01/18/2007 01:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Golden Age of Lying

We live in a golden age of lying. We went to war based on lies: Colin Powell's aluminum tubes, Condi Rice's mushroom cloud, Bush's sixteen words. Experts told Bush there was no hard evidence of Iraqi nuclear weapons programs. He told us there was and off we went.

Bush's Iraq speech was laced with lies. He began by saying 12 million Iraqis voted for a 'unified and democratic nation.' In fact 20% were Kurd separatists. Millions more were Shiites and Sunnis out to subjugate one another. The country is far closer to a Shiite theocracy than any democracy.

He painted a picture of defeat. There'd be "chaos in the region... radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength...Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons..." He was of course predicting the recent past. All this has already happened. Doesn't he know?

Bush promised Iraq would be our ally in the war on terror. But a Shiite Iraq will align with Iran. A majority of Iraqis condone the shooting of American troops. Iraq may well join the war on terror, but not on our side.

Bush thanked the Democrats and the Iraq Study group for their input, which he had spurned. He said Iraq's government had "put forward an aggressive plan" to end the violence, omitting that he had rejected that plan in favor of his own.

Iraq's government hates Bush's plan. That's reason enough to scuttle it, so he tells us they're for it, why heck it's their plan. A close reading of his text reveals the usual syntactical escape hatches, which only make it more of a lie.

Bush says we will "help Iraqis... secure neighborhoods... help protect the local population... help ensure... the security Baghdad needs." It sounds like a support role. His real plan is to put more troops in even greater danger: door to door urban warfare of the sort any army dreads.

Bush said we sent too few troops to Iraq and placed too many restrictions on them. He left out that our ineptitude bred chaos; that our hunger for oil and military bases bred cynicism and that our few allies were quietly going home. The only mistakes he admitted were tactical errors of his previous commanders.

What's amazing is the poor job Democrats do refuting him. With an electoral mandate, the support of the old foreign policy establishment and wide support even among the military, you'd think they'd be eager to expose his dissembling and make the case for change. Not quite.

They have their own problems with the truth. On 'Meet the Press,' Joe Biden claimed the constitution won't let Congress end the war. Clinton alum Leon Panetta said "the system" prevents Democrats from taking action. Barack Obama saw it that way too, but then hedged.

It isn't all bad. Chris Dodd wants to cap troop levels. Hillary Clinton now says she's for a cap too. Credit Ned Lamont's primary win for showing Democrats early on you can't support the war and win a primary. The presidential primary debate has begun driving debate in Congress and that's a good thing.

Public opinion is moving left on Iraq and other issues. America is so used to disparaging liberals it scarcely recognizes how liberal it has become. The political debate lags behind. Politicians are fearful creatures. Fear breeds lies. Lies slow you down.

The culture of lying, like the culture of corruption, eventually touches everyone. Telling the truth in public requires effort and skill as well as character. Even good people forget how to do it.

Our government's broke, our health care system's broken, our planet's heating up fast and we're about to widen a futile war. Some nations faced global warming and embraced multilateralism. We settled for a politics of personal biography and the endless swift-boating that comes with it.

We can't pass a law. We can call out the culprits-- the politicians who traffic in sly omissions and misleading implications, the reporters who pass off even-handedness as objectivity, all the public figures whose default mechanism is ad hominem attacks. We begin the change simply by insisting on something better.

The psychologist Carl Rogers said "the facts are friendly." If you believe your cause is right you should want a politics driven by empiricism more than ideology and personality. Let the facts drive the debate.

Imagine if truth were as revered in politics as it is in science or business. Imagine lying politicians paying a price. Imagine them turning off their endless loop of empty phrases and engaging in real conversation and debate. Then imagine things getter better, not worse.

Some nations are more honest than others. Ours is less honest than it once was. We can do better. In the end it comes down to what you're willing to live with.