The Pinocchio Presidency

The following column was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on January 28, 2008. Thanks to my Mom, Karen Moreland for giving me the idea for this piece. 

Last Tuesday my local paper, The San Jose Mercury News, published on page 15 a story with the following headline: “Study: False statements preceded war.” The short article told about a study by the Center for Public Integrity that chronicled 935 false statements made by President Bush and seven top administration officials during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. 532 of the false statements exaggerated the threat posed by the Saddam Hussein regime by claiming the existence of weapons of mass destruction or by affirming a link between Iraq and Al Qaida, even after such ideas had been discredited.

The report provides numerical support for what long has been known: George Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan would all have long noses if they were magic marionettes.

It is a funny time to be an adult in America. Everyone who can vote can remember a time when a fib denying oral sex with a Whitehouse intern got a president impeached. A lot seems to have changed in the ten years since Monica Lewinski became a household name. Now it seems that a President and his advisors have, through false and misleading statements, lead a nation to war without having to face much in the way of personal accountability. Politicians lack the political will to confront the Bush administration’s pattern of deceit, and the American street is equally apathetic. Even in Northern California where the current administration is far from popular, the story of Bushite deceit was buried in the back of the morning paper.

I suspect the general American disinterest in confronting the pattern of falsehood propagated by the Bush Administration may stem from a lack of desire on the part of Americans—both politicians and private citizens—to own up to the ways in which We the People participated in the deceptions.

The uncomfortable truth is that, for as long as the Bush Administration has twisted and spun the truth in support of the war, savvy analysts, journalists, and talking heads have been vigilant about setting the record straight. But too few Americans listened to the voices of dissent. Instead, we wrapped ourselves in American flags and questioned the patriotism of those who questioned the wisdom of war.

And remember when the French government was unconvinced by the Bush team’s justifications for going to war and didn’t join the “Coalition of the Willing?” We smashed bottles of Chateauneuf de Pape  and we started eating “Freedom Fries.” Turns out the French were right after all and we were wrong.

Sacré bleu, that bites.

The American people have been complicit in the Bush Administration’s infidelity to what is real, true, and good. We have not demanded honesty from our president. We have not listened to the voices of dissent among us, people whose wisdom could have kept America honest.

But we can change and we should.

Eight years of dishonesty have crippled our nation and have cost us dearly. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of US service persons have lost their lives. The American economy is at a breaking point as untold billions of dollars flow into Mesopotamia. It is long past time for us to come to a reckoning, to acknowledge the deception that has claimed the American soul and to restore that soul to a state of greater grace.

14 thoughts on “The Pinocchio Presidency

  1. It sounds like you doubt the truthfulness of the President and his Administration. If he had lied to us, we would have impeached him. Give him credit; he kept his zipper up!

  2. Well, tonight he tells us the state of the nation. If he were to give a speech and nobody were to listen, would he still be lying?
    John

  3. Nice commentary!
    I too doubt the truthfulness of the President and the Administration
    “W” gets all the credit for the awful state of affairs we are experiencing in the world and the US.
    I have seen nothing good come out of Washington in seven years and the “do nothing” party shares the blame too.
    I have written both senators and my congressman long ago to seek impeachment. I never got a reply from any of the three. Many others that have asked for impeachment too… the apathy is in Washington. Perhaps we are so beaten down that our attitude is “oh well it’s just one more year”.
    Harry

  4. The problem is in everyone, and it started a long long time ago. We are all looking for some place to put blame, to take sides, or to feel safe and secure in ourselves. There is no such place. So what if there was, what are we going to do about all the problems now, today, this minute!?!

    and I agree with harry too.

  5. Good one.

    Some of my friends and I were talking earlier this week and one of them brought up the point that he chooses to actively criticize the president now because he wants to tell his children someday that he did something in the face of injustice, that he didn’t turn his face from what was happening.

    I myself often feel as though I hide behind my status as a student rather than acting. I wonder how I can be a more active dissenter, or at least a more productive one. How might I be a voice crying in the wilderness?

  6. Thank you all for your posts!

    John, I don’t know who was listing to the SOTU address this year, but I forgot to tune it. I suspect History Herself wasn’t listening to any lies that may have told. By the way what is the sound of one Shrub lying?

    Harry, I was once in Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s office and I asked her face to face why no one was holding the president accountable for his dishonesty. Her response: “this president may be the worst president in the history of the nation, but if he were to murder Laura on Pennsylvania Avenue, no one would impeach him.” I’m not entirely sure what she meant, but it felt like giving up.

    Dad, I’m glad you agree that the blame for the deceit is to be shared by a lot of America.

    Sarah, I also have worried about being able to talk to my kids about this period of history. I’m proud that my parents opposed the war in Viet Nam and supported civil rights when I was the age my children are now. My father (the John of four posts up) may be able to say more about how good it must feel to have been on the right side of those issues in the presence of younger generations, but I am grateful to have been taught by wise parents (note the beginning of the column–my mom still teaches me!) and I really want my children to be able to say the same thing.

    Ben

  7. Well written. It is hard to be an American in these times of untruth, an unjustice war and general lack of concern regarading government action.

  8. Dear Ben,
    Your friend Ron Garton passes on some of your posts to me and I am always appreciative of the things you write about and what you say. I’m so glad that you are willing and able to express your views–especially since they are so out of the mainstream and since I agree with them!
    I must say, however, that even though we owe a huge debt to the media for all of their exposure of things that aren’t right, in the case of going to war in Iraq they listened to those seven voices in the Bush Administration, gave them all the platform they needed to be heard, and basically were complicit in the push. On the other hand, many have since acknowledged their complicity and in the mode of honesty to which they subscribe declared that they were sucked in.
    Thanks for keeping us thinking.
    Connie

  9. Connie,

    You make a good point. While some media did a good job, Most of the mainstream media outlets did not. Thanks for reminding us.

    Best,

    Ben

  10. We still have yet to figure out how to get Bill’s comments to post correctly, so I’ve copied an email from Bill below:

    If a dissenting voice may speak out, it seems to me that to pillory the current administration yet again is to miss or omit the far larger and more serious strategic question:

    Should the nation unilaterally project its military strength elsewhere in the world, and if so, when and how? Except for the lunatic left and the lunatic right (pacifism at all costs on the left; isolationism at all costs on the right), thoughtful people across the political spectrum should think about this question long and hard.

    The Bush administration is hardly the first in recent times to have proactively flexed military power. Clinton sent troops and ordered bombing runs in the Balkans. It is generally conceded that the action prevented further genocide. But in fact, every president since Gerald Ford has done so.

    The Iraq situation has not turned out well, though militarily it persuasively can be argued that the tide is turning. (The case can be made that the Iraq incursion was handled incompetently from the start. I happen absolutely to believe it was. But that is another discussion).

    As to the rightness of the cause in going in, it seems to me that honest critics must honestly attempt to avoid 20-20 hindsight in making their cases. Bluntly, every major intelligence service on the planet thought Saddam had WMD; indeed, he had used poison gas on both Iranians and his own citizens (after his capture, and when interrogated, Saddam referred to gassing the Kurds as, “Necessary.”). And, significantly in the lead-up to invasion he consistently acted as though he had WMD.

    Further: The deaths of Iraqi civilians notwithstanding (and most of those have been at the hands of other Iraqis; sectarian violence is pandemic in the Mideast), the thoughtful critic might also ask whether the world would be a better place had Saddam’s regime been allowed to continue. Given the evidence of widespread rape, torture and murder at the hands of the regime, up to and including Saddam’s despicable sons, one of whom was so viciously sociopathic that even Saddam couldn’t stand his presence, I suspect the world is a better place for Saddam’s removal from it. For all the media coverage from Iraq, I truly wish the discovery of the regime’s mass graves filled with thousands of men, women and children had been given rather more prominence.

    But bottom line, the huge strategic question remains: should this nation project its military power, when, and how. That is a debate I would love to witness.

    All best,

    Bill

  11. And here’s my reply…

    I think it’s revisionist history to say that “every major intelligence agency on the planet believed Saddam had WMD.” The intelligence used to justify our invasion of Iraq came from lots of international sources and from various intelligence agencies, the record shows that the Bush Administration cherry picked bits of intelligence and used them to justify the war without subjecting them to the kind of critical analysis that was necessary to insure the data were good.

    But that’s sort of beside the point.

    The Center for Public Integrity’s study shows that the pattern of Bushite deceit lasted even after the data used to justify the war were clearly and publicly discredited. Honestly, I don’t see how that’s not a problem.

    I agree that we need to have an honest discussion in our nation about when and how our military force should be used, but I don’t quite get how anyone could justify the use of deception to drum up public support for any use of the American military.

    Ben

  12. More from Bill:

    I certainly don’t advocate the use of deception to drum up US military intervention anywhere. But that said, neither do I put any inordinate credence in a study by a left-wing outfit such as the one cited, whose recitation of falsehoods amounts to counting the trees when confronted by the forest. The fact is, due to the incompetence in handling the who Iraq matter from the start, we aren’t likely ever to know whether there were WMD, because there certainly was ample time to hide such or get them into the Syrian desert.

    My main point remains: it is time for a strategic discussion on the projection of US military power.

    Bill

  13. And my reply to Bill’s latest:

    I’ll agree that such a conversation is merited.

    As to the validity of the study cited, I agree that the center for public integrity may be a progressive outfit, but the calendar and the public record are neutral.

    Ben

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