August 20, 2005


I started thinking today about lies. Why is it that we seem to have an endless parade of adults charging liar-liar-pants-on-fire?

Just because you're ignorant doesn't mean the other person is a liar. That was the case when we played Scattergories: people had never heard of the German city we used, and so they called us liars. Moreover, just because you want something to be false doesn't mean the other person is a liar. That was the case with Grey Eagle, where she and her other commenters insisted that I am a liar, even when I gave proof (in the form of URLs to slutty websites that female soldiers were running). And just because someone turned out to be wrong, doesn't mean he's a liar. That's the charge that President Bush faces every day: googling Bush lies brings 7.5 million hits, even when the Clinton administration was also convinced there were WMDs.

What is the problem here? Why are grown-ups running around with less class and manners than the 7th graders I taught? Why is civility dead?

Maybe calling someone a liar makes these people feel better about themselves and their shaky hold on truth. As Pirsig said, people are typically only zealous about things that are uncertain. But I get so sick and tired of the liar charge. Can't we all try to behave like adults?

Posted by: Sarah at 02:52 AM | Comments (34) | Add Comment
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1 AFAICT, civility died well before any of us were born. If it ever existed. But. Bush is a flat out liar. Googling for 'Bush lies,' the first thing we run into is David Corn's book. Note that he has documented a litany of lies that our fearless leader has used to mislead the public - exaggerating and inventing new claims about WMDs is just one of may lies Bush has darkened his soul with: 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

Posted by: me at August 20, 2005 03:01 PM (UEAYx)

2 And before someone brings it up, yes Corn is a partisan. Partisanship doesn't discount an argument, nor does it cause evidence that one uses to back up arguments to disappear. Corn did a lot of research, and has a very complelling case for the particular accusations of lying that he lists. If you want to disprove his case in a credible way, you will have your work cut out for you. If it did, then one would not be able to believe any statement made by any member of our government, including Pres. Bush who has taken partisanship to new levels.

Posted by: me at August 20, 2005 03:07 PM (UEAYx)

3 Oops last sentence got hosed. Should be: "While it is a favorite tactic of the punditocracy, calling partisanship has never proved an argument false. If it did, then one would not be able to believe any statement made by any member of our government, especially Pres. Bush who has taken partisanship to new levels."

Posted by: me at August 20, 2005 03:12 PM (UEAYx)

4 Obviously... "Me" doesn't care about the truth. Just a hack for the left.

Posted by: Jamie at August 20, 2005 07:28 PM (yDBbJ)

5 Jamie, thank you for making me laugh out loud.

Posted by: me at August 20, 2005 08:25 PM (UEAYx)

6 The lies told by President Bush are greatly exagerated by your Google search. Please be advised that these are the same five hundred or so lies replicated over and over. Google makes it appear that the President has told millions of "lies" when he is actually guilty of just a few hundred "misrepresentations". Google: Librul commonist conspiritor... we can live without it.

Posted by: marli at August 20, 2005 09:23 PM (96hNg)

7 marli, I would go even further. No real Conservative can trust any search engine, as they often reveal facts that do not agree with the Conservative world view. Nor can one trust any neutral news reporting, scientific studies, encyclopedias, or any other information sources on topics by experts when those fields discuss anything that is related, even in a very loose way, to politics. Finally, to properly hold a Conservative view, even one's own experience and reason must be rejected, as often enough a thoughtful reflection on one's experience would arrive at the heretical view that one cannot reduce complex issues to simple black and white talking points. The Bush administration was quite right to criticize the Left for being "reality based," as only sources of truth that can really be trusted are Conservative politicians and pundits. Since their views generally diverge radically from reality, reality is clearly at fault, and should be avoided at all costs.

Posted by: me at August 20, 2005 10:28 PM (UEAYx)

8 ...ah, the "people who don't agree with me are incapable of thinking" ploy. Gosh, what a surprise. Of course, none of those icky conservatives could have possibly researched any of the claims of the President's "lies" and found inconvenient things that disprove the claim or anything. Nope, better ignore them and claim they aren't based in reality.

Posted by: Patrick Chester at August 21, 2005 01:40 AM (74cXW)

9 Instead of liar, would you settle for grossly incompetent? Or does it seem like a good idea to have relied on sources such as "Curveball" to support your case seem like a good idea?

Posted by: not me at August 21, 2005 03:10 AM (9aW+B)

10 Marli was being sarcastic

Posted by: Sarah at August 21, 2005 04:45 AM (BdYs/)

11 I thought the site would have a function to prevent that last remark from actually showing up. Sorry

Posted by: Notreallysarah at August 21, 2005 05:02 AM (BdYs/)

12 I'm willing to agree that Bush didn't lie about the WMDs, inasmuch as he believed they were there. That isn't enough to get him and his Administration off of the hook, though. It was reasonable to assume initially that Iraq had some WMDs. They had had them at one time, and they hadn't produced proof that they had been destroyed. However, the Bush administration had an obligation to do "due diligence" before undertaking a war, in order to verify its assumptions. Here is where the ball got dropped. The intelligence community was picking up evidence that the WMDs might be gone, but they were under pressure from the Administration to pay more attention to the sources that said the WMDs were there. Remember Chalabi? Cheney in particular really pushed hard for him to be regarded as a reliable source. He was supposed to be Iraq's George Washington. Now he is in jail for fraud, LOL. So technically Bush and the Administration probably didn't lie. At the same time, they basically just didn't care enough about whether what they wer saying was true to bother to check it out. That is different from lying, but I don't think it is any better. CNN has a program on tonight about where all of the intel went wrong, by the way. (It is okay for you folks to watch CNN sometimes. I actually watch a lot of Fox News, so the universe will remain in balance.) Can anyone explain to me how George Tenet got the Medal of Freedom? Even if they had WMDs, though, that hardly justifies the war. The explanation that they might give them to Al Queda was so weak. It ignores the hostile relationship between the two. It also ignores the fact that other Middle Eastern states have or are getting WMDs and have much closer ties to terrorists than Iraq: Syria and Iran, for example. By the way, Sarah, I notice that you don't give any examples of conservatives who lack civility. I know, they were just examples, but when they all go in one direction it pretty strongly implies that you only think that liberals (and Scattergories players) lack civility. As an example of someone wrongly being accused of lying, let's take the accusation that Kerry lied in the 1970s when he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding war crimes in Viet Nam. This is a bum rap because: 1. Kerry was only passing on reports that others had made (at Winter Soldier) about their own actions; he wasn't accusing anyone of anything. 2. Some of the reports he passed on may have been false, but he couldn't know that---hence not possibly a lie. 3. Most of the reports were substantially true. Even Tommy Franks admited this when Hannity interviewed him on Fox. I think the bigger issue isn't people calling each other liars, though, but just the fact that political discourse has become so loud and nasty. I'm not going to say that tist is all the fault of conservatives, but they bear their share of the blame---everyone from Newt Gingrich to Ann Coulter.

Posted by: Pericles at August 21, 2005 07:27 AM (hHudX)

13 For the record, by the way, you are right that Bush lies brings up 7.5 million hits, but that counts all pages that have those two words anywhere on the page, not necessarily together. You are counting pages where people defend Bush against what they see as Democrats' lies. "Bush lies," with the quotes, only brings up 159,000 hits. That doesn't seem like so many, considering that some people will ALWAYS accuse the President of lying, and that some of those pages may be about his father or Jeb. (Or his brother Neil, of the savings and loan scandal.) On the civility topic, by the way, remember when the Clintons were accused of murdering Vince Foster? Might help to give some perspective...

Posted by: Pericles at August 21, 2005 11:48 AM (hHudX)

14 Pericles -- 1) We live overseas. We can't watch Fox or CNN by choice; we get "AFN News", which broadcasts news from different sources alternating every hour. I don't like TV news, so I get all of my news from online. I don't understand why everyone (not only you but some of my friends who email me to disagree) assumes that I, and all rightwingers, sit glued to Fox News all day long. I think ALL news channels suck bigtime. I know a lot of people much farther to the right of me who LOATHE Fox News. Just because we're right of center doesn't mean we bow down to Fox. 2) I never said anything about liberals in my post. I gave the Scattergories example (not political), the Grey Eagle example (not a left-right wing topic), and, yes, the President example, but only because BUSH LIED has become like a mantra. I did another experiment on google: Bush lies = 7.5 mil hits Clinton lies = 2.9 mil hits "Bush lied" = 239,000 hits "Clinton lied" = 41,700 hits So I think there is something to the idea that Bush gets hit harder than other presidents. You're right: Political discourse -- hell, all discourse, I think -- is loud and nasty. The word "liar" is thrown around way too often by everyone, which was my point.

Posted by: Sarah at August 21, 2005 12:23 PM (6dsp+)

15 I don't get it. When someone in an important role fragrantly lies in front of you about something important, why is it inappropriate to point that out? Bush certainly has fired off a ton of whopping lies, often in such a way as if he is trying to trigger a reaction from his critics. Hinting at a relationship between Bin Laden and Sadaam the day after a report is released sayig there is no relationship is a sure way to get called on it. Stating in the SOTU address that Sadaam tried to buy Uranium from Niger in an effeort to create nuclear weapons, when that claim had been publicly debunked many months before (I heard the the IANA report since it preempted my normal show) is just begging to get called out. And if he didn't know he was lying in the SOTU, he so uninformed as not to be fit to be president - the IANA report was a critical report about the state of Sadaam's nuclear capacity, which was being used by Bush as an excuse to invade Iraq. In a democracy it is our duty to examine our leaders and criticize them, whether they are members of our favorite political party or not. While we should be honest about it and careful, it is the right thing to do. 'Civility' is not about giving a free pass to those who abuse their office, just because we personally like them, or because they subscribe to the same ideology we do, or anything else. Finally, Google's results are not immediatly meaningful for a few reasons: 1) Both 'Bush' and 'lies' are terms that have multiple meainings. 'Bush' could indicate a shrub, it is a product brand, it is the Australian term for the wilderness, a relatively common family name etc., while 'lies' is a verb with many meanings as well. e.g. "A wonderful adventure waits those who wish to tour the bush, while excellent diving and snorkeling is available in the great barrier reef which lies off Australia's coast." "The bonsai garden lies to the north of the rose garden, with a lovely juniper bush border." 2) There have been two Bush presidencies, and both of those presidents have made bald faced lies to the American people. Remember Sr. doing the "read my lips" bit? 3) The (pubilcly available) Internet has been around much longer for the Bush regime, than for the Clinton regime. Most pages on politics tend towards discussions of current events. Thanks to blogs, which became popular during Bush II's reign, there are millions of posts about current events. You could normalize the numbers to reduce the relevance of these factiors if you had a lot of time to research, but for now it's best to just assume that they are Google is not a meaninful metric for your point. I would also note that when the Right was busily excoriating Clinton, the comment was often made that it was one's patriotic duty in a democracy to criticize the president. What's good for the goose...

Posted by: me at August 21, 2005 01:34 PM (UEAYx)

16 Sarah, Apologies for assuming that you preferred Fox to CNN, although that comment was addressed to your readership as much as to you, and I'm willing to gamble that on the whole Fox has more fans here. The Google numbers are interesting, but in this case I don't think they prove your point. Two reasons: (1) The number of Internet sites in existence goes up sharply every year. There are a lot more of both pro-Republican and pro-Democrat sites now than when Clinton was in office. "Bush told the truth" pulls up twice as many hits as "Clinton told the truth." "Bush is honest" pulls up many times more hits than "Clinton is honest" or "Clinton was honest." (2) Clinton has been out of office for nearly five years, and out of date web sites tend to go away. Five years after Bush leaves office, a lot of "Bush lies" sites will have vanished too. I know that some prominent Dems have called Bush a liar. On the other hand, Clinton was called a liar on the floor of Congress---he was impeached for it. So I am pretty confident that even in the "MSM" there were a lot more references to Clinton lying than Bush. I'm not saying there isn't a reason for that! But the Google numbers don't tell the story.

Posted by: Pericles89 at August 21, 2005 03:08 PM (hHudX)

17 Oops, I see that "me" beat me to the punch on Google.

Posted by: Pericles at August 21, 2005 04:27 PM (hHudX)

18 Googling "Bush untruths" brings only 51,300 results; "Bush fibs" just 36,200. Civility persists even in these troubled times. You just have to look for it.

Posted by: Marli at August 21, 2005 04:42 PM (cw17H)

19 Sarah, I'll actually answer your question. "Why is it that we seem to have an endless parade of adults charging liar-liar-pants-on-fire?" Its interesting to note that the first commenters responded with, not by answering the question, but by acknowledging "yes, this sort of thing happens, but" and then launch into a list of Bush "lies", each of which is debateable. However, the point is not about debate. Appealing to someone's intellect takes time. You have to have a reasoned argument, you must also accede to the concept that the other person's viewpoint may have merit. In other words, you have to be willing to accept that the other person may continue to think you are wrong even when the debate is over. All of this cannot happen in the brief span alloted for network TV news. So we shout. We condense. The position is taken that the other side has performed questionable acts. The message must be shaped in such a fashion as to put the other side on the defense, to be as reactive as possible, so that the dominant talk of the day is framed in a manner that supports your position. Of course, when both sides start doing this, it reinforces the other...both sides must immediately spin all new issues against the other. The more you can keep your opponent on the defensive, the longer you can keep your message in the public view. After all, when a politician denies something, we tend to not believe him. So spread the accusations as thick as possible. I'm not sure where I read it, but politics of this nature are a lot like trying to drive down a highway keeping it clean. People are constantly throwing garbage out the window, and you gotta stop and clean it up, making it that much harder to drive down the road. This applies to any political party or affiliated groups. Right now, we've got Republicans in charge, so they are out there doing this that and the other. THe Democrats would more than likely be doing similar things, but since it isn't them in charge, there needs to be a change in leadership so that the "proper" party can be in charge and get things done the "right way". The Republicans are the ones having to pick up a lot of the trash. The situation was reversed in he 90's. Basically, when you get right down to it, people are calling other people liars to get that concept to stick and to distract them from other tasks, so that they can't get anything done. If the only message that gets repeated is "Bush is a liar" and all other information to the contrary is overwhelmed by that singular meme, well, then you've won. You can always rewrite history later when you are in power, to make it fit with what you said.

Posted by: Jason at August 21, 2005 08:26 PM (e31/e)

20 Jason, With this question: "Why is it that we seem to have an endless parade of adults charging liar-liar-pants-on-fire?" Given the choice of answers between: 1) They are lying, there is proof. When politicians lie about important things, people care about it and discuss it. or 2) They are not lying - that's not really the point. People care about politicians lying, so what's really going on is that one side is attempting to create the appearance that they are lying to distract from nebulous 'other tasks?' Occam's razor readily slices #2 away leaving 'they are lying.' FWIW, if the list of lies I offered above were really just empty distractors, it should be easy to research and show that each of those particulars is wrong. Instead we get ad hominems, red herrings, or vague claims about proven facts being 'debatable'. At best we get a little focus on the one point that is a bit fuzzy (WMDs) and get weak arguments about how Clinton thought that there were WMD in Iraq, which is besides the point. Bush and co. lied by manipulating what data they had to make a better case than he had, and we have witnesses inside the White House who do not have a political axe to grid, who have stated that this is what they saw. Honsetly if you are sincerely unaware that Bush is lying to you, you really need to do some more research, or maybe get some counseling, as you are filtering evidence to fit your world view. Reality should come first, and world views should be adapted to it, not the other way.

Posted by: me at August 22, 2005 06:03 PM (y7lmo)

21 Occam's Razor works wonderfully when all you have are two choices, and is competently wielded. Thus, we can excuse your false dichotomy and add other possibilities to your short list: 3: They were wrong, and didn't know how wrong. Strange, how this possibility has not occured to you, while others have noted it and have moved on, but then, if we considered the possibility that perhaps someone other than Bush was lying (name starts with an S, can;t quite seem to remember his name) and the entire world fell for it...well. That certainly makes Bush look a lot less menacing, and blows your carefully crafted selection of "known lies" clear out of the water and into low orbit, where it can burn up safely. Now, we could take the time to debate these issues, but, as I said in my earlier comment, that would take time. Its easier for you to continue to bleat "BUT HE LIED!!!!!!" and provide a list that isn't even specific in any way, provide any source links or material, and expect us to take you at your, a random anonymous commenter on the Whirled Wide Web, and you dare to lecture me on Occam's Razor and question my grip on reality? Absurd. No, that's not the word. Obtuse. Sarah asked a question about something very specific in nature, which I attempted to answer. You, on the other hand, saw fit to display a staggering lack of reading comprehension and instead rattle off the same tired list of paranoid tripe that has been dispensed since the day Bush took office, all buffed up and shiny with a new "Now with Iraqi Oil!" logo. Please, this is Sarah's blog, where she asked a simple question. She's entitled to an answer, not some diatribe. If you are too limited in cranial capacity to at least contribute to that and stay on topic, then kindly, gently, but firmly, consume excrement, and thus expire. Have a nice day.

Posted by: Jason at August 22, 2005 09:13 PM (FnW1q)

22 Jason, You're obviosly a very thoughful man but if the abstract were true and the concrete were false we wouldn't never o' been throwed into this mess. People believe Bush lied because the evidence tells them so. Take a look at what Colin Powell's chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson told CNN on Friday about the WMD case made before the U.N. (They KNEW it was booshit) Take a look at the Downing Street memos-facts and evidence "fixed around the policy" Look at the last IAEA report to be released before the invasion of Iraq (Nuclear case was known to be booshit before the war) Look at this stuff that's out there in plain sight an then take refuge in philosophy if you must.

Posted by: dave at August 22, 2005 09:36 PM (Hq5E2)

23 "That certainly makes Bush look a lot less menacing, and blows your carefully crafted selection of "known lies" clear out of the water and into low orbit, where it can burn up safely." No, no it doesn't. Pretty rhetoric doesn't make something true. Of course Saddam was lying. Having just criticized me for a false dichotomy, you go and invent your own - pretending that If Hussein was lying then W. wasn't. They were both political leaders, and, as such, are by their nature both prone to lies. And, once again, the WMD issue is not the only place where W has lied. There was a list presented above. So far you have shown that you can't actually address any of the claims above, save the question of WMDs, which you really only dance around. Once again your only argument is to fire off ad hominems, which are a fallacy. See if you can honestly and clearly answer any of these charges in such a way that you don't drop into rhetorical tricks or logical fallacies: If you seriously look at GWB's statements about his relationship with Ken Lay, and then look at the evidence to the contrary you will see that he was lying. The same can be said of Chalabi. If you seriously look at GWB's initial statements about the Tax cuts, you will have to assume that GWB was incredibly foolish and poorly informed if he was he was being sincere. If you seriously look at GWB's initial campaign statements about bipartisanship, you will see that they in no way map to any of his actions. If you look at GWB's campaign promise to Nevada to not send Nuclear waste there, you wil see that this was a lie. Bush has repeatedly implied connections between 9/11 and Saddam, despite the fact that there are none. This has all the appeareances of being done to deliberately mislead the American people, and polls have shown that many of the population were misled by these lies. et al. As for reading comprehension, the first post specifically mentioned the book and the author that I sourced that list from. As for answering the question, I did just that. Just because you didn't like the answer doesn't make it a non-answer. I think it's pretty clear that your emotional attachment to your image of your hero is keeping you from seeing that Bush (along with most politicians) says what is expedient to say, and doesn't appear to give a damn about the truth. This isn't unusual, Clinton, Bush I, Reagan, and many (most?) of their predecessors did the same thing. It's really the nature of politics. It's just troubling for me to see people naievly believing the rhetoric of the liars, and so I call them out. I take it as a philosophical duty. Finally, this isn't personal, but your tone shows that you are taking it as such. The name of this blog is trying to grok. I am always trying to grok the world, and am just expressing my understanding, it's not a personal attack on you, it is a criticizm of public figures. Criticizing public figures is part of democracy, and a guaranteed right for Americans, trying to shut it down by pretending that it isn't 'civil' is really rather Orwellian.

Posted by: me at August 23, 2005 12:16 AM (lq5rN)

24 Jason, As an exampler for you to use, here is a refutation of one incorrect statement I slipped into my list above: "me" said: >If you look at GWB's campaign promise to Nevada to not send Nuclear waste there, you wil see that this was a lie. But, if you look at what Bush actually said, he did not actually make that promise. He actually promised that he would not use NV as a temporary storage facility until it was reviewed and then not unless it has been deemed scientifically safe. See: As you can see, it's pretty easy to use facts to disprove positions. Note that I didn't even need to call "me" a name, or fire off any fancy rhetorical embellishments. See if you can do the same for the others. I do not think you will be able to, but will happily concede if you can do it.

Posted by: me at August 23, 2005 12:26 AM (lq5rN)

25 I had to chuckle at this paragraph on Screedblog today: It may surprise you, but I actually have heard that argument before. The one about WMDs. Also the one about “shifting rationales.” It’s come up from time to time. Consequently they do not leave me open-mouthed in stunned surprise, unable to craft a response. So it’s not the show-stopper you think it is, alas. Everyone always thinks they have some armor-piercing argument the other side has never considered, but that’s rarely the case.

Posted by: Sarah at August 23, 2005 03:09 AM (rRJTB)

26 Dave declared: People believe Bush lied because the evidence tells them so. ...and oddly enough, some people believe Bush didn't lie because they actually read the evidence carefully and, gosh, it doesn't match what people claim the evidence says. Shocking.

Posted by: Patrick Chester at August 24, 2005 03:54 PM (MKaa5)

27 Oh wait, was I supposed to make several multi-paragraphed posts of claims or something? Drat.

Posted by: Patrick Chester at August 24, 2005 03:56 PM (MKaa5)

28 Patrick, You're supposed to continue to refute specifics with generalities. That's your best strategy under the circumstances.

Posted by: Dave at August 24, 2005 06:15 PM (XIjIO)

29 Oh, you want specific point-by-point rebuttals to your oh-so-new claims of Bush's perfidity or all is lost and the vaunted neo-con cause is revealed as Evil Incarnate? Uh-huh... and if I do and all I get is a repeat of the same claims, what use is the debate? I guess that's the whole purpose of the spewing of the same claims over and over again: to drown out the opposition until they get tired of refuting you and give up, save for some icky "general" remarks that you're on crack. Oh well, if you want to play your game, then Cassandra at Villainous Company has a lot of nifty specifics for you, since my oh-so-terrible general disgruntled "oh not this bilge again" response has not satisfied your exacting demands that people tussle with you. Here's the URL: Happy now? Hm. While previewing this I looked at "me"'s first little missive and realized it boiled down to him saying: "civility is dead and I'm not going to bother!" Then proving it. Repeatedly.

Posted by: Patrick Chester at August 24, 2005 09:56 PM (MKaa5)

30 But Patrick, If the claims aren't new, If the claims are as old as the hills then what is their rebuttal exactly? Go ahead spit it out sir.

Posted by: dave at August 24, 2005 10:20 PM (XIjIO)


Posted by: dave at August 24, 2005 10:26 PM (XIjIO)

32 ...and dave proves my theory to be correct. I guess I will just have to hope people click on the little link I posted, read it, and maybe go looking on their own... and dave will have to pray they don't. Until then, perhaps dave should just hold his breath until someone bothers to adhere to his imperious demands.

Posted by: Patrick Chester at August 25, 2005 11:51 PM (74cXW)

33 Patrick, I apologize for my tone. There is something deeply pointless about this.

Posted by: Dave at August 26, 2005 11:25 PM (EXeyV)

34 All politicians lie i mean you could tell when bill clinton lied becuase him mouth was open

Posted by: spurwing plover at August 28, 2005 03:36 PM (S97cI)

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