Truthiness or consequences

Published 1:50 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2007

If it achieves nothing else, the Bush administration’s solitary contribution to the art of governance may be its creative use of what TV comic Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness.” Mostly, Colbert remains in character as a blowhard Fox News-style pundit, but he once gave a serious interview to the satirical newspaper, The Onion.

“Truthiness,” Colbert said, “is tearing apart our country. … It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It’s certainty. People love the President because he’s certain of his choices as a leader; even if the facts that back him up don’t seem to exist. … What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?”

The dude must be reading my e-mail. Scarcely a day passes without conservative screeds accusing me of irrational hatred for our peerless leader, most couched in sheer truthiness: half-truths, pseudo-facts and downright buncombe. It’s the sameness that’s striking; most repeat the same bogus arguments in near-identical order.

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Consider the Bush White House’s purge of U.S. attorneys. Without exception, loyalists identify the real culprit: Bill Clinton. It’s an alibi familiar to the parents of small children. Catch little Johnny in the cookie jar? “What about Suzy?” he’ll whine.

“In March of 1993,” an editorialist rationalizes, “Bill Clinton’s newly sworn-in Attorney General — Janet Reno — fired every single U.S. attorney in the country, all 93 of them, in the opening salvo of the Clinton years … the most comprehensive, unmistakable, unprecedented and politically motivated dismissal of federal prosecutors in American history.”

Except for all the others, that is. Fact is, incoming administrations routinely replace all U.S. attorneys; Reagan, Clinton, and the current President Bush did so. Even the first President Bush replaced Reagan’s prosecutors, although they were both Republicans. Nominating U.S. attorneys is as much a perquisite of winning the White House as naming the Treasury Secretary.

The GOP “Culture of Bamboozlement,” as my pal Bob Somerby of “The Daily Howler” calls it, functions very efficiently. Whether a given bit of truthiness originates with the Republican National Committee, Fox News, The Washington Times or Rush Limbaugh matters little. They all repeat it until True Believers can recite it in their sleep.

So here are the differences: First, Clinton’s choices were nominated at the beginning of his term, pending approval by each state’s senators and confirmation by the full Senate. The Bush purges came six years later. They followed a little-noticed clause in the revamped “Patriot Act” allowing the president to circumvent Senate confirmation in an “emergency.” (Funny, I don’t hear sirens.) That clause is being repealed as I write.

Consulting the Senate tended to prevent overtly partisan actions like replacing Little Rock U.S. attorney, Bud Cummins, with one Timothy Griffin, a Karl Rove apparatchik with scant qualifications. Arkansas’s relatively conservative Democratic senators, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, have made it clear they wouldn’t go along. A Republican, Cummins has testified that he was warned not to complain, lest the Bamboozlement machine be turned against him.

Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno also never testified falsely to Congress, unlike Alberto Gonzales, who told the Senate, “I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney position for political reasons or if it would, in any way, jeopardize an ongoing serious investigation.”

Gonzales stands contradicted by his e-mail exchanges with subordinates, who’d given similarly disingenuous assurances. Lying to Congress can sometimes be a crime. It’s always politically debilitating.

Obstruction of justice is a felony. Was San Diego U.S. attorney Carol Lam, who’d convicted one GOP congressman in a bribery scandal, subpoenaed another and indicted one Dusty Foggo, the Bush-appointed, third-in-command at the CIA, fired to shut down her investigation?

Again, suggestive e-mails passed between the Justice Department and the White House about “the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam,” on the same day she filed search warrants. So there’s ample cause for suspicion.

Now we learn that Chicago U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, recipient of Attorney General Ashcroft’s Award for Distinguished Service in 2002, got rated “not distinguished” in 2005 when he had Scooter Libby and Karl Rove under scrutiny in the Valerie Plame investigation. After he indicted Libby, those keen to fire him evidently chickened out.

Then after Fitzgerald convicted Libby, another example of GOP truthiness got exposed. How many times have you heard somebody alibi that Plame was not a covert CIA agent, so exposing her identity was no crime?

Last week, she testified to Congress. “I served the United States loyally and to the best of my ability as a covert operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency,” Plame said “… until my name and true affiliation were exposed in the national media on July 14, 2003, after a leak by administration officials.”

Plame did, however, confess to being a Democrat.