex education for teens, honor habeas corpus and the Geneva Convention, or eliminate the insidious farm subsidy program. We shall never stop lying about ethanol or offer solar subsidies for every household in America. Our direct ties to horribly misogynistic, terrorist-supporting Saudi Arabian power regimes shall remain deeply corruptive and powerful forevermore."
Go ahead, Mr. or Mrs. Next President. Lie your tail off if you must. But this time, let's try to make it a real party.
-- Mark Morford columns with inset links to related material can be found at sfgate.com/columnists/morford.
Mark Morford's column appears Wednesdays and Fridays in Datebook and on sfgate.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.