A National Culture of Lies
You know, it seems to me our politicians have been getting progressively worse the past decade or so. There’s a pervasive belief that if I, as a politician, loudly declare something to be “truth,” then it IS the “truth,” no matter what reality happens to be at the time. Sort of an “Emperor’s New Clothing” theory run amok.
I know, I know, this isn’t a new problem. It probably dates back to the caveman days. But it seems to be getting worse…
In modern times, I suppose you could say this trend started with former United States President Richard M. Nixon, who loudly declared “I am not a crook.” Turns out he was.
Things quieted down for a decade or two. Then former U.S. President Bill Clinton loudly declared that he “did not have sex with that woman.” Turns out he did (though it depends on what your definition of “is” is).
But in the George W. Bush administration, this particular brand of inane braggadocio has gone to new levels. It seems a day can’t go by without some top-level official making some fairly absurd claim in public, then digging his heels in and refusing to budge.
When I was a wee lad back on the farm in Iowa I was completely entranced when I saw my first speed bump in town. I was five years old. The school bus took all us farm kids to the local high school in town, where we transferred to buses that went to whatever grade school we attended (there were four in town). In the high school parking lot, right there by the bus line, were two speed bumps.
I couldn’t imagine what they were for. Why were there two asphalt lumps right there in the middle of the parking lot where everyone had to drive over them? It made no sense to me whatsoever. The entire morning at kindergarten I wondered and worried over those two big bumps in the road. Maybe some trees fell there when they made the parking lot and they just left them there? Or maybe they were really tunnels under the parking lot… No, that didn’t make sense.
Finally it came to me in a flash when we went past them on the way home that afternoon – they were RAMPS! They were bicycle ramps – they had to be! Boy, I could picture myself, pedaling as fast as my little five-year-old legs could take me on my little blue bicycle, then WHOOSH I’d hit that bump in the parking lot and WHEEE I’d go flying!
I dreamt about it all the way home on the bus (a good hour, almost). I bet they put those bumps there because they’re gonna have some special class, probably tomorrow even, when we get to bring our bikes to school and they’re gonna teach us how to do wheelies like the big kids do! I bet they even have some loop-de-loop tracks like my Hot Wheels set! We’ll all learn how to do tricks just like Evel Knievel! I bet that’s what the teacher was talking about today when I was staring out the window. Tomorrow we’re gonna have all sorts of fun! I wonder if Mom and Dad will let me ride my bike to school (it’s only 10 miles or so) or if they’ll put it in the back of the station wagon and drop it off at the school…?
I thought about it all through chore-time. I dreamt about it through supper. After we ate, I went outside and practiced on my bike so I would be prepared for the big day tomorrow. This is gonna be fun! I rode around and around the house, pretending there were speed bumps there that would make me fly. Do you think it would help if I wore a Superman cape? Maybe that would give me more lift…
That night when Mom was happily tucking me into bed, she went through the traditional “what did you do at school today” question and answer period. I told her all about the upcoming event. In great detail I outlined exactly what was planned – that the school was putting on a special program for us in the high school parking lot and we all had to take our bikes and we were going to learn how to do jumps and wheelies and there wasn’t going to be any dumb old regular kindergarten that day and we maybe we would even do loop-de-loops and maybe there’d be a parade… Then, halfway through describing how Mom was probably going to have to pick me up after school with the station wagon ’cause I’d be WAY too tired by then to ride the ten miles home, I realized that none of this was true. Not one stitch.
I’d made it all up. I made it up simply because it sounded fun. It was so logical to me that it just HAD to be true. But you know, maybe if I keep talking… Maybe if I make it sound SO good… Maybe Mom will believe me, and maybe it will all come true after all… So I kept on going. I kept talking. I said how the teacher was going to give us special awards if we were real good. I told how I was going to go faster than the other kids because I had a blue bike and blue bikes are faster than red bikes. But with every sentence I said, I knew to the bottom of my heart, that Mom knew I was lying. But I just couldn’t stop.
When do we tell the Bush administration that sometimes a speed bump is really a speed bump?
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, being the highest law enforcement officer in the United States, is ultimately responsible for what goes on in the ranks under him, but is steadfastly, willfully denying any responsibility. Mr. Gonzales attended meetings where it was decided to fire eight U.S. District Attorneys for not being “Bushy” enough for the administration’s taste. Yet, Mr. Gonzales stood in front of Congress last week and said over a hundred times that he could not remember anything about the incident or the meeting. Democrat and Republican lawmakers alike are calling for Mr. Gonzales to step down due to incompetence, yet Mr. Gonzales refuses to budge, and Mr. Bush praises his “honesty.”
You see, Mr. Bush and Mr. Gonzales, with the backing of advisor Karl Rove, have decided that it would be inconvenient for the unpopular president to have go through the confirmation hearings needed if Mr. Gonzales were to step aside. Mr. Bush is pretty happy with the way his old friend Mr. Gonzales interpreted the Geneva Conventions, and knows that a Democratically controlled congress wouldn’t easily approve another of Mr. Bush’s “old friends” to the post – they’d demand a qualified individual who doesn’t have an ideological axe to grind. So, Mr. Bush, Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Rove are spinning yarns. “I don’t recall,” was Mr. Gonzales’ answer to over a hundred questions asked him by Congress. He’s hoping that if he says it often enough, loud enough, it will start to become “truth” and he won’t have to answer deeper questions.
It’s wheelie time in the delusion.
I heard on the radio today that Social Security will run out in 2041. They cited several experts (actual trustees of the Social Security account) who all agreed. Yup, 2041 the money’s all gone, and we should probably do something about it. Then they quoted President Bush, who said Social Security is doing fine and there’s no problem at all, and he’s not going to do anything about it. This is sheer wishful thinking on the administration’s part. Mr. Bush wants to believe that there’s no problem, so he states loudly that there is no problem and hopes that the lie will eventually be believed. (This worries me. I’ll be 73 years old in 2041, enjoying my first year of retirement. I’m a-gonna need a bit of that cash, I’m afraid.)
Mr. Bush and his administration are currently asking Congress to give them more money to run the war in Iraq. They intimate if Congress doesn’t give them the money, the Democratic members of Congress will be responsible for “losing” the war. They say this loudly and often, and they want you to believe this for good reason. They don’t want you to know they’re paying at least 40,000 Blackwater mercenary soldiers $30,000 per month to fight in Iraq, while simultaneously cutting back on our soldiers’ military benefits. The average private in the Army makes between $1,300 and $1,500 a month. That means the Bush administration values Blackwater troops 20 times more than it values American troops. (Why doesn’t your son have body armor? It may be because the Bush administration is paying mercenaries so well they can’t afford to take care of our own troops.) Who is Blackwater USA? A private company owned by a man who reportedly donated a substantial chunk of change to the Bush campaign.
So, the Bush administration is paying mercenaries (“private contractors” in the administration’s parlance) 15 to 20 times what it pays our soldiers, but is loudly blaming the Democrats for not supporting our troops?
It’s wheelie time again. The administration simply cannot give Blackwater and Halliburton outlandish contracts and expect us not to notice. But they seem to think they can, if they brazen their way through.
Why do Bush and Company feel they can simply shout random statements at us and have us believe them? Well, because they’ve done it before, and it worked.
In the fall of 2000 presidential candidate Al Gore won the popular vote, but the Electoral College vote came down to a very few counties in Florida. The Bush campaign simply stood on a hill and hollered that they’d won, and eventually people came to believe them.
President Bush wanted to invade Iraq following the terrorist bombings of 9-11, ostensibly to bring democracy to the Middle East, so he and his administration loudly and often proclaimed that Iraq was supporting al-Queada (there turned out to be no connection), there were weapons of mass destruction aimed at Israel (there weren’t), that the Iraqi people would forever praise us for liberating them from the oppressive regime that was in power (they didn’t), and that the war would pay for itself in oil revenue (it didn’t). The Bush administration hammered these thing into the American psyche for months and months, until they came to be believed, and we went to war.
Following the elections of 2000 and the run-up to the war in Iraq, who can blame the Bush administration for believing they can get away with lying to us?
But when I told my whopper of a lie I was promptly informed that lying is NOT tolerated. When do we hold our politicians up to the same standards I learned at the tender age of five?
(I’m gonna cross-post this on the Woodbury Democrat’s blog.)