TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2003
ABSOLUTELY FATUOUS: Is George W. Bush the least honest of our four recent presidents? We find the notion perfectly plausible (see examples below). But the Washington Monthlys attempt to rank the mendacity of our last four presidents is embarrassing, puerileabsolutely fatuous! How empty is current press corps culture? Take a look at this total turkey and you might start to get an idea.
First, the Monthly explores a serious, painful matterand treats it like silly sport. In his link to this vacuous piece, Josh Marshall describes it as lies and fun. But its only fun for those who have life madewho couldnt care less whats true and whats false. For people who care about how this country is governed, these ruminations are tragic, not fun.
Second, the attempt to quantify matters like this is the mark of an addled intelligence. For one thing, in a world where professional communicators almost never lie, its absurd to think you can judge a pols honesty by measuring the power of his six biggest lies. But how foolish can educated people be? Just marvel at this brainless exercise in utterly absurd pseudo-measurement.
Third, hang your head and roll your eyes when you look at the Monthlys panel of judges. Here are the savants who rated the presidents:
PANEL OF JUDGES: Jodie Allen, Russell Baker, Margaret Carlson, Thomas Mann, Norm Ornstein, Richard Reeves, Larry Sabato, Juan WilliamsWhat do you notice about that panel? Do you notice a certain lack of conservatives? And it aint like the Monthly doesnt know any. There are plenty of conservatives in its nominating group, the group that selected the lists of liesjust none in the group that made the decision! This would have been a foolish exercise even if the panel of judges showed some sort of ideological balance. But because the panel has no conservatives, watch the way this exercise will be spun. Watch conservatives mock the liberal press for fixing its latest Big Probe.
Finally, though, good Godthe lists of lies! From Reagan, we didnt trade weapons for hostages is equally weighted with killer trees! For George H. W. Bush, read my lips is presented as a liealthough the Monthlys summary includes no evidence that the pledge was insincere when made (ditto Clintons sending troops to Bosnia and George W. Bushs cuts in AmeriCorps). According to the Monthly synopsis, Clintons lie about church burnings in Arkansas relies on a next-day newspaper accounta next-day account which turned out to be factually shaky. (The Roanoke Baptist church in Clintons own Hot Springs burned down in 1964. The pastor and the black community believed the fire was racially motivated. Can this be one of this presidents biggest lies?) And, like an entire generation of lazy hacks, the Monthly proves congenitally incapable of accurate statement about Bushs recent 16 words. According to the Monthlys synopsis, before Bushs State of the Union Address, the CIA had itself previously warned top White House officials and British intelligence that the reports of an Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from African countries were almost certainly untrue. Almost certainly untrue? We know of no evidence supporting that account. You know the word: That account is sexed-up. But so it goes as the clowning Monthly has big fun with our countrys deepest problems.
Presidential dishonesty? Its a painfully important subject, especially in light of the attacks on Clinton and Gore in this regard. As everyone on earth surely realizes by now, President Bush is currently in office because of the claims that Gore was a liar. And if Bush did lie us into Iraq, soldiers are dying because of his lies. This subject shouldnt be played like a cable game show, or treated like some pie-eating contest at a big country fair. No, you cant discern a presidents honesty by trying to rate his six biggest lies. But your Washington press is empty and fatuous. As they have their fun with this topic, they offer the latest confirmation of their own massive dysfunction.
BUSH AT GORE: Incredible! And lets say it: Bizarre! Cutting AmeriCorps and Going to war are two of Bushs six biggest lies? So too the weird, but utterly inconsequential (and thoroughly ignored) WMD statement in Poland? Question: If this WMD statement is one of Bushs biggest lies, why did it go unexplored by the pressunexplored by the very same people who now judge it to be such a whopper? Our president must be quite an honest man, to judge from this silly-bill list of six lies. He must be very honest indeedif one of the biggest lies he has told was so minor and inconsequential that it was completely ignored by those who now judge him. If that Poland statement was one of his six biggest lies, just think what a prince he must be!
But as everyone (except the press corps) knows, Bushs dissembling has not been minor, and it hasnt been inconsequential. The Monthly plays Americas struggles for sport, but for one deeply consequential set of examples, just consider the consummate fakery that got Bush into the White House. Just consider the fakery in October 2000, as Bush and Gore staged their crucial debates (yes, pre-presidential lies are permitted, as we see from the Reagan and Bush I lists). Just consider the screaming flim-flam that got George Bush into the White House:
Bushs budget. All through the fall of 2000, Bush baldly misstated his own budget plan. This fakery was described three times by Paul Krugmanbut Bush repeated it in his very first statement at the first Bush-Gore debate. (He was speaking to fifty million people. Many were deciding how to vote.) Bushs misstatement was clearly designed to counter Gores objection to his budget plan. But the press corps ignored it in real time, and the Monthly is ignoring it still.
FORD (10/12/00): The vice president challenged your record in Texas, saying to you, well, you say that health care for children is a priority. But he said, statistics show that Texas ranks 49th out of 50 in terms of uninsured children. And the question is, if in fact it is such a priority to you, I think viewers would want to know, how could that be? How could that happen?Embarrassing, isnt it? Gores numbers came from the Census Bureau, as Bush and everyone else of course knew. Duh! Within the press corps, everyone knew that Texas had the second most children uninsured. But Bush went straight onto network TV and pretended that he didnt knowlying right in Jack Fords faceand he even offered the clowning suggestion that Gore was talking about total children, not the rate of insurance. And yes: On the basis of this buffoonist dissembling, George W. Bush ended up in the White House. But guess what? The press corps ignored this fakery in real time, and the Monthly is ignoring it still. To the Monthly, Bushs inconsequential remark about going to war is more troubling than this total deceptionmore troubling than a month-long package of total deception which put George Bush into the White House.
The Washington Monthly embarrasses itself with this utterly foolish presentation. Guess what, everybody? Bushs dissembling is actually important; it has actually changed your countrys history. But to Americas insider scribes, exercises like this one are just good clean fun. Truly, its hard to find sufficient contempt for the pampered princes who make up your press corps.
INCREDIBLY, HE REALLY DID SAY IT: In the first Bush-Gore debate, Gore repeatedly noted that about almost half of Bushs $1.3 trillion tax cut went to the top one percent. As everyone knew, he was citing a detailed analysis from Citizens for Tax Justicean analysis open for all to review. The next day, Bush went out on the campaign trail to pretend that Gore had used phony numbers. Carl Cameron reported the action for Special Report. Read this embarrassing, astounding account and weep for your poor, misused country:
CAMERON (10/4/00): Bush moved quickly to rebut Gores central attack in the debate, that half of Bushs tax cut, or more than $500 billion, would go to the nations wealthiest one percent. Bush suggested that Gore had exaggerated by quadruple. And Bush then explained that his plan to reduce the top tax bracket from 39 to 33 percent would cost far less than Gore had claimed.Incredible, isnt it? Breath-taking! And to state the obvious, Cameron was working extra-hard to help Bush pull off his fakery. As Cameron (and every reporter) knew, Gore hadnt said that Bushs plan to reduce the 39 percent rate would provide more than $500 billion. Gore had said that Bushs total, $1.3 trillion tax cut would provide this much to the top one percent. But Bush went out with a phony number, and he got his crowds to chant no fuzzy mathas if it was Gore who was faking the numbers. Perhaps theres a way to be more dishonest, but the human race hasnt conjured it yet. Meanwhile, say a prayer for that poor, chanting audiencecompletely played for fools by George Bush, as the press corps agreed not to notice.
To state the obvious, the press corps knew Bushs numbers were phonybut the press corps had a long-treasured theme, in which Gore was a liar, just like Bill Clinton. They had gimmicked and peddled the theme for two years, and they were determined to stick with their story. And so the press corps ignored all this flimflam from Bush, and the Monthlys experts are ignoring it still. But then, this isnt real journalism, friends. This isnt about the way Bushs gross dissembling actually changed your countrys future. This is just all good clean fun.
People are dying in Iraq due to this. But no one on that list of judges is going to be among their number. They simply dont care about these matters. Guess what? They didnt report Bushs lies in real time, and they dont give a good goddamn now.
DETAILS: Where did Bush get that ludicrous $149 billion figure? To come up with that utterly stupid, fake number, Bush ignored his proposed repeal of the estate tax, and he ignored his lowering of all tax rates except for the 39 percent rate. As a matter of fact, he ignored every provision of his tax plan except the drop in the 39 percent rate. And yes, everyone knew his number was false, but your press corps politely ignored it. By the rules of the 2000 race, Bush was allowed to call Gore a Big Liar. And Bush could lie as much as pleased, as long as his lies, however absurd, furthered that Approved Press Corps Theme. This laughable lying put Bush in the White House. The press corps ignored it as it occurred, and the Monthlyaverting its gaze from the corps past misconductpolitely ignores Bushs rank lying now. Meanwhile, were reminded that this is all good clean fungood fun from the corrupted cohort which brought you your current predicament.