Bush Administration / Iraq / Katrina / Lies


March 10, 2006

Like the scene in the “Wizard of Oz” where Toto reveals that the “great and all powerful Oz” is a fraud, the Bush administration is similarly exposed by the pre-Katrina video of FEMA warning President Bush that a breach of New Orleans’ levees was “a very, very grave concern” — four days before he and Secretary Chertoff claimed nobody anticipated such an event. Even though the president’s job approval and favorability ratings have reached new lows and 64 percent of Americans already believe that the Bush administration “generally misleads the public on current issues to achieve their own ends,” this video could be the proverbial last straw that cements the public’s view of the Bush administration as fundamentally dishonest.

The threshold question raised by this revelation is “so what?” As publisher of BushLies.net, the Bush supporters I encounter rarely attempt to refute these claims of dishonesty but instead — when they are not otherwise telling me to “read the Bible” or “move to France” — dismiss them as irrelevant since Bill Clinton and other presidents have lied. While all presidents may have been guilty of “terminological inexactitudes” of various degrees, former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean contends that the Bush administration is the first to elevate mendacity to the level of public policy.

The Bush administration’s lies matter because they distort the democratic process by preventing Congress and the people from evaluating critical issues on the merits. As Congressional scholar Thomas Mann notes, “(w)hat’s striking is the extent of (manipulation) in this administration (as their) most ambitious and fundamental proposals have been cloaked in language that is designed to mislead.” In doing so, they have systematically undermined the principle of majority rule by using deception to advance policies that would not otherwise have majority support.

So what should we do in light of this latest revelation? While discussion of impeachment is academic as long as the Republicans control Congress, the Katrina videotape should spur Congress, the media and the public to reevaluate some of the principal Bush policies advanced by deception — with Iraq being the starting point.

The Bush administration has lied about all aspects of the Iraq war while attempting to stifle debate by stressing that we should simply “support our troops.” Supporting our troops now has a different ring in light of the recent Zogby poll, indicating that more than 70 percent of those serving in Iraq think we should leave within a year. We cannot undue the war or its damage, but we can and must fully evaluate potential exit strategies to permit a proper exit to this debacle.

We also must reevaluate the administration’s policy of indefinite detention at Guantanamo bay. The White House characterizes those held at “Gitmo” as being “dangerous enemy combatants (who) were picked up on the battlefield, fighting American forces,” but a recent National Journal study found that a majority were not captured on any battlefield at all and less than 20 percent were ever members of Al Qaeda. The Bush administration should be compelled to release all but those it can demonstrate are either prisoners of war or enemy combatants and all remaining prisoners should be treated consistent with the Geneva Convention.

Bush’s Medicare prescription drug plan would not have passed the House by a mere five votes but for the fact that the administration falsely claimed that the program would only cost $400 billion when it knew it would cost 25 percent more — and threatened to fire Medicare’s Chief Actuary if he disclosed this to Congress. Given the costs involved and the program’s disastrous start, Congress should go back to square one and rewrite the law based on legitimate estimates and in a way that actually benefits seniors and not just HMO’s and pharmaceutical companies.

Finally, serious lies must have serious consequences. It does not seem right that a person can get a mandatory five-year sentence for possessing five grams of crack, but those whose lies lead to the death or wounding of nearly 20,000 Americans get a federal pension and a fat book deal. It should be a federal offense with the same penalties as treason to knowingly provide or conspire to provide false or misleading information relating to any Congressional vote authorizing the use of force. Our sons and daughters should not be put in harm’s way based on anything but the truth.

By exposing the Bush administration’s dishonesty, the Katrina videotape instructs us to abandon the yellow brick road and reconsider all of the errors that have been made based on the Bush administration’s reign of deception. This is an opportunity to be seized by Republicans and Democrats alike, since, in the words of an African proverb, an error does not become a mistake until we fail to correct it.