Top Ten Bush Lies

This is an archived article preserved as a guest op-ed and does not represent the opinions of staff.

by David Corn,

All presidents have lied, but George W. Bush has relentlessly abused the truth. In “The Lies Of George W. Bush: Mastering The Politics Of Deception” (Crown Publishers, October 2003)—a steely and scathing indictment of the president and his advisers—David Corn, the Washington editor of The Nation and a Fox News Channel contributor, reveals and examines the deceptions at the heart of the Bush presidency. In a stunning piece of journalism, he details and substantiates the all-too many times Bush and his aides have knowingly misled the American public to advance their own interests and agenda.

After I finished writing a 300-page book detailing a wide assortment of George W. Bush lies—scores of deceptions, if not many more (I haven’t counted)—my publisher requested that I produce a top-ten list of Bush lies. It would be good for marketing, I was told. In my mind, the “top” lies numbered far more than ten. And after all, the book has fourteen chapters. A list of ten would have to leave out entire swaths of this work, including sections on such important subjects as global warming, missile defense, environmental standards, Bush’s failed energy plan, and Afghanistan reconstruction. It also would have to rely upon a false equivalency in order to provide a full flavor of the book. One could easily argue that the ten most significant lies of the Bush presidency all related to his campaign for war in Iraq. But such a list would not be much good from a sales perspective, for the point of The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception is to show that Bush has lied his way through most serious policy matters (as well as through his bid for the presidency). Thus, I’m forced, as I brutally boil down 120,000 words to ten bullet items, to rely upon lies that represent larger body of lies. So here is a painfully constructed list—arranged in quasi-chronological order–that demonstrates the severity and range of Bush’s serial lying but that only skims the surface. For the complete picture—as well as for all the details that support the below accusations—please read the book.

10. “I have been very candid about my past.” Bush said this during a press conference a few days before Election Day 2000. He was then in the middle of media firestorm that followed the revelation that he had once been arrested for drunken driving. Of course, this statement was untrue. He uttered it while he was trying to explain why he had not been “candid” about his arrest record. And during the campaign, he had not been “candid” about other significant matters, including what seemed to be a missing year in his National Guard service (which did not jibe with what he wrote about his service in his autobiography) and his apparent (though unacknowledged) shift from supporting abortion rights in the late-1970s to opposing them in the 1990s. He also was not “candid” about the tax plans he had pushed while governor of Texas. He always referred to them as “tax cuts” and did not mention that his major tax proposal included both tax cuts for property owners and an increase in the sales tax and the creation of a new business tax.

9. “I’m a uniter not a divider.” This was a Bush catchphrase, a mantra. It was shorthand for his claim that he engaged in positive, not negative, politics and could heal a political culture ripped apart by the bitter ideological and partisan combat of the Clinton years. Yet during the 2000 presidential campaign and the Florida fracas, Bush and his lieutenants engaged in down-and-dirty and divisive political maneuvers. Just ask Senator John McCain, Bush’s main Republican opponent, whose record on veterans affairs was falsely attacked by a Bush surrogate and who was accused falsely by the Bush campaign of opposing research for breast cancer. As president-elect, Bush nominated one of the most divisive ideologues in Washington, former Senator John Ashcroft, to be attorney general. During a pre-inauguration interview, Bush acknowledged that he expected Ashcroft to be a lightning rod. But would-be uniters-not-dividers do not shove lightning rods up the backsides of their opponents. Another example: during the 2002 congressional campaign, Bush accused Democrats—who differed with him on employment rules for the new Department of Homeland Security—of sacrificing national security for their own petty purposes. He did this to help elect Republicans to office. Such a move was well within his rights as a political player, but not the action of a fellow who cares more about uniting than dividing.

8. “My plan unlocks the door to the middle class of millions of hard-working Americans.” All the available slots of this top-ten list could be filled by statements Bush made to sell his tax cuts at various points—on the campaign trail, in 2001 (for the first major tax-cuts battle), and in 2003 (for the second major tax-cuts battle). But I chose an assertion from 2001 that echoed statements from the campaign trail, that would be reprised in 2003, and that represented the best-sounding argument for his tax cuts. Bush frequently claimed his tax cuts would help low- and middle-income Americans, and in 2000 and 2001 he often spoke of a mythical single-mom waitress, making $22,000 or so, who would be guided into the middle-class by his tax cuts. The point was to make it seem as if he truly cared for hard-pressed Americans and that his tax cuts did indeed embody his promise of “compassionate conservatism.” (By the way, I am not placing on this list Bush’s claim that he is a “compassionate conservative.” That’s a rather relative term more suitable for judgment than truth-based evaluation.) But when the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche reviewed his tax plan for Time magazine during the 2000 campaign, it found that his beloved waitress would receive no reduction in her taxes. Zippo. In 2001, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that this waitress might gain $200 from Bush’s tax cuts if she managed to pull in $25,000 a year. But such a sum would not place her on the highway to the middle class. In fact, about 12 million low- and moderate-income families received no tax relief from Bush’s 2001 tax cuts (and millions of families were left out of his 2003 package). His plan unlocked few doors. Instead, about 45 percent of the 2001 package was slated to go to the top 1 percent of income earners. In 2003, Citizens for Tax Justice calculated that individuals earning between $16,000 and $29,000 would net about $99 from Bush’s proposed tax cuts. Again, not an amount that would cover the entrance fee for a middle-class life.

7. “This allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research.” That was what Bush said during an August 9, 2001, speech, announcing his decision to permit the federal funding of stem cell research that only used stem cells lines that existed before his speech. Bush was presenting his policy as a Solomon-like compromise. Religious right leaders and the Catholic Church were opposed to all stem cell research because it uses cells extracted from five-day old blastocysts (or embryos) in a process that destroys the embryos. (These embryos usually are leftovers created by in vitro fertilization at fertility clinics and no longer needed by the couples for which they were produced). But many prominent Republican donors and patient advocacy groups supported stem cell research, noting that scientists believed that studying stem cells (which have the potential to grow into any one of the more than 200 different types of human cells) could lead to treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other terrible diseases. In his speech, Bush said that 60 stem cell lines already existed—”where the life and death decision has already been made”–and that these lines could support a vital and vibrant research effort. Consequently, he said, federally funding could be limited to underwriting research that employed only these lines. Bush was trying to have it both ways. He could appease his social conservative supporters by saying no to any federal support for new stem cell lines, and he could claim to support research that might potentially help millions of people. There was one problem. The 60 pre-existing lines did not exist. The number was closer to a dozen—if that—an amount that experts in the field did not consider sufficient for research purposes. And when scientists and media reports convincingly discredited Bush’s count—which Bush might have initially assumed to be correct—the Bush administration kept repeating its untruthful position. Sticking to the 60-lines fantasy (or lie) permitted Bush to avoid making an explicit decision to curtail stem cell research. But in effect that was what he had done without admitting it.

6. “We must uncover every detail and learn every lesson of September the 11th.” Bush said this in November 2002, as he appointed Henry Kissinger to be chairman of an independent 9/11 commission that Bush had orignially opposed. (Kissinger lasted two weeks in the job.) But Bush has not encouraged the uncovering of every detail. His administration did not turn over information to the congressional 9/11 inquiry about intelligence warnings the White House reviewed before 9/11. The administration also refused to say whether certain pre-9/11 intelligence warnings—including a July 2001 report noting that Osama bin Laden was poised to launch a “spectacular” attack “designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities or interests”—were shared with Bush and what he did in response, if he had received them. Moreover, the administration claimed that Bush’s awareness of these warnings (not the warnings themselves) was classified information—an argument unprecedented in the modern history of national security secrets. Bush also refused to let the congressional inquiry release the portion of its final report that concerned connections between the 9/11 hijackers and Saudi citizens or officials. By resorting to such secrecy—which happened to keep hidden information that might be embarrassing or inconvenient for the Bush administration–Bush made it impossible for investigators to “uncover every detail” and for the nation to “learn every lesson.”

5. “[We are] taking every possible step to protect our country from danger.” Bush said that a month after 9/11, and he has repeated that vow several times since then, including at the start of his recent month-long vacation at his Texas ranch. Every possible step? A reassuring line, but it is not true. Two years after the attacks, there still is no plan for enhanced security at the nation’s thousands of chemical plants. (Over a hundred of them handle chemicals that if released could threaten a million or so Americans.) According to the General Accounting Office, the Bush administration has not even “comprehensively assessed the chemical industry’s vulnerabilities to terrorist attacks.” In October 2002, Tom Ridge, Bush’s chief homeland security official, said that voluntary regulations for the chemical industry would not suffice, but that is the policy the administration has been slowly pursuing. And less-than-everything has been the approach in other critical areas. A recent report from a Council on Foreign Relations task force—headed up by former Republican Senator Warren Rudman—says that not enough has been done to improve the abilities of first responders and that their basic needs will be underfunded by $100 billion over the next five years. The nation’s ports have asked for $1 billion to beef up security; the Bush administration has announced grants of $300 million. Various reports note that the federal government has not done all that is necessary to improve its biodefense capabilities. The administration has opposed efforts to mandate the screening of commercial cargo carried by passenger aircraft. (Most of this sort of cargo is not currently screened—creating one large security loophole.) So “every possible step” has not been taken.

4. “I first got to know Ken [Lay in 1994].” As the Enron scandal reached the White House in early 2002, Bush uttered this remark, claiming he had nothing to do with Lay until after winning the 1994 Texas gubernatorial election. It was an apparent and clumsy effort to diminish his relationship with the now-disgraced Enron chief. But in1994, Lay and Enron had been leading contributors to Bush’s campaign. And Lay—long a patron of Bush’s father—had worked with Bush in political settings prior to 1994. In a pre-scandal interview, Lay noted he had been “very close to George W.” for years before1994. (In the mid-1980s, Bush’s oil venture was in a partnership with Enron.) Bush also claimed that his administration had been of absolutely no help to Enron. That might have been true during the scam-based company’s final days. But in the months preceding that, the Bush administration had assisted Enron in a variety of ways. This included appointing individuals recommended by Lay as top energy regulators and opposing wholesale price caps on electricity during the California energy crisis, a move that came after Lay (whose electricity-selling company was using manipulative tactics to gouge California) urged the White House to block price caps.

3. “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” And, “[Saddam Hussein is] a threat because he is dealing with al Qaeda.” These two Bush remarks go hand in hand, even though the first was said on March 17, 2003, two days before Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, and the other came during a November 7, 2002, press conference. Together they represented his argument for war: Hussein possessed actual weapons of mass destruction and at any moment could hand them to his supposed partners in al Qaeda. That is why Hussein was an immediate threat to the United States and had to be taken out quickly. But neither of these assertions were truthful. There has been much media debate over all this. But the postwar statements of Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the CIA, provide the most compelling proof. He has been conducting a review of the prewar intelligence, and he has told reporters that the intelligence on Hussein’s WMDs was full of caveats and qualifiers and based mostly on inferential or circumstantial evidence. In other words, it was not no-doubt material. He also has said that prewar intelligence reports did not contain evidence of links between Hussein and al Qaeda. The best information to date indicates that the prewar intelligence did not leave “no doubt” about WMDs and did not support Bush’s claim that Hussein was in cahoots with al Qaeda. Bush’s primary reason for war was founded on falsehoods

2. “We found the weapons of mass destruction.” Bush issued this triumphant remark in late May 2003, while being interviewed by a Polish television reporter. He was referring to two tractor-trailers obtained by U.S. forces in Iraq. The CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency had concluded these vehicles were mobile bio-weapons plants. Yet they had found not a trace of biological agents on either. (And no bio-weapon facility could be scrubbed completely clean.) In subsequent weeks, it turned out that State Department analysts and even DIA engineering experts—as well as outside experts—did not accept the CIA and DIA conclusion, and some of these doubters believed the explanation of Iraqis who claimed the trucks were built to produce hydrogen for weather balloons. Whichever side might be ultimately right about the trailers, this all-important piece of evidence was hotly contested. It was hardly solid enough to support Bush’s we-found-them declaration or to justify a war.

1. “It’s time to restore honor and dignity to the White House.” Bush said that many a time during the 2000 presidential campaign, and in at least one ad pledged to “return honor and integrity” to the Oval Office. See above–and read the book.

All presidents have lied, but George W. Bush has relentlessly abused the truth. In THE LIES OF GEORGE W. BUSH: MASTERING THE POLITICS OF DECEPTION (Crown Publishers, October 2003)—a steely and scathing indictment of the president and his advisers—David Corn, the Washington editor of The Nation and a Fox News Channel contributor, reveals and examines the deceptions at the heart of the Bush presidency. In a stunning piece of journalism, he details and substantiates the all-too many times Bush and his aides have knowingly misled the American public to advance their own interests and agenda.

When campaigning for the presidency, Bush vowed to “restore” honor and integrity to the Oval Office, but Corn uses the president’s own words and deeds to prove beyond a doubt that this claim was the first lie of many. In other instances of presidential prevarication, Bush has:

• Brazenly misrepresented intelligence data and relied on dishonest arguments to whip up support for war with Iraq;

• Made numerous false statements about the provisions and effects of his super-sized tax cuts;

• Offered disingenuous and misleading explanations about the 9/11 attacks, the war on terrorism, and homeland security;

• Lied about his connections—and those of his administration—to corporate crooks;

• Presented deceptive claims to sell controversial policies on the environment, stem cell research, missile defense, abortion, energy, Social Security, health care, education, and other crucial issues;

• Dishonestly claimed to be a positive campaigner while engaging in deceitful and down-and-dirty tactics during the 2000 presidential campaign and recount drama.

The Lies Of George W. Bush is no partisan whine. It is a carefully constructed, well-developed, and convincing fact-driven account that shows how Bush has consistently relied upon duplicity to wage political and policy battles. The book covers lies Bush told as a presidential candidate (“I have been very candid about my past”); in his first days in office (“We pulled back [the arsenic standard] so that we could make a decision based upon sound science”); while selling a war to the American people (“Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapon ever devised”); and as a crusader for tax cuts (“Tax relief for everybody . . . while still reducing our national debt and funding important priorities”). Corn explains with wit and style how Bush managed to get away with it, and he explores the dangerous consequences of White House deceit in a perilous age.


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