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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card November 2, 2003

On Lying

A friend sent me a link to a website that takes apart Michael Moore's misleading Oscar-winning "documentary" Bowling for Columbine.

Since this website does a thorough job of showing Moore's pattern of deception, and since it always takes longer to answer a lie than to tell one, suffice it to say that it is obvious that Moore knew he was being deceptive, that it could not have happened accidentally, and that he persists in trying to sustain his misrepresentations while accusing his accusers of the very kinds of manipulation that he is guilty of.

In fact, this is a constant pattern in contemporary American politics. The Democratic Party, which made an obvious attempt to steal the 2000 presidential election by manipulating the vote count in selected solidly-Democratic voting districts, has spent the last three years accusing the Republicans of trying to steal the election in Florida -- even though there has been no serious accusation of a deliberate attempt by Republicans to manipulate the outcome.

Likewise, it was the leftist, activist Florida state supreme court that attempted, by overturning settled law and making up new election rules after the fact, to massage the recount until the desired outcome was achieved. This activist court was prevented from throwing a presidential election through blatant disregard for law only by the intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court, which blocked the Florida Court's manipulative actions. But those who almost got away with using the courts to steal a presidential election are incessant in their charge that it was the U.S. Supreme Court that stole the election.

This is like the burglar accusing the homeowner of theft for having snatched the sack into which the burglar had stuffed the homeowner's valuables.

But this pattern of accusing others of one's own crimes or attempted crimes is perfectly understandable.

After all, we never really know other people's motives.

So when someone else does something we think is bad, it is natural for us to assume that they act out of motives just like our own.

So when someone like Michael Moore accuses his opponents of lying about or manipulating or misrepresenting the facts, he probably believes that they're being dishonest, because he can only assume that they are acting no differently from himself.

Moore is hardly the only one. For instance, there's Al Franken's singularly unfunny book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.

In the current issue of Commentary, reviewer David Frum examines the "lies" that Franken accuses the Right of telling. While Franken does indeed catch some conservative writers, commentators, and politicians in false statements, most of them are obviously mere errors in research or carelessness in choosing words, and sometimes they aren't lies at all, but rather differences in opinion, as when George W. Bush claims to have eliminated income taxes for millions of low-income taxpayers.

Franken claims this is a lie because those low-income taxpayers still pay Social Security and excise taxes. But these are, by definition, not "income taxes," and President Bush never claimed to have eliminated all taxation of people in the lower brackets (p. 64).

The most amusing thing is that, with the help of research assistants provided to Franken by Harvard University (one wonders whether this should call into jeopardy Harvard's tax exempt status), spends much of the book talking about the fake letters he sent to 28 conservatives, asking them for (highly mockable) personal stories about their own experiences with sexual abstinence.

He also talks about getting a research assistant to apply to Bob Jones University and then traveling there with him to try to exploit the process for its comic potential. They were caught and politely denied the access they wanted.

Still, it's amusing, isn't it, that in a book that accuses other people of lying, Franken's methodology includes so much deception.

Since both Franken and Moore, who were once funny, now seem to offer an attitude of outrage in place of humor, and yet can't seem to find anything to be outraged about without flat-out lying about or grossly misrepresenting the actions of their opponents, isn't that some kind of confession?

My point is not that rightwingers don't lie -- I've been around long enough to know that lying is not a monopoly of any group, and there are plenty of conservative writers who affect a tone of outrage over events that have perfectly innocent explanations.

In fact, our civil discourse would be greatly improved if people would at least admit the possibility that their opponents are not monsters of depravity, but merely human beings who are prone to error. If people would not accuse other people of crimes and lies without at least some actual evidence.

At the risk of fictionalizing, here is a conversation I've had at least a dozen times in the past six months. The dialogue has been changed only to make me look more quick-witted than I actually am:

"Everybody knows that George W. Bush is a warmonger who faked up evidence in order to get the people to support his invasion of Iraq, all for the benefit of his cronies in the oil business."

"Wait a minute. The only 'faked' evidence was faked by somebody else, and the worst that can be said of it is that Bush 'should have' avoided citing 'questionable' evidence. And you're assuming that the invasion of Iraq somehow benefitted Texas oilmen -- but the price of Texas oil falls if Iraqi oil starts flooding the market. If anything, it would have been in the interest of Texas oil to leave Iraq as it was, with an embargo on its foreign trade."

"Oh, come on. You're just refusing to see the kind of man Bush is. He's obviously a cowboy who loves war."

"But until 9/11, he hadn't initiated military action anywhere."

"He was waiting for the chance."

"But how do you know that?"

"Because look how they've plunged into this war! It's obvious they enjoy it!"

"What have they done that makes it so obvious?"

"They're having a great old time, pumping up the defense budget -- the Pentagon just loves having money thrown at them."

"But the defense budgets had dropped to shockingly low levels during the Clinton administration. So not only did we have to pay for campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also we had to replenish low stockpiles."

"But what about the waste in Pentagon spending? Buying outmoded equipment just because some Republican congressman wants more spending in his district?"

"Are you seriously suggesting that this kind of thing began with Bush and a Republican Congress? Study a little history."

"So you're condoning defense department boondoggles."

"Look, you charged that Bush obviously loves war, but the only evidence you have is that the defense budget contains exactly the kind of boondoggles that it has contained from the dawn of our Republic. What has Bush done that proves that he is a warmonger who invaded Iraq for oil?"

"We haven't found any weapons of mass destruction!"

"But we didn't know they'd be this hard to find before the invasion; and nobody who is expert in these matters seriously doubts that Saddam had (and probably still has) stockpiles of gas and biowarfare agents, and an ongoing nuclear program. Besides, you're dodging the issue. We have found far more evidence of WMDs in Iraq than you have yet produced to support your claim that Bush loves war and fought it for financial gain."

"All that proves is that Bush is really good at hiding the evidence."

"No, you're confusing him now with a different president -- you know, the president that you kept insisting was innocent because nothing was ever proved, even though the lack of proof resulted from his refusal to comply with congressional demands for evidence. And when something was proved -- namely perjury -- you said it didn't matter whether a president lied about sex. Even though his perjury was designed to prevent his opponent in a court case from getting damaging evidence against him. That was proved, and yet you loved Clinton and hate Bush."

"I knew you'd bring up Clinton. You conservatives just can't forget how popular and successful he was ..."

"No. I brought up Clinton to establish a standard of proof. You insisted that the Clintons were innocent of even the most obvious crimes -- like Hillary's cattle futures windfall and the lies that were used to justify firing the White House travel office staff -- unless a very specific paper trail could be found. But Bush you'll accuse of outrageous and implausible motives that are flatly contradicted by his actions, with no evidence at all. You simply believe what you want to believe."

"And you don't?"

"No, as a matter of fact, I at least try not to. But I think you confessed something a moment ago when you said, 'You conservatives just can't forget how popular and successful Clinton was.' I think you just confessed your own motive for attacking Bush with such hatred and virulence. The thing you can't forgive him for is that he actually took action after 9/11 -- not just a few token missiles fired at empty training camps, but actual, effective action -- and the army, when it was used for its proper purpose, was extraordinarily successful. You wanted Bush to fail, and you just can't stand it that he hasn't."

"Hasn't he? Aren't our soldiers still dying over in Iraq?"

"Yes, they are. That's because they're still fighting the war in Iraq, and when you fight wars, people die. More people will probably die in the U.S., too, because you can bet that our enemies are doing everything they can to mount another series of terrorist attacks here. But please keep in mind: George W. Bush is not killing our soldiers, our enemies are, and those enemies were killing our soldiers before we invaded Iraq or Afghanistan -- just in case you've forgotten. Bush didn't start this war. He merely carried it to the enemy and started fighting it on their soil, liberating a few oppressed countries along the way."

"It's another quagmire, like Vietnam."

"It will only be like Vietnam if a certain party in Congress forbids the President to fight it using the full power of the United States."

"In other words, you're in George W. Bush's pocket, and he can do no wrong."

"I'm in nobody's pocket, and if he actually does wrong, I'll be the first to say so -- which I've done on various occasions. But what I'll never do is accuse a man of the kind of vile crimes you've accused him of, on the basis of the same complete lack of evidence that you have for your accusations."

"You're just naive."

"You're just partisan. You have no allegiance to truth. You simply tell whatever stories will make your opponents look bad, whether they're true or not."

"Are you calling me a liar?"

"That's a funny thing to resent, considering how freely you call George W. Bush a liar. But no, I'm not saying you're a liar. I'm saying you don't actually care about the difference between truth and lies. All you care about is usefulness. All you care about is whether the public might believe your slanderous slogans and send Bush's popularity ratings down. I think that's worse than lying. At least a liar has to keep track of the truth in order to adjust his lies to fit the facts. You simply don't care."

Copyright © 2003 by Orson Scott Card.


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