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An Honest Man?

In his gushing account of President George W. Bush, the former presidential speechwriter David Frum tells us that his boss "scorned the petty untruths of the politician." We learn, for example, that when asked to prepare a radio broadcast for the following day, he would begin reading, "Today I am in California" and quickly break off, saying with exasperation, "But I'm not in California." Frum thought this a bit pedantic, but concluded that it was emblematic of the President's character and that "the country could trust the Bush administration not to cheat and not to lie."

How wrong Frum now seems.

Bush may naively consider it lying, and therefore wrong, to say that he is in California when he is recording a speech in Washington. But he fails to see anything gravely wrong about misleading his country and the world concerning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. As we have seen, the White House built its case for war on a highly selective dossier of evidence, and Bush made statements about Iraq's attempt to purchase uranium from Africa that he and his staff knew to be highly doubtful, if not false.

When questions were raised about how the statement about uranium was allowed to remain in Bush's State of the Union address, both National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld argued that it was not a lie. Their reasoning indicates that they, like the President, have a childishly literal notion of what it is to lie.