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I know we are supposed to go easy on our presidents. That is, we can criticize them all we want, but we’re not supposed to call them liars or use other strong language like that. According to this custom of political politesse, it is not respectful, and it tears down the highest office in the land. If you are a rodeo clown, and you want to wear an Obama mask, you better do it when no one is looking.

So I’m not going to say that George W. Bush was a liar. That word doesn’t begin to capture his extraordinary relationship with reality. The disconnect among his words, his actions, and the world outside the White House became apparent so often during his two terms as president. You could not count on him to say anything truthful.

On one occasion, Bush plainly displayed his attitude about the value of honesty in a two-word response to a reporter’s question. For months he insisted we should go to war with Iraq because Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. After we threw the man out, we looked hard for those weapons. When we couldn’t find them, President Bush said, “So what?” With those two words, he said, “I was going to go to war with Iraq no matter what, and I needed a good excuse to do it. Now that the war is on, what does it matter if the excuse was a lie, or a mistake, or whatever you want to call it? It worked at the time, and now we have to figure out what to do next.” That’s the kind of person you want as president: practical, with clear ideas about how to create disasters.

You have to think fast.

George W. Bush reeked of dishonesty. Tricky Dick had a reputation, but dishonesty was the least of his problems. Slick Willie had a reputation, too, but if he had kept his trousers on, he would not have had to lie so much. For George W. Bush, dishonesty lay at the core of what made him such a bad president, and such a bad leader. I want to say it made him a bad person as well, but it’s best to reserve judgment about things like that.

We accept that politicians will bend words to suit their purposes. In that way, they are like others who need to protect themselves, or who use words to persuade or accomplish some other end. Reporters and opponents like to monitor politicians in their creative use of language, in order to catch them when they go too far. We even call it fact checking, to give the whole activity a sense of professional legitimacy. Check the words against the facts to see if we have a whopper or not.

Dishonesty so thoroughly suffused Bush’s public speech, you could not even identify the lies in his statements. Everything he said or thought seemed divorced from, yet strangely connected to the truth. He lived his own propaganda. No argument, judgment, or self-serving motive was too fantastic for his immature outlook. No statement of supposed fact was too far-fetched. No assessment of a situation was too unrealistic. He was ungrounded. The only people he persuaded were committed people who wanted to believe him to begin with, or careless people who were ready to go along with him no matter what he said.

We’re familiar with Bush’s dishonesty about the Iraq war. That war, and Bush’s foreign policy as a whole, evolved into such a public catastrophe that no one associated with Bush’s presidency could avoid blame for it. Look at north Africa, the Middle East, and south Asia in 2014, and ask if any of it would look the way it does if Bush and company had not blundered into Baghdad in 2003, riding missiles, jeeps and tanks.

Underneath this venomous chaos, like Gollum in his cave, lies an invisible pustule. Events have origins, and someone inside Bush’s presidency holds the secret ring. I’m speaking of course about 9/11, the destructive event that inaugurated his extraordinarily destructive presidency, the pretext for going to war in Iraq, and for every almost other flagrantly illegal act committed by our government since then. Who knew what, and when? It would not do any good to ask Bush a question like that directly. He has had plenty of chances to bring out the truth, and he would not do it now.

Here is a question, which involves reasoning from public behavior to guesses about what is not public. We observed that President Bush sat in a Sarasota classroom for seven minutes or so after Andrew Card informed him the United States was under attack. Under the circumstances, standard operating procedure for the Secret Service would be to escort the president to a secure location. Why did they not do that? What would lead an organization like the Secret Service to depart from standard procedure?

Andrew Card informs President Bush of the 9/11 attacks.

Just as significantly, Andrew Card and Karl Rove lied about the president’s behavior one year after the event. According to their accounts, President Bush departed the classroom a few moments after he heard the news from Andrew Card, not minutes later. The White House even had Sarah Kay Daniels, the teacher who hosted President Bush in her classroom, confirm the revised story. What would explain a revision like that?

So you want to ask, what did the feds know, and when did they know it? Former presidents and their advisors are apparently immune from that kind of query, but all of us would benefit from a straight, complete answer to that question. It is admittedly not an easy question, because the feds are a large, inchoate group. Nevertheless, the question needs an answer. We failed to connect the dots will not do.

When you have a political culture built on dishonesty, expectations for presidential allegiance to the truth are low. Expectations for the president as an effective leader sink lower still. When the president takes the oath of office, he becomes commander-in-chief, liar-in-chief, and head of a propaganda machine that never sleeps. When citizens can’t trust their president, or any other part of their government, you don’t have a country anymore. You have an illegitimate state with no inherent strength.

Related article

Read this article by David Ray Griffin:

9/11 Contradictions: Bush in the Classroom on the Morning of September 11, 2001

Related interview

This interview with Jesse Ventura touches on several issues related to Washington’s dishonesty: