Remember when George Bush the candidate said he would restore integrity to the White House?
The reference, of course, was to the Clinton White House, which had gained a certain notoriety because of Bill Clinton’s famous finger-wagging episode, when he told the American public that “I did not have sex with that woman,” and for his later performance under grilling by Ken Starr, when he said his answer to a question depended on “what the definition of `is’ is.”
Bush, the Andover Prep grad who adopted a Texan drawl and the mein of a straight-shootin’ cowboy for the campaign, managed to convince a scandal-weary public that he wouldn’t stoop to such things. He’d tell it straight.
Of course, we’ve had some pretty big whoppers out of this White House, and this president since then. There was the Niger yellow cake tale, the supposed bio and chemical weapons in Iraq, and the lie that the president was flying around the country in Air Force One after the 9/11 attacks because of a supposed threat to attack Air Force One, for example. There was the lie that he’d fund Americorps. There was the lie that he would be the Education President. But the real classic, the lie that puts him right down there with Cheatin’ Bill, came at Bush’s last press conference.
That’s when he denied, in response to a reporter’s question, that the White House had been responsible for a big red, white and blue banner saying “Mission Accomplished,” placed prominently across the front of the superstructure of the carrier Abraham Lincoln on the occasion of Bush’s staged jet landing on the ship on May 1. It wasn’t the White House advance team that planned that backdrop, Bush told reporters and the viewing public with a straight face. It was those Navy lads on the ship. And by the way, that phrase didn’t refer to the War in Iraq, he continued. It referred to the ship’s mission. which was indeed over.
The White House was quickly forced to admit that in fact, not only was the banner and the slogan the White House’s idea; the White House had produced and delivered said banner to the ship in time t o have it mounted for the president’s landing stunt.
Of course the president knew this when he lied to the press about its pedigree.
But he was in a jam. George Bush is just not the kind of guy who likes to admit when he’s goofed.
As the guerrilla war heats up in Iraq, and the numbers of American dead mount, he “mission accomplished” line, like the “Bring ’em on” line, is returning to haunt him. But this time, instead of just showing him to be out of touch, we see the real character of the man. Caught in an embarrassing situation, he’d prefer to lie his way out than face up to his responsibility.
If he’d gone to law school instead of business school, Bush might have said it all depends upon what your definition of “mission” is. As it is, though, he’s stuck looking very much like the little boy with cookie crumbs on his lips who denies that he broke the cookie jar.
This incident could prove to be Bush’s undoing.
Americans are a cynical lot when it comes to politics. We know that the political class is basically a bunch of thieves and extortionists, but we expect their crimes and deceits to be of epic proportions. If a presidential candidate takes a million dollars from the pharmaceutical industry and then has the FDA grant extended patents to them, or takes millions from Boeing and then grants the aircraft maker a six-billion-dollar sweetheart lease on planes for the Pentagon it could have bought outright for much less, nobody gets worked up. That’s the way Washington works, we figure.
But tell a little lie, whether it’s about some nookie on the side or some questionable campaign trick, and people feel angry and insulted.
That’s what Bush has done now. In trying to blame his ineptness and false optimism concerning the Iraq War by laying it on the guys in the sailor suits, this son of privelege has insulted our intelligence. Worse yet, he got caught. Even rank-and-file Republicans are miffed.
As voters, we’re willing to forget many things. We’ll forget about the stealing of an election, about scandals like the doctoring of a report on global warming, even about the deliberate outing of a CIA agent. But we won’t forget being taken for yokels with a cheap lie.
If the gang of Democrats running for president are smart, they’ll start using the phrase “Mission Accomplished” as often as possible as a laughline in their speeches. If they do that, by the time the campaign for president is in full swing next fall, the Democratic presidential candidate will be able to run “Small Soldiers” ads featuring action figure George Bush strutting around in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html