Tell the big lie and stick to it
I tried. I really tried. I had the very best of intentions. But, alas, 15 minutes into the State of the Union address and I had no choice but to turn to the Wake Forest-Miami game. What’s left of my sanity was at stake.
This time would be different, I swore to myself. I had a plan that would force me to watch it in its entirety. I got out my legal pad and lined it off into four columns: Lies, Distortions, Half Truths and Unfulfillable Promises. I even taped the thing so that I could go back and verify that I had each statement in the proper column.
It only took a few moments for me to start screaming at the TV. Beforehand Janet had made me promise not to start swearing, so most of my epithets were along the lines of ‘“Liar!’” ‘“That’s a lie!’” and ‘“Sit down, you ass-kissers!’” She finally came into the den and, in her calm and reasoned manner, asked simply, ‘“Why do you do this to yourself?’” By that point my scorecard read: Lies 5, Distortions 2, Half Truths 3, Unfulfillable Promises 1.
Of course, that last column would rise dramatically as the speech wore on, as I had long since turned away by the time he got to the part about reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil by 75 percent by the year 2025. The next day Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman stated for the record that Bush’s comments were ‘“not to be taken literally’” and clarified that the president was speaking hypothetically. Thanks for clearing that up.
Yet, that one statement does speak volumes about this administration, doesn’t it? Hypothetical WMD, hypothetical court orders before wiretapping, hypothetical tax cuts for the middle class, hypothetical no child left behind.
I should have added a fifth column.
Early on, I figured out how to tell when Bush was lying ‘… er, excuse me, speaking hypothetically. No, I’m not going to trot out the punchline, ‘“His lips are moving,’” again. I’m serious. Just as Nixon’s upper lip would start to perspire as he launched into a big, fat whopper, Bush has a tell-tale sign that gives him away every time: He starts to over-pronounce words. As if he’s addressing a third-grade class, he’ll lean over slightly and say something like ‘“plu-ton-i-um’” or ‘“Af-ghan-is-tan’” or ‘“nuc-u-lar.’” It’s so condescending that he’ll even over-enunciate simple words ‘— even to him ‘— like ‘“court-or-der’” and ‘“wire-tap-ping’” and ‘“De-Lay.’”
I haven’t heard him say ‘“Ab-ra-moff’” yet but that day is coming.
In fairness, Bush is not the first politician to play fast and loose with the truth; after years of grooming by the master, Karl Rove, he’s just gotten very good at it. Yet in raising it to an art form he has exposed a serious flaw in not only our government but the overall society. If a politico can Tell The Big Lie and Stick To It, odds are good that he will get away with it. Tell it often enough and with enough conviction, enough people will buy it that you’ll get out unscathed. We have become so inured to the BS coming out of Washington and elsewhere that we barely give it a second thought.
But the problem is not just that we let them get away with it but that we’ve come to expect it. The system is so corrupt that we just shrug and go on about our business. The bar for political ethics is so low that our leaders can make hypothetical statements and nary an eyebrow is raised. We only hold them to account when the evidence is so overwhelming and irrefutable that they can no longer run their con. They are crooks because we allow them to be crooks.
As proof that it’s a societal problem, witness this James Frey pseudo-crackhead joker. He tells plausible truth and conceivable truth and embellished truth, and even after he’s exposed as a fraud, his book sales continue to rise. He became a liar because we allowed him to be a liar.
Sometimes I get in those dark emotional places where it seems that I am the only one who sees through Bush’s lies, Congress’s lies, the business world’s lies, society’s lies. I feel like Diogenes searching for an honest man. Mercifully, those times pass quickly, and I realize that there are more than a few voices in the wilderness. There are millions of Americans like me who expect more from their leaders than hypothetical truth. But until we take a cue from Paddy Chayefsky’s Network and collectively scream, ‘“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!’” we’ll merely be a bunch of disconnected malcontents screaming ‘“Liar’” at the TV screen every time W opens his mouth.
Ogi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, heard each Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. on ‘“The Dusty Dunn Show’” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on ‘“Triad Today’” Friday at 6:30 a.m. on ABC45 and Sunday at 10 p.m. on UPN48.