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"Cannot Tell a Lie" vs. "Cannot Tell the Truth"
June 3, 2004
By Kevin J. Shay

I recently celebrated my 45th birthday on the same day that John F. Kennedy presumably would have turned 87 had his life not tragically ended way too soon at age 46.

My family left our toy-littered, roach-infested, two-bedroom, $1,000-a-month castle - hey, we do have a scenic view from our balcony of some pine trees that block the parking lot - in the Washington, D.C., area to spend my birthday at Berkeley Springs, W.V. It's a relaxing, artsy spa town not unlike Hot Springs, Ark., where George Washington and others visited more than 200 years before.

Despite my attempts to clear my mind of things political for a day, it did not work. There were actually fewer pro-Bush stickers and other material displayed in this small West Virginia town than I expected. Some vehicles even bore Kerry stickers. But when we came upon a small natural spring hole designated as Washington's 18th century bathtub, I had to remark to my son, "This was where a much better president than our current one went to take a bath a long time ago. A loooonnnnggg time ago."

"What's a president?" he asked, in the automatic questioning mode of an inquisitive four-year-old.

I thought for a moment. "It's someone who leads the country and lives in that big White House we saw in Washington."

He stared at the spring, obviously with other things on his mind than presidents. "Can I take a bath here, too?"

As my son and his younger sister played in an adjacent larger spring, I couldn't help but compare the "cannot-tell-a-lie" reputation of the country's first president to the "cannot-tell-the-truth" philosophy of the current one.

And I'm not alone in believing that Bush is the biggest liar who has occupied the White House, if not all-time, then in modern times.

Princeton University professor and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who was once a junior economics staffer in the Reagan administration, is among the leading voices detailing the daily lies of the Bush administration. Here is one excerpt from a 2002 Krugman column:

The Bush administration lies a lot.. He is as slippery and evasive as any politician in memory... The recent spate of articles about administration dishonesty mainly reflects the campaign to sell war with Iraq. But the habit itself goes all the way back to the 2000 campaign, and is manifest on a wide range of issues. High points would include the plan for partial privatization of Social Security, with its 2 - 1 = 4 arithmetic; the claim that a tax cut that delivers 40 percent or more of its benefits to the richest 1 percent was aimed at the middle class; the claim that there were 60 lines of stem cells available for research; the promise to include limits on carbon dioxide in an environmental plan.

Krugman also noted that "Bush ran as a moderate, a "uniter, not a divider." The Economist endorsed him back in 2000 because it saw him as the candidate better able to transcend partisanship; now the magazine describes him as the "partisan-in-chief."

A 2003 Washington Monthly survey of conservative and progressive pundits and journalists concluded that Bush is a bigger liar than Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton. Among Bush's lies they chose was announcing the U.S. had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in May 2003, saying his tax cuts would give middle-class Americans more than $1,000 each when the super-wealthy's cuts were factored in to that equation and average payers barely got $200, saying he'd "been to war" when he used his family connections to get into the National Guard during the Vietnam War and went AWOL during more than a year, and promising to expand AmeriCorps in his 2002 State of the Union speech before cutting that program's budget.

The Washington Post's political beat reporter Dana Milbank, who takes on Democratic politicians as voraciously as Republicans, wrote that Bush's "rhetoric has taken some flights of fancy." To show you how vindictive and petty the Bush clan is, Milbank became the target of a White House smear campaign for that relatively light criticism. Even the conservative Wall Street Journal reported that "senior [Bush] officials have referred repeatedly to intelligence... that remains largely unverified." Even Paul Sperry, Washington bureau chief for the more conservative, wrote in 2003 that Bush lied about the threat of Iraq before that invasion.

Politicians, including former Nixon aide John Dean and Sen. Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada who has supported Bush on many issues, have publicly called him a "liar." In Reid's case, he made the statement in 2002 after Bush approved Nevada's Yucca Mountain as the site for long-term disposal of tons of radioactive nuclear waste. During the 2000 campaign, Bush, who shows little evidence of having even a superficial interest in science, had said he would base such a decision on "sound science, not politics." Other individuals and groups - from celebrated writer E.L. Doctorow and The Nation's David Corn to and - have documented many more lies.

The lies of Bush Jr. are so numerous they not only fill countless articles and columns, but several books. I contributed to one, Big Bush Lies, a 270-pp. collection of essays from academics, legal experts, financial leaders, activists, and journalists. Published by RiverWood Books of Ashland, Ore., and edited by founder Jerry "Politex" Barrett, Big Bush Lies is the most recent of such books, reaching bookstores in June 2004. I believe it's also the most complete and meticulously documented collection, covering Iraq, foreign policy, national security, the environment, healthcare, religion, education, women and minority policies, drunk driving, the National Guard, and other topics in separate chapters. But then, I have to admit to being a bit biased - although at least I admit it, unlike Bush & Co.

The book covers not just the aforementioned lies, but ones many people seem to forget, ones that occurred before he took the White House amid lies that he actually won that election and he and Dick Cheney actually lived in different states. The lie that Bush won in 2000 has been covered in many places; for the latter more obscure lie, on Election Day 2000, Cheney still owned his home in the exclusive Dallas suburb of Highland Park, had a Texas driver's license, listed himself as a Texas resident on income-tax returns, and worked most recently as CEO of oil company Halliburton's Dallas office.

Cheney got around the Constitution's 12th Amendment, which states that the president and vice president have to reside from different states or forfeit that state's electoral votes, merely by switching his voter registration to Wyoming, where he once lived, in July 2000. He continued to live in the Dallas area; I observed television news reports recording Cheney coming out of his Texas home several times after Nov. 7, 2000.

Furthermore, Cheney did not sell his $2.2 million, 4,700-square-foot home until Nov. 30, 2000, well after the election, to Dianne T. Cash, a wealthy Republican Party and high society donor, Dallas County records showed. Cash owned another $2.4 million, 6,400-square-foot home in Highland Park at the same time. From Sept. 2000 until Jan. 2001, Cash gave a whopping $204,433 to national Republican organizations, in addition to buying Cheney's house, according to federal records.

Another lie told by Bush that you probably haven't heard showed that his falsehood record extended beyond his years in the White House. Several family members of African American James Byrd, who was murdered in 1998 by three white men who chained him to a truck and dragged him to death in Jasper, Tx., said Bush lied when he told that he called family members to offer condolences as Texas governor. Family members said none of them received a phone call from Bush, that Bush declined to attend Byrd's funeral, and he only met with one family member after much public pressure.

Such deceit goes beyond a few simple misstatements or stretching the truth done by most politicians. With Bush and other administration officials, lying has become a long-documented pattern, a policy as sure as tax cuts for the rich, blood for oil, and world domination.

Conservatives like to harp on Clinton's "Big Lie" that he had sexual relations with a woman who was not his wife; beyond the fact that Republicans, including many of the same ones who condemned Clinton like impeachment committee members Henry Hyde and Bob Barr, have lied about extramarital affairs, Clinton's lie killed no one. The lies that Bush and others told to con us into invading Iraq have resulted in thousands of deaths and probably permanent damage to the country's international reputation. Bush continues to lie to this day about the threat that Iraq posed before our invasion, despite evidence to the contrary from the CIA and other sources that Hussein was contained and did not have weapons of mass destruction, as the U.S., Israel, and many other countries have.

Americans today are bigger targets for the growing number of terrorists because of the lies of Bush & Co. We are not safer because of those lies.

If Clinton got impeached by the Republican-controlled U.S. House over a lie that killed no one, Bush should be banished from the country for life for his lies. But that won't happen because Republican hypocrites control Congress. Such is among the many problems when Americans allow one party to dominate our political functions.

I'm old enough to clearly remember the lies of Reagan and Bush Sr., many of which were more "honest" lies - if there is such a thing - than the present filth emanating from the White House. Reagan Iran-Contra player Oliver North was honest enough to admit he lied to Congress during that scandal. Today's Bush administration not only refuses to admit its lies but spins them around as a positive course for our nation and world. John Dean, White House counsel under Nixon, wrote in 2003 that Bush's lies "are almost never justifiable... They are typically of the most serious kind - lies that misinform the public in such a way as to disrupt the proper functioning of the democratic process."

I lived through Nixon and Reagan and Bush Sr., and I'm sure I'll live through Bush Jr., even if he steals another election.

But I refuse to observe the lies told by Bush and not raise my voice against them. I refuse to go along with this policy. I will risk being branded unpatriotic and worse by Bush-supporting liars and hypocrites.

The future of my kids playing in the tub where the president who reportedly could not tell a lie bathed depends on it.

Kevin J. Shay is a Washington, D.C.-area journalist/writer. The latest book to which he contributed, Big Bush Lies, is available from RiverWood Books of Ashland, Ore., at

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