January 09, 2005

LIARS

I have no idea why I started thinking about this today.

I remember exactly where I was when President Clinton admitted that he had lied about his affair. I remember it vividly because I was so sad. I felt so hurt and betrayed, not because he fooled around with a skank, but because he had shattered my trust in him. I know the words honesty and politician don't often go together, but more than anything I want our president to display integrity. President Clinton hurt my feelings when he admitted that he had outright lied, and it hurt as if he had looked me in the eye and lied to only me.

The real problem I have with this is that President Clinton can't even hide behind semantics. My mom and I had a lengthy argument a few years ago about the definition of "sex" as it applied to President Clinton. Mom was appalled to hear that the definition of sex has changed for young people. I think there was a major generation gap during the Clinton impeachment between the generation that thinks sex is anything that happens with your clothes off and the generation that thinks sex is only intercourse. Much to my mother's dismay, the strict definition of the word "sex" only includes intercourse for young people, many of whom brushed off President Clinton's lie because of semantics: to them, he really didn't have sex with Lewinsky. The problem is that that's not what he said. He said he didn't have "sexual relations" with her, so he can't even hide behind the new definition of sex. He flat out lied.

Den Beste wrote long ago about two types of liars, as proposed by Martin Gardner: "A strict liar knows the truth and makes statements which contradict it. A creative liar knows the truth and makes statements which are intended to deceive the listener." President Clinton wasn't even being a creative liar, masking his deeds in the vague definition of "sex". He was a strict liar, which is what made me so durned disappointed in him.

Which brings me to thoughts on the world's most frequently branded liar. A lengthy chunk from Den Beste:

There were a number of reasons why the question of Iraqi WMDs occupied such a central place in the political discussion, but there was never a correlation between the amount of attention paid to various arguments and their importance. And there are a number of other points that can be made about the entire question of WMDs and the process of deciding whether to invade. But what I wanted to talk about here was the specific question of whether Bush lied. Is it actually correct to refer to Bush's claims regarding Iraqi WMDs as being "lies"?

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that WMDs were the sole reason for the invasion, even though that isn't even remotely true. Let's further assume, for the sake of argument, that Iraq had indeed fully destroyed all its WMDs and all its banned equipment and that Saddam had no intention whatever of reviving its WMD development programs after the international political heat had been alleviated. Ignore for the moment the fact that there was nearly universal consensus that Iraq still had some WMDs, including UN agencies and international opponents of war such as France and sundry NGOs, not to mention the Clinton administration right up until Bush's inauguration.

So if Bush made the claim that Iraq still represented a threat because of its WMDs, did that make him a liar?

Not necessarily. It is not the case that everyone who utters a falsehood is lying. Someone can only be held to be a liar if they knew the truth at the time they spoke. A truth teller knows the truth and makes accurate statements about it. A strict liar knows the truth and makes statements which contradict it. A creative liar knows the truth and makes statements which are intended to deceive the listener. But there are several other possibilities; those three cases are not comprehensive. In particular, a person who is convinced that what they are saying is true is not a liar even if they're wrong.

Someone who is misinformed, and who genuinely believes that misinformation is not a liar simply because they repeat the misinformation or act on it. They can be accused of many things, such as gullibility, but not of lying.

All of the rhetoric about "lying" obscures the fact that this is an inductive process, not a deductive one, and words like "truth", "falsehood" and "lie" have to be interpreted entirely differently in the hazy world of inductive logic. As a practical matter, no one in the US government (or anywhere else) had conclusive evidence one way or the other about whether Iraq had WMDs or retained means and motivation to continue developing them once it became possible to do so. In fact, after we invaded evidence developed that even Saddam didn't truly know.

All the Bush administration had to work from were hints and calculations and imperfect reports from sources of less-than-ideal credibility; that's how it usually is in intelligence work. It's not crystal clear vision; you're usually trying to identify hazy shapes in the fog.

In other words, at the time Bush made the kinds of statements which my leftist friends have been referring to as "lies", what he had access to were reports which said that Iraq might still have any or all of those things, along with at least some degree of calculation of how likely it was.

And even if those reports and calculations were wrong, or if the calculated probability was low, that doesn't mean that acting on them was wrong.

The claim that Bush lied gets thrown around more than John Kerry's football. And I've often read in comments sections where lefties say that Bush hatred is nothing worse than Clinton hatred. I have a real problem with that statement.

I don't hate President Clinton, but he sure let me down. He made himself a strict liar based on his personal life -- things he was directly in control of -- as opposed to intelligence gathering or foreign policy. President Bush might have speculated incorrectly about WMDs in Iraq, but President Clinton knew damn well what he was doing behind closed doors. At the end of the day, that makes a big difference to me.

But President Bush is the world's biggest liar, and always will be. Sigh.

Posted by: Sarah at 03:54 AM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
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1 Bush has lied his way through his life. He virtually always knew full well that he was making false statements when he made them. He lied in his bio about his service in the Nat'l Guard. He lied when he was on the board of Harken. When he was Governor of TX. he lied about his illegal campaign financing cover ups over Dignity Memorial (under oath). He lied about attempts to acquire Uranium from Niger - he either knew that the evidence to support this were forgeries or was incredibly and inexcusably ignorant (I knew he was lying about it since I listened to the forgeries discussed in the IAEA report broadcast on most public stations months earlier). The way you are dancing around Bush's dishonesty now is as bad as the semantic games Clinton played.

Posted by: VOT at January 09, 2005 06:37 PM (MiV8c)

2 You know that George Bush "virtually always" knew full well that he was lying? Really! How did you manage to learn that? Do you have pictures too? You could maybe get on TV and make lots of money writing a book about it. Your super-powers will probably be unappreciated here by simpletons like Sarah or the rest of the simpletons like me who read her blog. Unless maybe you are an actual fly-on-the-wall in which case the manner of acquisition of your knowledge isn't particularly startling, but how the hell do flies manage the typing? They don't usually get into politics, but the typing trick would be a sure thing for Animal Planet's Pet Stars.

Posted by: Rev. Churchmouse at January 10, 2005 05:00 AM (Kgld4)

3 I too knew Bush lied about WMD. I knew because I had been paying attention to news about Iraq for the 10 years prior to his invasion and knew that the WMD has all been destroyed, or rendered useless by chemical deteriation over time and the impossiblity of maintenence due to the sanctions. But when Bush said emphatically that Iraq had WMD then I was willing to pay attentionm and, if his evidence was sound, to change my mind. But he never offered any evidence. And worse, when he had inspectors in Iraq searching high and low for WMD, using whatever information Bush gave them to find those weapons, and they came up empty, then I knew, I knew, Bush lied.

Posted by: good to go at January 10, 2005 12:23 PM (ywZa8)

4 "Really! How did you manage to learn that?" You don't need to be a fly on the wall to figure out when someone is lying - if that were the case then we would have some tremendous problems with our legal system. I noticed most of his lies by simply paying attention to the news, keeping up on current events, and listening to various gov't reports. When the facts are clear before Bush made statements that do not match those facts, Bush is either intentionally lying or is an ignoramus. I do not think he is an ignoramus. It strikes me as virtually impossible that an average joe like me would know the facts about political matters that the president wouldn't. In all the cases I cited, it is clear that he knowingly lied (and I could go on with a very extensive list of lies he has spewed if you would like). When you make a statement about a situation that is incorrect, but the error is due to ignorance, that is not a lie, it is just a mistake. Lying is inherently stating as fact that which you know not to be true. BTW, trying to say that Bush is not really a liar but has just made a lot of mistakes isn't really a good defense of his character, it paints him as an idiot. I don't think he is an idiot, but rather an insincere, lying, scheming politician.

Posted by: VOT at January 10, 2005 03:01 PM (5fERM)

5 they were looking for an excuse to invade Iraq since day one...so what if they exagerated the "facts" a bit...at least Bush has a great head for details and did a fantastic job of planning his war! John Wayne would be proud....next stop, IRAN!

Posted by: kingboo at January 19, 2005 04:26 PM (3+not)

6 Hi Sarah, I've used your article on my blog. (http://www.manitoulinislandindex.com/blog.html) I have to say that I enjoy yours very much and hope hubby gets home to you real soon so you'll have company watching those John Wayne movies. POKO

Posted by: POKO at January 19, 2005 09:27 PM (GfrGS)

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