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Political Animal

True Lies

By Brian Morton | Posted 6/22/2005

The longtime columnist and current Los Angeles Times editorial page editor Michael Kinsley once observed that the only time Washington politicians get in real trouble is when they tell the truth. So many people in political life have obfuscated, fudged, prevaricated, ducked, dodged, and outright lied that it is only shocking when a politician says something we all know to be true.

Recently Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean brought on a firestorm of criticism for saying that Republicans were “mostly white Christians.” Helloooo? You mean they’re not? Check out some statistics from John Sperling’s 2004 book The Great Divide: Retro vs. Metro America, which points out that GOP lawmakers at the state level are 99 percent white, and that exit polls in the last presidential election revealed that 87 percent of George W. Bush voters were white and 89 percent were Christian. Nothing to apologize for there—except perhaps the blunt and honest truth.

When Dick Cheney can sit on television and declare that the Iraqi insurgency is in its “last throes,” as he did on the generally useless Larry King show on CNN May 30, this draws no attention—probably because we all know that statement bears the same relation to reality as Cap’n Crunch does to a U.S. Navy commander. Which is probably why White House press secretary Scott McClellan could answer questions about it so clearly and concisely, as he did in this exchange with ABC News’ Terry Moran:


Terry Moran: Scott, is the insurgency in Iraq in its “last throes”?

Scott McClellan: Terry, you have a desperate group of terrorists in Iraq that are doing everything they can to try to derail the transition to democracy. The Iraqi people have made it clear that they want a free and democratic and peaceful future. And that’s why we’re doing everything we can, along with other countries, to support the Iraqi people as they move forward. The fact that they are making great progress on the political front is significant because that helps defeat the terrorists, because the terrorists don’t want to see democracy take hold. They don’t want lasting democratic institutions to be put in place. And that’s why we are standing with the Iraqi people as they move forward on the political front. . . . And every day we move forward on democracy and training Iraqi security forces is every day closer that we are to succeeding in Iraq.

TM: But the insurgency is in its last throes?

SM: The vice president talked about that the other day—you have a desperate group of terrorists who recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. A free Iraq will be a significant blow to their ambitions.

TM: But they’re killing more Americans, they’re killing more Iraqis. That’s the last throes?

SM: Innocent—I say innocent civilians. And it doesn’t take a lot of people to cause mass damage when you’re willing to strap a bomb onto yourself, get in a car, and go and attack innocent civilians. That’s the kind of people that we’re dealing with. That’s what I say when we’re talking about a determined enemy.

Moran went on for four more questions until McClellan essentially ignored him by moving on to another reporter. See: No truth = no news.

When Hillary Clinton was elected senator from New York, she was warned that she would be held to a different level of scrutiny—the right-wing press, in conjunction with talk radio, Matt Drudge, and conservative members of Congress, would seize on any word that could even slightly be mischaracterized or misinterpreted. Those words would become the three-word screaming headlines in the New York Post that allow talking heads at Fox News Channel to drive an issue for days. Dean has now discovered what it’s like to play by “The Hillary Rules.”

Yet when incontrovertible evidence appears, as it did in the case of Terri Schiavo’s autopsy, it becomes less than a one-day story, given back-page treatment by The Washington Times and Fox News, in contrast to their grandstanding on the issue back in March. Sen.—oh, I apologize—Dr. Bill Frist invoked his medical credentials on the Senate floor when claiming that the late Ms. Schiavo was not in a persistent vegetative state. However, following the release of the autopsy, Frist said on ABC-TV’s Good Morning America June 16, “I raised the question, ‘Is she in a persistent vegetative state or not?’ I never made the diagnosis, never said that she was not.”

No matter what term you give the level of scrutiny a statement like that is given, in no universe could that be called “the truth.” Yet Dean must apologize for saying something that is obviously and factually true, and Frist can sleep well at night knowing that he has safely, publicly, and on the record, told a lie.

Dr. Dean—the rules have spoken. Tell America you’re sorry.

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The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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