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My high school Latin teacher loved the phrase Veritas Vos Liberabit – "The truth shall set you free."
Nice sentiments – for the Romans. But in these politically-charged times, perhaps the operative phrase should be: "Who shall set truth free?"
God knows there ain’t a lot of truth floating around the halls of power in Washington these days. In fact, truth took a sabbatical decades ago – and never returned.
For most of his five years in office, President George W. Bush considered truth an expendable commodity. Truth couldn’t justify his desire to invade Iraq so he used manufactured intelligence. Truth wasn’t enough to launch his "war on terrorism" so he launched a campaign that depended more on fear-mongering and paranoia than actual fact.
In April 2004 Bush told the American people that ""any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires a court order." Nineteen months later he admits he signed an executive order three years earlier that allowed the National Security Agency to wiretap phone calls of Americans without a court order.
That in any reasonable definition of the word is a lie. But politicians never admit they lie. They issue "clarifications."
Corner a Republican about Bush’s lying and he or she most likely will say something like "well, Bill Clinton lied about Monica Lewinsky." Democrats will then say all Clinton lied about was sex, not national security.
Applying relativity to dishonesty is a favorite ploy of politics. Yes, one side says, our boy did lie but the other side’s lies are bigger.
Sorry, I can’t buy that. You’re either honest or you’re not. You either tell the truth or you don’t. George W. Bush lies. So did Bill Clinton. So did Bush’s daddy. Remember "read my lips?" Ronald Reagan lied all the time. Jimmy Carter claimed "I’ll never you tell you a lie" which was, itself, a lie. Gerald Ford may have been too dumb to lie but he wasn’t in office long enough to build a solid record of dishonesty. Richard Nixon? LBJ? The prosecution rests.
Lying has become such a pervasive part of political culture that those who lie don’t even consider it dishonest. It’s "spin" or "our side" or "our position." Truth has no bearing, carries no credence, and lacks even consideration.
Suppose, for a moment, that when confronted with questions on the Watergate break-in, Richard Nixon would have said "yes, some of my staff got over-zealous and out of hand and I’ve accepted their resignation." A little uproar but the matter would have faded into history while Nixon completed his second term.
Suppose Bill Clinton, when confronted with questions on Monica Lewinsky, would have looked at the press corps and said "yes, I did have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky." Then it would have become a matter of adultery between him and Hillary but it probably would have blown over (pun fully intended).
Carrying this fantasy even further, suppose Bush had told Congress and the American people that "we don’t have any real proof that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction but we think he does, based on past history, and we’re pretty sure he conspired with Osama bin Laden to plan the 9/11 attacks." Congress might have told him to go back and get the facts before launching an attack that has cost more than 2,200 American lives, countless Iraqi civilian casualties and destroyed America’s credibility on the world stage.
Then again Congress, caught up in the post 9/11 bloodlust, might have said "go ahead. Saddam’s a bad man. Bomb him back the stone age."
We’ll never know what decisions "might" have been made because the decisions that were made were based on lies, not truth.
Bush claims he launched the war to "free the people of Iraq."
What we really need is a war to free an outmoded concept called truth.
(Doug Thompson also publishes a personal blog, Blue Ridge Muse.)