White lies and whoppers

The problem with prevarication


Ask anyone if politicians lie and they will likely answer in the affirmative. Why? Well, because they do. Sure, it’s often a matter of scale, but spinning the truth is so common in political circles that sometimes the difference between tiny white lies and wholesale distortions is lost. The problem with lying, of course, is that once you’re caught in a lie, no one can ever know again when or if you’re telling the truth.

The classic lie of the ’90s was President Bill Clinton’s blatant denial that he “had sex with that woman.” Unfortunately for Clinton, Monica Lewinsky’s semen-stained dress carried his DNA and blew his phony claim to smithereens, destroying the reputation of a president who had otherwise done a great deal of good for his nation.

The classic lie of the new century, at least so far, is the Bush administration’s insistence that Iraq possessed dangerous weapons of mass destruction that were not only armed and ready to go, but supposedly pointed at the United States.

The rap on the street says: “When Clinton lied, no one died.” And that’s the truth. The same thing, however, cannot be said of the Bush administration, which lied from the very top down to the very bottom on Iraq’s WMDs. Based on those lies, which by the way happened to be diametrically opposed to the evidence gathered by U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, our nation launched an unprecedented preemptive invasion and occupation of another sovereign nation. So far, that action has taken the lives of more than 500 American soldiers and countless thousands of Iraqis, and cost billions of dollars—and the losses and deaths continue to mount.

Closer to home, our own former Gov. Marc Racicot was recently caught in a bold-faced lie on National Public Radio. During a Feb. 23 interview with NPR’s Juan Williams, Racicot stated: “He (i.e. the president) signed up for dangerous duty. He volunteered to go to Vietnam. He wasn’t selected to go, but nonetheless served his country very well.”

The truth was another thing entirely. When NPR found out Racicot had lied, they did a followup interview. Racicot, as is his wont, tried to mumble his way out of being caught lying about Bush’s military service. But as it turns out, like Lewinsky’s stained dress, the evidence is irrefutable: The form which Bush himself filled out and signed has a box checked that indicates our faux warrior president specifically opted out of any overseas assignments.

Ironically, Bush himself had totally contradicted Racicot during an interview with Tim Russert two weeks earlier. Russert asked Bush point-blank, “Were you in favor of the Vietnam War?” Bush replied: “I supported my government. I did. And I would have gone had my unit been called up, by the way.” Russert then asked: “But you didn’t volunteer or enlist to go?” And Bush replied: “No, I didn’t. You’re right.”

It’s hard to tell why Racicot would so blatantly misrepresent the facts, but it’s not like we didn’t have some clues beforehand that Montana’s former golden boy might prevaricate on occasion. Only weeks before his NPR whopper, Racicot addressed a crowd of 500 at a Helena Chamber of Commerce fete. During his speech, Racicot praised President Bush, saying: “This man serves us capably, with confidence and with peace coursing through his veins.”

Only guess what? President Bush chose to describe himself somewhat differently while on the stump for his campaign. Instead of a man “with peace coursing through his veins,” Bush called himself “the War President.”

Say what you will, George Bush is by no stretch of the imagination a Nobel Peace Prize recipient like Desmond Tutu, who, when he visited Montana some years back, literally radiated an aura of peace and spoke of peaceful resolution of international conflicts in virtually every sentence. What George Bush is most comfortable speaking about, and what dominates just about every sentence he utters, is the violence of 9/11, and how he will “hunt” terrorists around the world for years into the future. Is it possible to talk of hunting other human beings with the sole purpose of killing them with “peace coursing through” your veins? Only in Marc Racicot’s world, where lies and the truth are both manipulated for the sole purpose of ensuring George Bush another four years in the White House.

The lie du jour for this week seems to revolve around the chaos currently engulfing Haiti. Jean Bertrand Aristide, the priest and former president of this continent’s poorest nation, says he was “forced to leave” by the U.S. military at the point of a gun and under threat that they would “start shooting and be killing” if he didn’t go. The Bush administration has denied the allegations, with Secretary of State Colin Powell calling them “absolutely baseless, absurd.”

Of course, this is the same Secretary of State Colin Powell who, in his infamous address to the United Nations, looked directly into the cameras to claim irrefutable evidence of Saddam Hussein’s horrific weapons of mass destruction and used that “evidence” to justify America’s leap into preemptive war.

The problem with lying is that once you do it, especially on the scale that our top politicians are doing it these days, people are justifiably wary of believing you the next time you tell them anything. In the old days, we would say something “came straight from the horse’s mouth,” meaning it came from the person who directly experienced what they were talking about. In this case, the one who experienced the removal of Aristide from Haiti, and who would be “the horse’s mouth,” is Aristide himself. Powell, and the administration he serves, was in Washington, D.C., not Haiti—and they have built an unfortunate reputation for lying.

The result is that neither the global community nor our own citizenry can trust what these political leaders are telling us—not about the war, the economy, or anything else. And that, my friends, is a big problem indeed.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent. Contact Ochenski at


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