Follow up three --
Lying is Good!
So just who really is "The Man from Hope" these days?
Tim Noah started a bit of a controversy in the opinion pages this
week when he raised an interesting question - Can Bush Be Both Ignorant and a Liar? Noah's "Chatterbox"
column was, in full, "Can Bush Be Both Ignorant and a Liar? Yes. There's no reason for Bush-bashers to choose between
the two." Timothy Noah, June 23, 2003, SLATE.COM
The key question? Can a false statement be a lie if the speaker
is unaware it is a lie? I suppose that depends on what the meaning of "is" is. Huh?
Bush claimed he knew Saddam Hussein to possess large quantities
of nuclear and biological weapons. Bush claimed that his tax cut would provide tax relief for everyone who pays income
taxes. Neither seems to be true at all. So, are these deliberate lies?
Noah posits that Bush might not be lying - "Why is the
speaker unaware that his statement is a lie? In Bush's case, the answer is painfully obvious. It's because Bush is a
functionally not-bright man.... it's impossible to tell - and, ultimately, of little interest -whether Bush lacks the necessary
mental equipment, or whether he's simply incurious. The end result is the same. Even Bush's allies concede
that Bush is strikingly ignorant. In the July Vanity Fair, Sam Tanenhaus quoted Richard Perle as saying
that when he first met Bush, it was 'clear' that 'he didn't know very much.'"
Noah's conclusion? He's dumb, and he lies. Tim doesn't like that.
I would argue that what is most appealing about Bush, his steadfast
certainty that so reassures most people, leads Bush to say what he wants to be true. It's a kind of appealing innocence.
Bush did say in Poland some weeks after the war ended,
We've found the weapons of mass destruction. You know, we
found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world and he said Iraq has got
laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They're illegal. They're against the United Nations' resolutions
and we've so far discovered two.
Really? No one else believes that. Not even anyone else
in the administration.
It's almost as if Bush innocently wants to believe this,
so he does believe this. If one defines faith as believing in something without evidence that it exists, then
it is a matter of faith. Folks like that. And Bush wants us all to have the same faith.
This is a kind of American hopefulness, what made us able to
gain so much and become what we are - believe in what you believe in with all your heart and you can change the world.
You can become rich. You can become famous. Every boy can grow up to be President.
Hope is appealing.
But sometimes hope requires lying about the facts.
Poor Tony Blair. He's getting hammered over in the UK, particularly
about that statement to Parliament that he knew for a fact Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction against
any target in the west within forty-five minutes. It seems in the UK folks think this was a lie.
Here we buy such lies - we swallow them hook, line and sinker -
and know they're lies. We do that if the lies are part of a strategy of hope. To kids who fell asleep each night
thinking they could be absolutely anything they wanted to be, this is fine.
The thoughtful, introspective man considers what is possible, and
what is not, given the actual facts at hand. The non-intellectual, assertive, I-can-do-anything-I-set-my-mind-to American
overcomes such negativity. This may require lying to oneself. And require hoping the lies become true.
But such hoping against all odds does appeal to something deep in
all Americans. It appeals to our amazing optimism about life. Anything is possible. That is the
attitude to which Americans respond on the deepest level. Europeans just don't get it.
It's still lying.
- AP 6.26/03
Follow up two --
Long ago when I was an English teacher, in my linguistics course
we would discuss the "usage" folks versus the "rules" folks. The discussion centered on what was correct -- lie
versus lay (transitive and intransitive verbs) misused, or not. I'm going to go lay in the sun?
Most folks say that. Lay what in the sun, an egg? No. You're going to lie in the sun.
But how will telling falsehoods in the sun improve my tan?
And then there's the use of "hopefully" to mean "one hopes, or I
hope" rather than as an adverb indicating an attitude of hopefulness. "Hopefully, I'll win." - Does that mean you
hope you'll win, or that of course you'll win, and with a hopeful smile on your face?
So we covered things like that. It all came down to usage.
If one uses "lay" as an intransitive verb and everyone else does
too, what does the rule matter? That's how people talk. Folks do not use "hopefully" as an adverb in the "correct"
way. So what? The rules should be descriptive of how words are used, not some set of idealistic nonsense.
One should not split infinitives? Then how is one "to boldly go where no man has gone before?"
The point is this - what people agree is correct becomes correct.
Just so with the polling this week. According to the report
in the Knight-Ridder papers, a third of the American public believes United States forces found weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq. And twenty-two percent said Iraq actually used chemical or biological weapons in the war. And
of course before the war, half of those polled in a survey said Iraqis were among the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001.
What is one to make of this?
If a third of the US public firmly believes we found large
stores of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and more than a fifth of the US public knows for a fact that such
weapons were used extensively on our troops in the war, well, maybe it could be so.
As the numbers grow to greater than fifty percent, as they might,
this may become the truth. Yes, much more than fifty percent of the US folks polled know that Saddam Hussein
was directly responsible for the 9/11 attacks, while only seventeen percent persist in believing none of the 6/11 bad guys
who did that were Iraqis.
One might blame the media. I've heard that said a lot recently.
But more to the point, folks are probably just glad we kicked some
ass and any Arabs will do, and the details don't matter. Does what we said was our reason for doing this really matter
as long as some good came from it? And it seems from Associated Press research, that the civilian Iraqi causalities
were a bit over three-thousand. Fitting. We lost over three thousands innocent civilians. Now someone
else has. The rest is detail no one cares about.
Polls do show strong support for Bush and the war, although forty
percent in the May survey found U.S. officials were "misleading" in some of their justifications for war.
And GOP pollsters said this week any controversy over weapons
won't change public attitudes - because ridding Iraq of an oppressive regime was reason enough for war for many Americans.
But it would be better, perhaps, if our government officially
said something like, "So, we lied. So what? What are you going to do, sue? Like you wanted Saddam hanging
around? We did a good thing getting rid of him and you folks all look like chumps, here and around the world, for falling
for our bullshit -- and that makes us clever and you just dumb yokels."
I suspect no US politician at home or diplomat abroad would give
into that temptation. But it would be fun to say it. Bah. Won't happen.
Michael Kinsley has another take on this, writing last week in Slate
and the Washington Post. Kinsley observes that "opinion untethered to reality" is now considered valid
or even patriotic. The current political climate is one where truth is not important at all. What matters is the
believing of one falsehood or the other. Facts - whether we know something is so (and how we know that) - are not the
issue. Facts don't matter. It's what you believe. Only the anarchist says he doesn't know. One chooses
Kinsley links Bush with Peter Pan's need to believe in faeries.
"The general citizenry doesn't seem to care whether those weapons
are discovered. Americans tell pollsters they do not mind that WMD haven't materialized and are not even withholding judgment
while the search goes on. Some now believe the war was justified on other grounds. Some believe the weapons exist despite
the lack of evidence. Some actually believe that WMD have been discovered. And some even believe that the Bush administration
outright lied about WMD, but they don't care.
"By now, WMD have taken on a mythic role in which fact doesn't
play much of a part. The phrase itself -- 'weapons of mass destruction' -- is more like an incantation than a description
of anything. The term is a new one to almost everybody, and the concern it officially embodies was on almost no one's
radar screen until recently. Unofficially, "weapons of mass destruction" are to George W. Bush what fairies were to
Peter Pan. He wants us to say, 'We DO believe in weapons of mass destruction. We DO believe. We DO.' If we
all believe hard enough, they will be there. And it's working."
But I notice that Turner Classic Movies, the cable network,
will screen "The Wizard of Oz" twice over the July 4th holiday weekend, uninterrupted, commercial-free.
Somehow seeing Dorothy near the end of the film clicking her heels together and chanting, over and over, "There's no place
like home," strikes me as the most patriotic thing one can imagine these days. Her eyes are squeezed shut and she's
hoping for the best. And of course the best happens and everything is just fine back in Kansas.
She's an optimistic patriot.
- AP 6/22
FOLLOW UP -
Robin Cook this week (Wednesday, June 4, 2003) had an interesting
column which first appeared in the International Herald Tribune. This fellow was the former British foreign
secretary and a member of Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet before resigning over the decision to go to war with Iraq.
This piece was distributed by Global Viewpoint for Tribune Media Services International and reprinted all over.
Key points? He rags on Rumsfeld and the rest for all the
claims about WMD stuff before the war - we have to go get that stuff and destroy it -- and then saying after all these weeks
that all the WMD stuff was probably destroyed before the war. It's not there. Big deal.
To wit - "Chutzpah is the word applied to people who radiate belief
in themselves without any visible reason to justify it. In the chutzpah stakes, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is
way off the top of the scale."
And, adding the comments of Paul Wolfowitz last week that the US
only made the WMD argument for bureaucratic reasons, Cook concludes, "The Pentagon went along with allegations
of weapons of mass destruction as the price of getting Secretary of State Colin Powell and the British government on board
for war. But the Pentagon probably did not believe in the case then and certainly cannot prove it now."
"We have been suckered. Britain was conned into a war to disarm
a phantom threat in which not even our major ally really believed. The truth is that the United States chose to attack
Iraq not because it posed a threat but because they knew it was weak and expected its military to collapse."
Cook is not a happy camper. And now that we're raising similar
concerns about Iran and its nuclear reactors and links to terrorism, saying pretty much the same things we said about Iraq
before we took them out, well, Cook is one of the folks who seems to resent being the idea he might be taken in again.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... we
all know how that goes.
What about trust? If Tony and George say it's so, why not
just trust them?
7 June 2003
Quick Hit 5 - Where be them there Weapons of Mass Destruction?
What I find troubling too is the current talk in the air, from all
sides, about how not finding much in the way of weapons of mass destruction may not really be such a big deal - we won and
one really bad guy is gone, and other governments in the area are now intimidated into being good little children, so far,
so what's the problem? This from the leftie intellectuals Krugman and Fineman in the New York Times, that liberal
rag? Yep. And Rumsfeld has now said we'll probably not find the weapons, and now his intelligence analysts are
saying the previous claims about them - all that stuff we knew for sure -- may have actually been a bit over the top, but
it's just "a matter of "emphasis." That's a direct quote. All the clear and irrefutable proof that couldn't be
shared with us was, well, overstated a bit? Fine.
And I'm also a little puzzled that although the
war was fought because we simply had to fight it - Iraq presented a "clear and present" immediate danger to the United States
- Bush's exact words -- well, his own folks are saying that really it is clear now that Iraq was really not that much of a
threat, but it really doesn't matter, because we're rearranging middle-eastern politics and that's a good thing.
Maybe it is a good thing. Could be.
And then too all the fulminating about whether we were becoming some
kind of empire has now pretty much settled down to a serious public discussion of the best way to run the one we obviously
have - see Jay Bookman in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on May 8 for a comprehensive review of that particular
So all in all, folks who listen to what the United States proposes,
and are told the must buy into it or face "punishment," then who watch what happens, then who listen once again to this after-action
analysis, tend to get just a tad grumpy. We ask the world to trust us, because we're the good guys. And then we
sort of jerk them around. They live in this world too - the consequences of our actions aren't limited to the acreage
between San Diego and Bangor -- and it doesn't seem that matters much any longer to our elected servants in Washington.
Well, maybe it never did. Each country has to look out for itself.
And they really should agree
with us. We are the good guys. And really, we usually are.
Folks say we should have taken out Saddam
in the first Gulf War. We should have taken out Saddam the first time? Why? There were countless ways to
take away more and more of his power and influence - and that was actually working pretty well -- and there were many ways
to make him the object of ridicule in the Arab world. Options of all sorts. But when you have a really cool hammer,
well, you want to use it. It's a shame not to. And some good came of it all. Really.
But we seem to have a whole new way of dealing with other nations.
With the war, even if we never find any weapons of mass destruction, we did what our new ideology demanded - we showed the
world from now on we kick ass and get what we want through a mixture of intimidation, punishment and humiliation. And
frankly it works. No one blew up anything in New York, and the Israelis and Palestinians are talking this week.
No weapons of mass destruction? We fibbed a bit? So what? We made our point. We may be hated and resented
more and more, everyday, and everywhere, but we're safe and no one is giving us shit.
This is, simply, an exercise in behavioral modification. Reward
compliance and submissiveness, and punish defiance and any attempts to claim moral, ethical or political equality with us.
It's a matter of dominance. Pretty straightforward stuff. Those of you with children understand, although one
of my buddies claims this approach isn't all that effective with children. But it is a kind of "there's only one Daddy"
way of operating - a way of keeping uppity children in line.
To some of us this seems a radical departure from
"traditional" diplomacy. Denis Lacorne, a widely published analyst of US-French ties at the Center for International
Studies in Paris, has an interesting take on this, if you're into historical stuff - he sees Bush, with his notions of
pre-emptive war and benevolent hegemony, acting like some modern-day Napoleon Bonaparte, the fellow who sent his army across
Europe; Chirac, meanwhile, has adopted the role of a James Madison or John Adams as he tries to cement France's leadership
of a newly formed European Union, one based partly on the early US confederate model. A tad true, and a tad funny, I
30 May 2003