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May 29, 2004

Republicans Can't Handle the Truth


by Paul Sperry

I used to marvel at James Carville and Paul Begala. Despite the parade of scandals during the Clinton administration – eight years of lies, deceit and power abuses – they never got tired of defending the indefensible.

Now I stand in amazement at Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, fast on their way to becoming the Carville and Begala of the Bush administration.

Limbaugh compares the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal to fraternity hazing.

"This is no different than what happens at the Skull & Bones initiation. I'm talking about people having a good time," he said. "You ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of needing to blow some steam off?"

So in Limbaugh's mind (now drug-free, as far as we know), beating pledges to death and packing their bodies in ice to mask the stench are now typical hijinks at New Haven. And sodomizing them with night sticks is hilarious fun for all. (Urine test for Rush – stat!)

Hannity blames Democrats and their friends in the liberal media for making a big stink out of a few bad apples. "They never tell you about all the good things happening in Iraq!" he whines, even as the president of the Iraqi Governing Council is assassinated.

And I thought the Clinton apologists were bad.

Sadly, Limbaugh and Hannity have proved themselves no different, and no better. Ditto for all their dittoheads still in denial – and that's coming from someone who voted for George W. Bush and against Bill Clinton both times, and whose anti-Clinton stories have been read on air by Limbaugh and Hannity.

Slavishly pro-Bush, they've lost any credibility they gained as truth-tellers under Beelzebubba. If you get your news about Iraq and Bush from Limbaugh or Hannity, you are as woefully misinformed and misled as those who got their news from the New York Times and the Washington Post during the Clinton years.

Hannity, for his part, insists he's been critical of Bush. For example, he says he ripped Bush for co-opting some of the big-government ideas of Democrats, such as the Medicare drug benefit.

But those are issues of policy, not character. Hannity was mad because Bush wasn't Republican enough. He has never doubted Bush's honesty or integrity, in spite of the raft of White House scandals surrounding 9-11 and Iraq – from the Saudi evacuation and the censored 28 pages to Ahmed Chalabi, WMDs, Halliburton, Cheney-Scalia, Joe Wilson, the State of the Uranium and now the Abu Ghraib cover-up. These are monumental violations of the public trust, and they speak directly to Bush's character.

Yet Hannity goes right on giving Bush the benefit of the doubt he never gave Clinton (for good reason). And his arguments in his defense grow shriller and more sophomoric by the day. Here's the general thrust of what he argues each day during what amounts to a free, three-hour Bush campaign commercial:

  • If you criticize Bush, you're a Democrat; and it doesn't matter if you aren't, because you might as well be, you closet liberal, you.
  • If you criticize the Iraq war, you're a traitor – or worse, a Dixie Chicks fan.
  • If you condemn the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, you don't support the troops and are undermining the war effort.
  • If you question the timing of Iraq regime change in the middle of a war on al-Qaeda, you love Saddam.
  • If you don't link Iraq and Afghanistan in the war on terrorism, you're a hair-splitting wimp who can't see that all "ragheads" need a good beatin' after 9-11.
  • If you hear negative news, it's liberal news.

These are the fulminations of a high-paid party hack posing as a patriot (not to mention a journalist) to tap into the misplaced anger out there in fly-over country – the Bush red states – after 9-11. Intellectual bullies like Hannity, who set up bleeding-heart liberal strawmen like Alan Colmes (his Fox counterpart) just to knock them down, fear honest debate; and people who fear debate fear the truth. And the stone-cold truth is Republicans are overinvested in Bush and his Iraq fraud, and their credibility is sinking with his poll numbers.

Before the Grand Old Party loses all credibility, it's high time Republicans turn down their radios, put down their cups of RNC Kool-Aid, pull their heads out from under the flag and start asking some hard questions about the leader of their party, including whether he's worthy of nomination come August.

But before they can do that, they have to own up to some truths themselves. Here's a quick test to gauge your own intellectual honesty. Circle Yes or No after each question:

  1. Do you still believe Bush's claim that Iraq was a "direct threat" to America? Y / N
  2. Before Bush launched Operation Iraqi Freedom, did you ever say, "You know, honey, we really need to free those poor people in Iraq?" Y / N
  3. With anti-Saddam Shi’ites now joining Sunnis in fighting U.S.-led occupation forces, do you still believe Bush when he says "terrorists" and "Saddam loyalists" are behind the resistance, and not nationalists? Y / N
  4. With Iraqis now attacking Americans at a rate of 60 ambushes a day, do you still buy Bush's argument that Americans have to stay in Iraq to protect Iraqis, that we're the answer to the security problem and not the source of it? Y / N
  5. Were any "terrorists" killing Americans in Iraq before Bush invaded Iraq? Y / N
  6. Was capturing Saddam more urgent to the war on terrorism than capturing Osama bin Laden, as the president sold it? Y / N

If you answered Yes to all of the above, you support the war simply to support Bush.

You can no longer honestly say the war was to protect America. The weapons of mass destruction fraud has been exposed. Even Colin Powell admits peddling lies. And we now know the secret National Intelligence Estimate Bush used to justify invasion concluded that Saddam had no role in al-Qaeda's operations or its attacks on Americans.

Try as you may, you can no longer argue Saddam is behind the insurgency, given that more than a third of our GIs killed have been killed since his capture.

Nor can you claim to support the war to support the troops when many don't want to be there, and others are torturing, massacring and looting innocent Iraqi civilians. And you can't rationalize the prison brutality as a necessary tactic against terrorists when Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba testified he couldn't find a single terrorist in custody during his prison investigation.

Face it, there's nothing heroic or worthy left about this war in Iraq. It's just a pile of lies. Unless you support lies, the only thing you're supporting by supporting the war now is Bush. That's obviously good enough for Limbaugh and Hannity, but is it good enough for you? Is reelecting Bush more important to you than truth or young American lives? My party, right or wrong?

Republicans had a name for that warped kind of loyalty during the scandalous Clinton presidency. They called it "ends-justify-means morality." They fairly noted that Democrats didn't care if Clinton lied under oath to fix a lawsuit against him, so long as he kept hauling in money for the party.

Now many Republicans are rationalizing their support for Bush in much the same way, the only difference being his sins involve matters of life and death. "So what if he lied us into war?" they tell themselves. "He's the War President, and thanks to post-9-11 patriotism, we're raising more money from our base than Clinton ever dreamed of."

The Amen Corner of the party is spiritually, as well as politically and emotionally, invested in Bush, and even more delusional. They can't bring themselves to think such a church-going man could be guileful, especially when they've convinced themselves that God has anointed him to straighten out the problems in the Middle East, restore Zion to full glory and speed the End Times. They also believe his national security adviser is pure as the driven snow. How could cute little Condi not be? She taught Sunday school for Heaven's sake!

This is the same crowd that's still holding out hope for the Second Coming of weapons of mass destruction in Mesopotamia. You've got to believe they'll appear! Let not thy hearts be troubled by their absence! Blinded by their faith in George W.M.D. Bush, a man as fallible and sinful as the rest of us, they've practically constructed a whole new theology based on evidence that doesn't exist.

And these are the same Christian conservatives who demanded to know where the outrage was during the Lewinsky scandal. Well, where's their outrage now? Do war crimes not count as sins?

Apparently not to Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. He said he's more "outraged by the outrage" over the American abuses of Iraqi prisoners than the abuses. He says it's all politically driven. And besides, the Iraqis in those cell blocks deserved what they got, he growled, because they're "terrorists." Never mind that such punishment is illegal, and that none of the detainees held at Abu Ghraib were in fact terrorists. And never mind that 3 out of 5 of them weren't guilty of any crimes at all, according to the Taguba report, and should never have been locked up in the first place.

That's all lost on Inhofe – though perhaps not on his staff. Rewind the videotape of his full remarks at the May 11 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, and you'll see a bespectacled female aide sitting behind him scowling and rolling her eyes in disbelief as her boss gives his blessing to sadism.

At least there is some sanity left within the Republican Party. Other Republicans on the Hill, most notably Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, are outraged by the ongoing fraud called Operation Iraqi Freedom, and they don't think the solution is adding more troops. They care more about protecting young lives and the nation's founding principles than Bush's political fortunes.

And listen to former Reagan official Paul Craig Roberts, who recently said: "Bush lied us into war and continues to lie to keep us there."

Not conservative enough for you? Then consider the advice a former foreign policy aide to conservative giant Sen. Jesse Helms gave me last month. "I would believe nothing you are told by anyone in the Bush administration," he warned. "We are in a world of official lies as a method of government."

Or, you can continue to be a proud member of the Coalition of the Willing to Believe White House Propaganda about Iraq. And you can go right on standing fast with Bush and his talk radio lapdogs.

But know that you are standing on the wrong side of truth and history – a place where the entire GOP may find itself stuck for many years if it doesn’t soon divest itself from Bush and his Iraq debacle.

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Sperry, formerly Washington bureau chief of Investors Business Daily, is a Hoover Institution media fellow and author of Crude Politics: How Bush's Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003).

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