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ABSOLUTELY FATUOUS! The Washington Monthly has some good solid “fun” pretending to rate Bush’s honesty:


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 Monthly’s attempt to rank the “mendacity” of our last four presidents is embarrassing, puerile—absolutely 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 matter—and treats it like silly sport. In his link to this vacuous piece, Josh Marshall describes it as “lies and fun.” But it’s only “fun” for those who have life made—who couldn’t care less what’s true and what’s 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,” it’s absurd to think you can judge a pol’s 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 Monthly’s “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 Williams
What do you notice about that panel? Do you notice a certain lack of conservatives? And it ain’t like the Monthly doesn’t know any. There are plenty of conservatives in its “nominating group,” the group that selected the lists of lies—just 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 God—the lists of lies! From Reagan, “we didn’t trade weapons for hostages” is equally weighted with “killer trees!” For George H. W. Bush, “read my lips” is presented as a “lie”—although the Monthly’s summary includes no evidence that the pledge was insincere when made (ditto Clinton’s “sending troops to Bosnia” and George W. Bush’s cuts in AmeriCorps). According to the Monthly synopsis, Clinton’s “lie” about church burnings in Arkansas relies on a next-day newspaper account—a next-day account which turned out to be factually shaky. (The Roanoke Baptist church in Clinton’s 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 president’s “biggest lies?”) And, like an entire generation of lazy hacks, the Monthly proves congenitally incapable of accurate statement about Bush’s recent “16 words.” According to the Monthly’s synopsis, before Bush’s 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 country’s deepest problems.

Presidential dishonesty? It’s 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 shouldn’t be played like a cable game show, or treated like some pie-eating contest at a big country fair. No, you can’t discern a president’s 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 let’s say it: Bizarre! “Cutting AmeriCorps” and “Going to war” are two of Bush’s 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 Bush’s biggest lies, why did it go unexplored by the press—unexplored 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 indeed—if 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, Bush’s dissembling has not been minor, and it hasn’t been inconsequential. The Monthly plays America’s 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:

Bush’s budget. All through the fall of 2000, Bush baldly misstated his own budget plan. This fakery was described three times by Paul Krugman—but 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.) Bush’s misstatement was clearly designed to counter Gore’s objection to his budget plan. But the press corps ignored it in real time, and the Monthly is ignoring it still.

The fake phony numbers. Throughout the first Bush-Gore debate, Bush accused Gore of using “phony numbers” and “fuzzy math”—although Gore’s numbers were perfectly accurate. (Details below.) The press corps ignored this fakery in real time. The Monthly is ignoring it still.

The real phony numbers. The real “phony numbers” were quickly at hand, presented by Bush himself. Gore had claimed that 43 percent of Bush’s $1.3 trillion tax cut was going to the top one percent of earners. Bush and his aides were soon presenting laughably bogus numbers in “rebuttal”—and calling Gore a liar as they did. (Details below.) The press ignored this when it occurred, and the Monthly is ignoring it still.

Uninsured children: A personal favorite: After the second Bush-Gore debate, Bush pretended that Gore was faking his claims about Texas health care coverage. Did Texas really rank 49th out of 50 in the rate of children with health insurance? Gore kept saying that Texas did—and Bush pretended that Gore faked his numbers. If you want to see a future president lie through his teeth, here he was the following morning, baldly lying—in Jack Ford’s face—as he appeared on Good Morning America:

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?

BUSH: Well, first of all, I don’t know the numbers. I mean, I don’t have to accept his numbers. Just because he says something, does that mean we’ve got the second most children uninsured? If that—we’re the second biggest state. I don’t know where the numbers come from…And so I don’t—I don't think America ought to accept his analysis.

Embarrassing, isn’t it? Gore’s 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 didn’t know—lying right in Jack Ford’s face—and 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, Bush’s inconsequential remark about “going to war” is more troubling than this total deception—more 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? Bush’s dissembling is actually important; it has actually changed your country’s history. But to America’s insider scribes, exercises like this one are just good clean “fun.” Truly, it’s 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 Bush’s $1.3 trillion tax cut went to the top one percent. As everyone knew, he was citing a detailed analysis from Citizens for Tax Justice—an 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 Gore’s central attack in the debate, that half of Bush’s tax cut, or more than $500 billion, would go to the nation’s 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.

BUSH (on videotape): By dropping that rate, that’s about 11 percent of the total tax relief package. Eleven percent. It costs $149 billion, far less than the claims he was making last night on TV. You know, I believe the American people can sift through the difference between real numbers and fuzzy math.

CAMERON: The crowd had been told in advance to take that as a cue to start chanting.

CROWD (on videotape): No fuzzy math! No fuzzy math!

Incredible, isn’t 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 hadn’t said that Bush’s plan to reduce the 39 percent rate would provide more than $500 billion. Gore had said that Bush’s 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 math”—as if it was Gore who was faking the numbers. Perhaps there’s a way to be more dishonest, but the human race hasn’t conjured it yet. Meanwhile, say a prayer for that poor, chanting audience—completely played for fools by George Bush, as the “press corps” agreed not to notice.

To state the obvious, the press corps knew Bush’s numbers were phony—but 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 Monthly’s “experts” are ignoring it still. But then, this isn’t real journalism, friends. This isn’t about the way Bush’s gross dissembling actually changed your country’s 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 don’t care about these matters. Guess what? They didn’t report Bush’s lies in real time, and they don’t 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 Monthly—averting its gaze from the corps’ past misconduct—politely ignores Bush’s rank lying now. Meanwhile, we’re reminded that this is all good clean “fun”—good “fun” from the corrupted cohort which brought you your current predicament.