Washington is deadlocked over the Bush administration’s refusal to let Congress grill top White House aides under oath. If the impasse continues, it may cause a constitutional crisis between the legislative and executive branches, and Americans may never learn what really led to the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year.
The root of the logjam may be that ridiculously outdated oath: “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
It’s time for common sense. Instead of letting the lawyers argue forever, let’s hammer out a compromise oath that Karl Rove and Harriet Miers could swear to Congress. Some possibilities:
1. Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth, maintaining an overall average of at least 70 percent truth, subject to later verification by an independent panel, so help you God?
2. Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, but in ways that are carefully cloaked in metaphor and allegory, so they require lengthy interpretation, in a Zen sort of way, so help you Buddha?
3. Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, unless in your opinion we are not worthy of it, in which case you shout like Jack Nicholson in that movie, “The truth? You can’t handle the truth!” so help us all?
4. Do you solemnly swear to answer all questions in a semitruthful fashion and not claim things that are totally ridiculous, such as that George Bush actually reads a book every week, so that we all don’t have to sit here and feel embarrassed by what you’re saying, so help you God?
5. Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, except for when you claim that you can’t remember, in which case we promise not to press the issue and later bring forth Tim Russert to testify that you are nothing but a dirty liar?
6. Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, with the understanding that—hey, who are we kidding here?—there is no real truth, life is an illusion, and let’s all get together later and smoke up a doobie, so help you God?
7. Do you solemnly swear to tell lies, damned lies, and nothing but lies, and thus we will have cleverly lured you into our trap, because then, by reversing your answers, we will figure out what the hell is going on, so help you God?
8. Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, unless you have an answer that makes for a really cool sound bite, in which case we all understand, because we’ve been there?
9. Do you solemnly swear to tell us something, anything, whether it’s true or not, so that we can cut to the chase and get rid of Alberto Gonzales?