10/28/2005 01:25 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Big Lies, Trivial Lies, and Politics

Attempts were already being made before today's indictments to call perjury in the Valerie Plame case "technicalities" and pooh-poohing investigators as politically naive Boy Scouts who don't comprehend business as usual in Washington. Doesn't this mean, in essence, that lying should be considered interchangeable with truth? If there was ever a need to know the difference between the two, the Iraqi war is a prime example. Lying isn't business as usual when the consequences are deadly.

I read in the blogosphere that Joseph Wilson, whose wife is at the center of this scandal, thinks that holding the administration accountable for its lies is a critical test of democracy. And so it is. A democracy can be led around by untruths and made to passively accept spin and political partisanship. But every sane person realizes that those traits are defects in a democracy, not the essence of politics itself.

The Iraq war-makers wanted to avoid accountability by conveniently bending the truth and exaggerating rumors into facts. They ignored and disdained the U.N. when its teams declared that there were no weapons of mass destruction. They dismissed all contrary opinions without even allowing them the dignity of a fair hearing. What this means is that the Bush administration turned truth into a political liability and lying into a tool for receiving favors. This is far worse than cronyism.

In the wake of Libby's indictment, we will be bombarded with cries of partisan foul play. We will be told that the false evidence which brought us to war should be forgotten because the end justifies the means. Fingers will be pointed at the whistle-blowers rather than the perpetrators. And no doubt the cynical will claim that Monicagate has now been turned into Plamegate -- just another trifle puffed up by a bread-and-circuses media.

Yet in truth Valerie Plame has become a litmus test on truth and lying. Monicagate was different -- it was malicious puffery, a trivial indiscretion that was turned into a witch hunt for the worst motives. This current scandal may also turn into a witch hunt, and we may witness bad motives being shamelessly displayed. That shouldn't hide the fact that if the war-makers aren't held to account for their lies and deceptions, democracy will suffer a terrible blow.