10/23/2006 03:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Tale of Two Georges

STEPHANOPOULOS: James Baker says that he's looking for something between "cut and run" and "stay the course."

BUSH: Well, hey, listen, we've never been "stay the course," George. We have been -- we will complete the mission, we will do our job, and help achieve the goal, but we're constantly adjusting to tactics. Constantly.

And there you have it. Not so much that--you know--"Bush Lied," "Expert: Sun Will Rise in East," "Dog Bites Man, Pope, Who Is Catholic," etc. The lying, the smug and shameless certainty that there's nothing wrong with the lying, the frat-boy confidence that he can get away with it because he's gotten away with it all his life: That's what's not news.

But most of his lies are sneakier than this. They require at least a moment--of common sense, of Google research, of normal human recall--to identify them as such and to disprove. But this...well, this is lying-as-performance-art, lying-as-self-parody, lying-as-pathology.

Still, though, however contemptible (and blatant, insulting, blah blah blah) it was, Bush's lie had about it an appealing teenage slanginess. "We've never been 'stay the course'." I see this and I'm, like, all, huh? I would have hoped that George Steph replied, in kind, "Oh yeah right. Meanwhile you totally have, yo."

The transcript shows, alas, that he didn't say this. But maybe he thought it.

In any case, in watching the video clip of this exchange I had the same reaction--at first, anyway--that you did: an instant of emotional shut-down and intellectual paralysis, of disbelief covered by a thin, thin candy shell of amazement. To be made aware of one of your assumptions ("He'll lie about everything, yes, but he'd never lie about something he knows the whole worlds knows to be objectively true") in the moment of its violation: this is the sort of experience usually only delivered by clever plotting and deft execution in films and novels.

The last time I felt this way was when Keanu Reeves jumped out of an airplane without a parachute in the movie Point Break. A second later, of course, I realized what was happening, why he'd done it, how and why it made sense, and so on. But for that first instant, I was astounded. And about how many times in your movie-going life can you say that?

Same here. I thought I'd seen it all. I thought I knew (finally) what they're capable of, and that nothing more could surprise me. I thought that, after Cheney told John Edwards during their 2004 debate that he had never met the man until that night (which was demonstrably untrue), that the biggest, fattest, and most audaciously gratuitous lie that human mind could conceive or human agency could perpetrate, had been achieved. All the others-- Condoleezza Rice's repeated lies, Cheney's incessant other lies, etc.--were but mildly provocative footnotes.

Now this. "We've never been 'stay the course.'" Not "we were 'stay the course' at first but we've changed," no, he said (lyingly) "never." It's humbling, really--at least at first, as the world proves itself once again capable of trumping one's cynicism and astonishing one with its infinite resourcefulness.

So much for at first. At second it's enraging. The heck with what "the world proves" about "its infinite resourcefulness." What I want to know is, Is that it? Does Bush, this loathsome specimen, this mortal enemy of truth itself, get to say such a thing and suffer no consequence? No public correction, chastisement, condemnation, and other indignant words beginning with the letter c? Have Bush and his henchmen so polluted the public sphere that, from now on, anyone can say anything without cost?

Or is this (Bush lying again yet again) an event that says more about George Stephanopoulos? The balance of his questions were the usual MSM kinds of pseudo-"tough" set-ups that invite the interviewee to practice his evasion skills and rehearse his non-answers. They all do it, from the fawning puppy-dogs on Fox (adorable Sean Hannity! Big Bad Bill-O! Who's a good boy?! Who's mommy's scary-wary cultural warrior?) to the chummy, un-troublesome Jim Lehrer on the Snooze Hour on PBS.

But "we've never been 'stay the course'" is, you would think, a slap in the face to any self-respecting journalist, a challenge to anyone who gives the slightest flying f--

Sorry. I'll stop now. Yes, I really do know better. Expecting a network journalist (or "journalist") to challenge and expose an official's lies is to expect him to jeopardize his very access to the official whose lies we have come to expect to not be exposed! And nothing accedes like access.

I don't know why I'm so surprised. The Republicans have been advertising this for years and have never claimed otherwise: They are the party of "family values." By which they mean what? Why, everything on current display: denial, enabling, bullying, falsifying the past, demonizing, catastrophizing, scape-goating, and lying, lying, lying. These are family values par excellence. Just ask anyone who's ever been in a family.

Still, it's hard to watch, every day for six years, the very concept of good faith in public life being waterboarded with impunity. "What's the problem? We don't really drown it. We simulate drowning it. It's still there. It's still alive."

Sez you, George.

(Meanwhile, for a good time, go here: )