The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception
A friend met Ann Coulter at a party. Naturally, she was flapping
"All rich people are liberals," she said. "That's why they favor
all those expensive programs for the poor --- they're not the ones
who have to pay."
My friend is a liberal. Whip-smart. And very accomplished: There
are 19 pages of Google entries about him.
"What about Texas?" he asked. "I can think of any number of rich
people in Texas who are Repub ---"
Coulter, who likes to claim that only liberals interrupt,
interrupted the liberal.
"There are no rich people in Texas," she said. "Not really."
In fact, the most recent Forbes list of the 400 richest
Americans includes 36 Texans. At least one of them --- Michael Dell
--- has been supporting George W. Bush since he was Governor of
Texas. He's #10 on the list, with $13 billion. I'd call him
Assuming my friend didn't make this encounter up --- and we must
consider the possibility that he did, because Ann Coulter tells us
that all liberals are traitors and thus capable of anything --- we
must ask why Coulter would say something so obviously wrong. Is she
stupid? Not likely. Crazy? Many suspect there is indeed
something…off about her. Or is it perhaps that she is so used
to saying any damn thing that comes into her head --- and getting
away with it --- that the line between truth and falsehood no
longer exists for her?
I go on at such length about Ann Coulter because I think she is the
poster child for the intellectual level of Republican political
discourse. Like Coulter, the Bush Administration has a stunningly
high opinion of itself. And, like Coulter, the Bush Administration
fudges and dissembles and prevaricates and, when all else falls,
flat-out lies. And not just every once in a while. Like Coulter,
the Administration dispenses untruth on a regular schedule, so its
critics --- or, for that matter, people who simply care about the
truth --- are always a day and a lie behind.
I do not say this with the alleged "gotcha" joy that the Right
likes to ascribe to "the media." I do not --- repeat: NOT --- say
this as a so-called "liberal." For the record, I am keenly aware
that all Presidents lie. And I am painfully aware that Bill Clinton
was a liar (though if you don't check your brains at the door, you
might note a small difference between a lie about private behavior
that endangers no one and a lie about weapons of mass destruction
that leads to the loss of untold lives and the expenditure of
hundreds of billions of dollars.)
BILL CLINTON LIED. Got that? Now may we consider the merits of the
case against George Bush and his cronies?
Radical notion coming: The specific lies (and there are plenty)
don't matter. Not even the litany of lies matters. What matters is
that this Administration has --- deliberately, I believe --- set us
shouting at one another while a tiny group of insiders gets rich
and some policy-makers with imperial longings assert themselves
without much challenge and faith-based domestic groups glom onto
whatever money is left for social programs.
In other words: A sweeping right-wing agenda that the majority of
voters did not endorse is being enacted while we squabble at one
another like the fools on cable news shows. And as we gorge
ourselves at the media circus, we seem not to notice that our
thinking is falling into predictable patterns --- for or against.
Meanwhile, in the background, the White House and its minions
repeat a daily mantra that makes it ever-so-easy to be "for"
whatever it wants: Those who oppose us hate our freedom. We know
how to fix this. Go shopping. Trust us.
THE LIES OF GEORGE W. BUSH is a depressing book precisely because
it's dull. It's not like the books by Coulter and O'Reilly and
Moore and Franken --- it's closely argued, intensely factual, light
on invective. (It lacks footnotes. Bad.)
Remember the campaign against John McCain, then the front-runner,
in South Carolina? Dirty stuff. Not directly organized by the
candidate, of course --- but who benefited from the smears against
McCain? And Bush did speak at that state's Bob Jones University,
the school so "Christian" it forbids interracial dating. Why? "To
give me a chance to speak out on interracial dating," Bush said.
The problem is, he did nothing of the kind at Bob Jones --- he
waited until he had left the school. And if a reporter had failed
to ask, would we ever know his views?
And that butterfly ballot? James Baker, Bush's man in Florida,
assured reporters that this kind of ballot had been used before.
Yes, it had. Fourteen years before. In a yes/no constitutional
Drilling for oil in Alaska won't hurt the environment. Hey, it's
just 2,000 acres, says Dick Cheney --- "less than one-fifth the
size of Dulles Airport." How did he arrive at so small a figure?
Don't measure a pipeline. Count only the stanchions that hold it up
--- which is like measuring a car by measuring the part of the tire
that meets the road.
Global warming: Did you know Bush wants better, more authoritative
science? Stem cells: Ooops, the President's figures on available
lines were "double-checked" --- but still wrong. Ken Lay: Turns out
Bush knew the Enron crew a bit earlier than he recalled. Wall
Street reform: If Bush was for it, why did he submit a funding
request for the SEC that, a SEC spokesman said, "doesn't allow for
a lot of new initiatives"? And 9/11: The White House is
stonewalling the investigative commission so successfully we won't
have a better idea what really happened until after the '04
I'll spare you the discussion of Afghanistan and Iraq. If you
believe we're making "progress" there, you'll think Corn's one of
those liberals who wants to see us "lose." If not, this book will
end on a deeply dispiriting note --- because here we are in the
Orwellian world of the "big lie," endlessly repeated until few have
the strength or courage to disagree.
At some point, and it may be decades from now, Americans are going
to look back at the Bush years. They will, I think, wonder why it
was so important to this Administration to have the nation, in the
words of The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, "staggering,
slack-jawed, in the same direction." THE LIES OF GEORGE W. BUSH
will, sadly, help them connect the dots.
When I was asked to review a book titled THE LIES OF GEORGE W.
BUSH, my initial reaction was that it would be easy. I assumed it
was one of those gag books with a trick title, like THE POLITICAL
WISDOM OF BARBRA STREISAND or THE BOOK OF VIRTUE by William J.
Clinton, and 300 blank, bound pages. So my plan was to discuss
briefly the merits of this book as a Christmas gift and move on to
something more important.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered that THE LIES OF GEORGE W.
BUSH actually had words and chapters --- the whole nine yards.
Well, not the whole nine yards. There aren't a lot of footnotes or
attention paid to sources. I mean, someone might actually go and
look some of this stuff up. So I thought that maybe the initial
print run had fallen victim to error and that the title was
supposed to be THE LIES ABOUT GEORGE W. BUSH. That easily could
have been the title, but it's not. I should have known better,
since the book is only 337 pages long.
Things became clear pretty quickly. The book is written by David
Corn. You may not be familiar with Corn, since he is not possessed
of the unwashed flamboyance of Michael Moore nor does he pick
fights at Press Corps dinners in the pugnacious manner of Al
Franken. No, Corn is of a more intellectual bent. He is the
Washington editor of The Nation, a magazine that, under the
protection of freedom of speech, has been the little French poodle
of American politics --- and proudly so --- since 1865. It yips
around at grownup heels and, though one is sometimes tempted to
stomp it down, it's ultimately not worth the energy as it is easier
to ignore. Corn is also a regular contributor to Fox News Channel
as one of their many reliable lefties (see, FNC really is fair and
balanced!) and has a little cottage industry going that is
predicated on the proposition that George W. Bush is a compulsive
Corn is what is known as a Bush-hater. Gee, that Bush. He's such an
intellectual lightweight and such a liar.
Bush said he was going to change the tone of politics and be a
uniter, not a divider. Corn believes that he lied about that. Well,
gee … I, for one, notice a big difference. We don't have
White House advisors turning up dead in parks, meetings start on
time, and we haven't had any Cabinet members killed in suspicious
plane crashes. Diversity? Bush has had Bono in for tea a couple of
times and actually took the guy seriously. He even has had Jesse
Jackson over and listened to him! And not one of them had to wait
because the commander-in-chief was checking to see if his intern's
carpet matched the curtains. There haven't been any children
kidnapped out of their beds (or, in the case of Waco,
machine-gunned out of their beds) by government agents.
Corn's big rub, apparently, is that Bush nominated John Ashcroft
instead of another Xena Warrior Princess for Attorney General
without letting the radical left weigh in or asking, "Mother, may
I?" That means Bush isn't a uniter and therefore is a liar. His
argument somewhat reminds me of the time my son, who was 12 at the
time, accused me of not loving him because I wouldn't let him drive
a car. Uniting, in the lexicon of the left, apparently means "Do it
Then of course, there is the 2000 Presidential Election. Corn says
Bush lied when he said that everyone's vote had been counted twice.
David Corn. Dude. A ballot isn't counted if it's invalid. This is
where the Democratic voting effort breaks down. You can bus your
voters to the polls, you can get them drunk on the way, and pay
them $20 for their troubles, but if you haven't taught them how to
properly complete a ballot (that Democrats designed, by the way)
you have no one to blame but yourselves. Aim your campaign strategy
a little higher next time. When conservatives lose an election, you
don't hear them complaining that their constituency was too stupid
to properly vote. Get over it.
Corn then moves on to Iraq. Everyone knows Saddam has weapons of
mass destruction. Saddam even admitted to having them and
threatened to use them if they were invaded. They haven't been
found yet, so according to Corn, Bush was lying about them. It's
unfortunate that Saddam didn't put up a neon sign advertising their
location. He didn't, so we need to do this slowly and methodically
to avoid setting off booby traps. According to Corn, Bush was also
lying about Saddam's ties to Al-Queda. You bet! Those terrorist
training camps in the northern part of Iraq? Saddam couldn't have
known about those! The standing offer to pay $35,000 to the
families of successful suicide bombers? That must have been a
simple act of charity. But that's not a link to Al-Queda. So Bush,
alas, is a liar.
It goes on. And on. The Bush quotes in question are in boldface and
Corn's commentary follows each one, with more whines than one could
find on a tour of the Napa Valley. However there is some humor,
though unintentional. In his Afterword, Corn relates a heartwarming
tale concerning his older daughter, who apparently asked him if he
was writing a "real" as opposed to a "pretend" story. He assured
her that it was "real." I'm sure it is to him. The bottom line
though is that THE LIES OF GEORGE W. BUSH is full of Corn, but
without a kernel of Truth.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011