It's hard to believe it wasn't so long ago the New York Times had a rule that prohibited columnists from calling President Bush a liar. The paper's editorial writers could question his facts but not accuse him of outright mendacity. Eventually, the rule was dropped and Paul Krugman, the paper's most liberal columnist, began regularly thwacking Bush with the term.
But other columnists, such as Krugman's colleague Nicholas Kristol, could not abide the idea. Kristol and others accused Bush of ignorance, a lack of curiosity, of being the victim of someone else's lying – anything but intentional deception himself.
And most Americans, for a long time, agreed. Didn't we all grow up with the story of 6-year-old George Washington's refusal to tell a lie after he butchered his father's cherry tree? Presidents are honorable men! They do not lie!
Now, of course, the great majority of Americans believe Bush lied us into the Iraq invasion, and his administration – indeed, the entire Republican Party – is so steeped in corruption and mendacity that it's hard to keep up with the mounting absurdity. And "absurdity" is the right word. Much of the lying, such as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' testimony before Congress, is so flamboyant it takes the breath away.
Whether talking about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys or secret eavesdropping programs, Pinocchio Gonzo has contradicted himself and the testimony of other government officials. When he can't produce lame rationalization, he claims not to remember events. Meanwhile, former White House officials – Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten – refused even to comply with congressional subpoenas, absurdly claiming executive privilege.
In a hearing last week about the cover-up of Pat Tillman's friendly fire death, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials also suffered amnesia or sudden Alzheimer's. Nobody could remember anything about the fictionalization of Tillman's death.
In the same hearing, one congressman asked why the Bush administration has forbidden media to photograph the caskets of dead soldiers. Despite a Pentagon memo ordering the policy, everyone present claimed not to know of such a rule or they weren't sure why or ... whatever.
The most disgusting recent lies have been told by President Bush regarding the plan to expand funding and coverage of the State Children's Health Insurance Program to millions more uninsured children. Despite broad bipartisan support and adoption of the plan by Congress, Bush was still threatening at this writing to veto the bill.
As Paul Krugman explained, Bush claims an "ideological difference," averring – like the insurance companies that have advertised against the change – that it will put more people on government Medicare. That's because some funding of the expansion would derive from a proposed cutback in subsidies to insurance companies that offer plans competing with Medicare. If the insurance companies lose their subsidies, they will have to lower prices to remain competitive, meaning health-care costs overall would decrease.
Thus, Bush feels just fine unnecessarily subsidizing insurance companies with taxpayer dollars but not the health care of children. And he lies about the reasons. Never mind that nine of 10 Americans approve of the expansion of SCHIP.
One has to wonder how the administration still gets away with so much obvious lying. Even more mysterious, why won't Bush simply fire Gonzales instead of continuing to support the embarrassingly incompetent liar?
I think I already answered the first question: It's almost impossible to keep up with the mendacity. I'm a news junkie, and I can't keep up. It's not as if you can pick up a newspaper or turn on the television and get the truth. The press continues to perform as stenographers for the administration, repeating its claims without sufficient questioning. So the average American, although he disfavors Bush, remains clueless about the extent of the lying. The administration knows this.
But why not can Gonzales, given his ludicrous stonewalling? Why not acknowledge mistakes and atone by sacrificing Gonzo? The reason is simple. The moment he is gone, the administration loses its protective mouthpiece. As Salon.com columnist Sidney Blumenthal writes: "Bush could not nominate a replacement without responding to the Senate Judiciary Committee's inevitable request for information on every matter that he has attempted to keep secret." That would lay bare such decisions as authorizing torture and the dismissal of U.S. attorneys. Since most of this documentation would come from the Justice Department, Bush could not claim executive privilege.
It would also likely reveal the actual authors of decisions that have trampled the Constitution. In other words, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, as well as Bush, would almost certainly be convicted by their own words. In the meantime, the babbling Gonzo, like the lying Libby, provides the cover of white noise.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.
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