Why This Bush Lie? Part 1

It wasn’t his first.

Chatterbox is gratified that the country has come to share his enthusiasm for dissecting the lies uttered by or on behalf of President Bush. Or rather, for dissecting one lie: Bush’s assertion, in this year’s State of the Union address, that Saddam had “recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” This information, the Bushies now concede, was based almost entirely on documents that the CIA and the White Houseknew to be false. (Pedants’ corner: Bush actually said that British intelligence had “learned” about Saddam’s yellowcake safari, but the attribution amounted to a lie because you can’t “learn” something that isn’t true.)

But what makes the yellowcake lie so special? That it was a justification for going to war? Then what about Bush’s comic insistence in May that “We’ve found the weapons of mass destruction”? That lie was arguably worse than the yellowcake lie, because it was retrospective rather than speculative, and more demonstrably untrue. What about the cost of the war, which the Bush administration insisted couldn’t be estimated in advance? Larry Lindsey reportedly lost his job as chairman of the National Economic Council for blabbing to the Wall Street Journal that the war would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion. Mitch Daniels, then White House budget director, scoffed at Lindsey’s estimate and said the cost would be more like $50 billion or $60 billion. But now the Washington Post is estimating the cost of the war and its aftermath at … $100 billion.

Why was there no media frenzy when Bush lied about this year’s tax cut? “My jobs and growth plan would reduce tax rates for everyone who pays income tax,” Bush said before Congress passed it. Not so! The Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center found 8.1 million taxpayers who would receive no tax cuts. Or what about when Ari Fleischer said the prisoners of war at Guantanamo were “receiving far far better treatment than they received in the life that they were living previously”? This was difficult to square with the fact that there had, at that time, been 27 suicide attempts. Or what about Fleischer’s denial (twice!) that Bush had come out against civilian nation-building during the 2000 presidential campaign? Fleischer tried to convince reporters that Bush had criticized only nation-building by the military. But Bush had said, “I don’t think so” in response to the following question in the Oct. 11 debate:“Is it time to consider a civil forceof some kind, that comes in after the military, that builds nations or all of that?” Or what about the White House fact sheet that insisted the tax cuts hadn’t contributed to the deficit (“The budget returned to deficit because of war, recession and emergencies associated with the terrorist attacks of September 11th“), even though, buried inside the White House budget documents, some renegade bureaucrat wrote, “The deterioration in the performance of the economy together with income tax relief … produced a drop in the surplus to $127.1 billion (1.3% of GDP) and a return to deficits”?(Incidentally, the budget deficit is now projected to be $455 billion.)

And these lies are all just from this calendar year. They don’t include what is probably Bush’s most significant lie concerning domestic policy: that his restrictions on stem-cell research left scientists with 64 stem-cell lines to use in their research. “[M]ore than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist,” Bush said in his August 2001 stem-cell speech. “They were created from embryos that have already been destroyed, and they have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating ongoing opportunities for research.” Not true! Until recently, there was only one stem-cell line that researchers could use. Now there are 11. In this instance, Chatterbox knows why the lie got lost in the shuffle. It’s because just about everybody (including Chatterbox) dropped the subject after Osama Bin Laden’s major distraction on Sept. 11.

So: How is the yellowcake lie different? Why is it the first Bush lie to send the media pack into a feeding frenzy? Why did it prompt David Broder of the Washington Post to see “the shadow of defeat” cross Bush’s presidency? Why yellowcake? Why now? Chatterbox will explain all in his next entry.