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ABSOLUTELY FATUOUS (PART 2)! Incredibly, the Monthly thinks that a meaningless joke is George Bush’s fifth biggest whopper:


STRAIGHT FROM THE PRESS CORPS’ PRIVATE PLANET: Here at THE HOWLER, we’re still stunned by the Washington Monthly’s utterly fatuous “Mendacity Index” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/2/03). How fatuous is your insider press corps? As you’ll recall, the Monthly’s “experts” picked the “six biggest lies” of each of the last four presidents. According to the Monthly’s experts, here is one of the six biggest lies George W. Bush ever told:

Going to War.
During a visit to West Virginia in January 2002, Bush joked, “I’ve been to war. I’ve raised twins. If I had a choice, I’d rather go to war.” During the Vietnam War, however, Bush served with the Air National Guard in Texas, and had specifically noted on his Air Force officers test that he did not wish to serve overseas.
To make things easier, we marked a key word. The key word we highlighted? Joked.

That’s right, readers. According to the Washington Monthly, one of the biggest lies Bush ever told is this JOKE about his twin daughters! To help you see how mindless this is, here is the original report of the deeply troubling incident:
ASSOCIATED PRESS (1/27/02): President Bush says between going to war and raising twins, he’d choose war.

Bush’s visit to West Virginia last week included a chat with Bob Kiss, Democratic speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates. While they hail from different parties, they found plenty to talk about—although while both have twins, Kiss’ 5-week-old twin boys aren’t quite old enough to cause much trouble.

Kiss told Bush that if he wasn’t doing anything the next morning, he could come by for their 3 a.m. feeding. Kiss said Bush joked, “I’ve been to war. I’ve raised twins. If I had a choice, I’d rather go to war.”

Shall we note a few things about this report? First, the text of Bush’s joke comes second-hand, remembered and reported by Kiss. So we don’t even know what Bush really said. For example, he may have said, “I’ve planned a war [Afghanistan], and I’ve raised twins.” The Monthly’s experts assume Bush meant Vietnam. But they have no way of knowing, and as is so typical with their cohort, they don’t seem to have noticed or cared.

But readers, can we return to that key word? The key word, again, would be “joked.” According to the Monthly’s experts, this one-on-one JOKE by President Bush is one of the six biggest lies he has told! Our suggestion: Read back through the budget buffoonism which actually got George Bush elected—the budget buffoonism of October 2000, part of which we described in yesterday’s HOWLER. Paul Krugman discussed some of this clowning three separate times before Bush and Gore’s first debate. But the press corps ignored Krugman’s work in real time, and those life-changing howlers still don’t trouble the “experts.” They’re more disturbed—they’re deeply troubled—by this JOKE which Bush told to Bob Kiss.

Amazing, isn’t it? What kind of people take part in such clowning? We’ll stick with our original guess: The kind of perfumed, overpaid people who simply aren’t able to care.

But drink in the foolishness, HOWLER readers! According to the Monthly’s experts, a meaningless JOKE which Bush told Kiss is the fifth biggest lie he ever told! That’s right—you can check the rankings yourselves. The Monthly’s “experts” consider this “lie” more serious than Bush’s “trifecta” statement—a misstatement repeatedly made in public to shore up his political standing.

Please remember the key point in this: You simply can’t measure a president’s honesty by pie-eating contests of this type. But what kind of people engage in such clowning? Your perfumed press corps takes part in this farce—people unable to think very clearly, and people unable to care.

MARSHALL LAW: Some have excused the foolishness of the Index; they have told us that Josh Marshall’s accompanying Monthly piece puts this whole thing in perspective. We disagree with this view. We think Marshall does superlative work at his own site; it’s one of the few places we visit expecting to learn something. But his Monthly piece is empty and drawn. Philosophes will adore its High Theoretics, but it’s far below his usual work. Here’s part of the second paragraph:

MARSHALL: [Bush’s] style of deception is also unique. When Reagan said he didn’t trade arms for hostages, or Clinton insisted he didn’t have sex with “that woman,” the falsity of the claims was readily provable—by an Oliver North memo or a stained blue dress. Bush and his administration, however, specialize in a particular form of deception: The confidently expressed, but currently undisprovable assertion. In his State of the Union address last January, the president claimed that Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda and a robust nuclear weapons program, and that therefore we needed to invade Iraq. Even at the time, many military and intelligence experts said that the president's assertions probably weren’t true and were based on at best fragmentary evidence. But there was no way to know for sure unless we did what Bush wanted. When the president said on numerous occasions that his tax cuts—which were essentially long-term rate reductions for the wealthy—would spur growth without causing structural deficits, most experts, again, cried foul, pointing out that both past experience and accepted economic theory said otherwise. But in point of fact nobody could say for sure that maybe this time the cuts might not work.
Can this be the man who writes TPM? Bush’s style of deception is unique? Please. Bush has made many misstatements which are quite disprovable—the “trifecta,” for example, or almost all the ludicrous statements in the fall of 2000. As noted, Krugman “disproved” one such whopper three times, although the press made a point not to notice. (By the way: Clinton didn’t know about the blue dress. Duh.) And every Admin makes budget predictions which can’t be “disproved” in advance. Nor is spun intelligence “unique.” To the extent that Bush misstated intelligence, he hardly invented new conduct.

Marshall does excellent work at his site. But his Monthly piece is Pure High Piffle. That makes it perfect for its vessel—for a mag which thinks that a meaningless JOKE is George Bush’s fifth biggest whopper.