Mr. Lehrer: Right, well, what – he used the word truth again.
Mr. Bush: Pardon me?
Mr. Lehrer: Talking about the truth of the matter. Used the word truth again. Did that raise any hackles with you?
Mr. Bush: I’m a pretty calm guy. I mean, I don’t take it personally.
–from the September 30, 2004, Bush/Kerry debate.
Since the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, much has been written about the lies of George W. Bush, centered primarily on claims of weapons of mass destruction and the other bogus reasons offered for occupying Iraq. During the first presidential debate, even moderator Jim Lehrer raised the subject a couple of times, causing President Bush some apparent discomfort.
In his exchanges with John Kerry, President Bush repeated that Saddam had not “disarmed,” which would seem to be the repetition of earlier misstatements of fact made over the past two years. Although Senator Kerry seemed too absorbed in his own thoughts to respond to the Bush claim, it is accepted fact that Saddam did in fact “disarm,” since no WMD and related armaments have been found in Iraq. But was the president lying, or does he really believe what he says? And why might he believe it?
By the end of the first debate, George W. Bush appeared eager to just get the hell off the stage and go back out on the campaign trail where he is shielded from critical comments and probing questions. The deliberate insulating of the president, however, has a negative side. That is, when confronted with even moderately-critical questions or accusations, the insulated president lacks the experience to deal with them effectively. Instead, he bristles, as if to say, “I don’t want to hear bad news.”
Throughout his entire political career, George W. Bush has relied on Karl Rove and others to advise him and often to tell him what he should think, what he should do. They told him what they wanted him to hear, avoided bringing bad news, and this pacified the President’s need to be soothed. “Everything is beautiful.” As Governor of Texas, Bush apparently did not trouble himself with conflicting thoughts over whether or not Death Row inmates should be executed. He relied on the “word” of his chief legal advisor and that simplified what could otherwise have been a conscience-ruffling exercise. As “leader of the free world,” the Bush circle of faithful sidekicks widened, but the process remained: I trust my advisors. I do not need to verify.
At the same time, President Bush appears to be,as he says, a man of deep faith. What happens when the irresistible force of “truth” confronts the immovable object of a reliance on “faith”? With faith in the God who speaks through him, Bush has been able to ignore, avoid and be protected from those who express alternative views. In the first debate, when both John Kerry and Jim Lehrer addressed the Truth Thing, George W. Bush could not conceal his irritation; but was he irritated because his veracity was being questioned or because for the first time in a crucial setting before a world-wide audience he was being asked to consider whether his library of spoon-fed facts lack credibility?
To what extent, prior to that first debate, has President Bush understood what a laundry-list of his “factual” statements have been found wanting? Could the president now be shaken to learn, not from critics but from the passing parade of events, that much of what his advisors told him was not the truth? Consider: despite his repeated assertions that the nation must “stay the course,” late in that first debate George W. Bush reluctantly conceded that some “flip-flopping” was within his radar. “Of course, we change tactics when need to, but we never change our beliefs . . .”
It seems evident that those who would wrap the thick plastic bubble around President Bush did not him the truth about Saddam Hussein, Iraq, the WMD–and much, much more. Therefore, when he went before the nation and expressed his convictions regarding the threat posed by Iraq, he may not have been lying–he may have been stating what he truly believed to be the what it was, not just the way it ought to be.
Consider those often-repeated statements that “we relied on the best intelligence available” and “we were all fooled.” Both propositions are thoroughly false. Not only were many experts and others not fooled into thinking Iraq had WMD or that it was a “gathering threat” to the United States, the nay-sayers didn’t keep their opinions to themselves. Yet those opinions did not reach the eyes and ears of President Bush. And as for relying on that “best” intelligence: if the intelligence stating Iraq had WMD, was an imminent threat, was ready to use nuclear weapons and all the rest were not factually correct, then that “intelligence” was not “the best,” it was “the worst.” And so it was. The worst.
For high-ranking counsellors to deliberately mislead the President of the United States into promoting and waging an unnecessary and illegal war seems criminal. It is no wonder President Bush has been counselled to abhor the International Criminal Court.
It seems clear that despite his lack of genuine curiosity, George W. Bush enjoys being President of the United States. For one thing, it gives him a feeling of success after his long string of personal screw-ups and failures. “Top of the World, Ma!” And he really seems to enjoy campaigning to his hand-picked audiences where it’s all cheer and no jeer. At the same time, the emerging facts about the disaster in Iraq and truths exposing the errors of the president’s ways are becoming apparent even to this most insulated leader in our history. Laura Bush knows it, and even she can’t protect her husband forever from the hurricane of facts that contradict his dearly-held beliefs.
What the world may have witnessed during that first debate was the tiniest gnawing realization on the part of George W. Bush that he has been misled and lied to by those nearest to him. That’s why it seems to be more and more difficult for him to keep up the cheerful outlook, despite his calls for positive thinking. As with drama’s great tragic figures, President Bush may be reaching the moment of enlightenment — and enlightenment he most feared might come.
What does a man do when that in which he had absolute faith begins to crack up and fall apart not just before his eyes but before the eyes of the watching world? One recalls the words of the fictional New Englander: “My Faith is gone!”
And might begin the genuine Education of George W. Bush.
DOUG GIEBEL is a writer and analyst who lives in Big Sandy, Montana. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org