Dissemble: “To disguise or conceal one’s real nature, motives or feelings behind a false appearance.”
George Bush, the Appointed President, is beginning to sound like the teenage boy arising from the back seat of his Friday night borrowed automobile. Asked to confirm the words spoken only a few hot moments ago, pre coitus bellum, he appears genuinely befuddled. “But I was horny then!” he seems to want to blurt out.
“How can you hold me to what I said? I can’t even remember what I said!” How unfair. And so, once more, we enter the Dissemblation Nation, at the gallop.
“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” Mr. Bush told us during last January’s address on the state of the nation. Uranium, he did not need to add, is a key component in the construction of nuclear weapons.
One definition of the verb “to learn” in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language is “to become informed of.” And therefore, technically, little Mr. Bush did not utter an untruth. That the British were “informed” that Hussein sought uranium in Africa appears to be entirely correct. That Hussein actually sought such uranium is, of course, another matter.
On such inspired cleverness at words, the balance of the world hangs.
The attempt to disassemble the administration’s dissemblings begins to border on a Marx sketch (the brothers, not the economist). Groucho, as President Firefly of Freedonia in “Duck Soup,” opens a meeting of the Cabinet by announcing he will take up old business. “I wish to discuss the tariff,” announces a minister. “That’s new business,” says President Firefly. “No old business? Very well, then. We’ll take up new business.” The minister leaps up to reassert his wish to discuss the tariff. “Too late,” Firefly replies. “That’s old business already. Sit down.”
President Bush tells us we must go to war in Iraq because Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, is developing a nuclear weapons program and is in league with the terrorists who bombed our country. He cannot provide details or verification of such claims—including releasing one or two mass destruction weapons sites to the UN inspectors—because to do so would compromise U.S. national security and endanger the pending war effort. Comes the war, we must stop raising questions about the reasons for the war, because to do so jeopardizes the lives of our boys and girls in battle. Now that the war is over, the administration wonders aloud why we are still talking about the rationale for the war because, after all, the war is over, and is therefore old business. “As far as the president’s concerned, he’s moved on,” says presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer. “I think the bottom has been gotten to.” Probably, but perhaps not the bottom to which Mr. Fleischer refers.
But unlike so many of my liberal and progressive friends, I do not stand shocked at presidential lying. By this point in our nation’s history we should be accustomed to presidential deceit, going back, at least, to that often-quoted phrase: “I have not had sexual relations with that woman.” (No, not that woman ... the woman in question here being Ms. Hemmings and the president, Mr. Jefferson.)
Neither am I upset, particularly, that the presidential deception helped drive us into war. Being honest, had I supported the war, I might not have minded so much how it came about.
“Where are those Republicans who demanded Bill Clinton’s impeachment because he lied?” writes Daily Planet reader Bruce Joffe. “His [Clinton’s] lies were about a personal indiscretion that hurt no one but his own family. Bush’s lies have caused the deaths of over 6,000 people, with American lives still being lost every day, and no exit strategy in sight.” Understandable sentiment, true.
The same, however, might have been said ... probably was said ... about Lincoln and the Civil War, which once cost some 23,000 wounded and dead, federal and confederate, in a single day astride a Maryland creek. The Confederate states seceded because of what they believed to be Lincoln’s position on slavery and black citizenship. And yet, to this day, 140 years after his death, we are still not certain of Lincoln’s position on slavery and black citizenship. Lincoln prosecuted the Civil War from beginning to end in deliberate obfuscation of his goals on one of the war’s most central points. I, for one, do not begrudge the end result.
No, what disturbs me most, I think, is that having fooled us, the Bush administration now takes us for fools.
“No one can accurately tell you that [the assertion that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons] was wrong,” Mr. Fleischer says. “The president said that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa. That still may be absolute fact.”
My country, right unless someone can accurately tell us we are wrong. Now that’s a slogan to die for.
J. Douglas Allen-Taylor is an Oakland resident.