Cynthia Oi Under the Sun

Cynthia Oi

Get ready for a season
of evasion and trickery

LEAVE it to Al Sharpton to spice up a debate. When a panelist at a forum for Democratic candidates in Milwaukee earlier this month asked whether George W. Bush had knowingly lied about his justification for starting a war in Iraq, the blunt-spoken Sharpton responded, "Clearly, he lied."

And, Sharpton said, he truly hopes Bush knew he lied because the other scenario would be disturbing. "I hope he knew he was lying because if he didn't and just went in some kind of crazy, psychological breakdown, then we are really in trouble," he continued, drawing laughs from the audience as well as a couple of fellow candidates.

Why do people lie? "Because they're liars," Sharpton declared.

Whoops. Time was when civility stopped people in public life from using the "L" word. Other than hearing it in schoolyard taunts -- usually followed by "pants on fire" -- few people used it in polite company.

In politics, calling an opponent a liar without using the exact term is usually the technique. Not so for respondents to a Pew Research Center opinion poll last week that found Bush's personal image at the lowest point of his presidency. The poll revealed that the "most frequently used negative word to describe Bush is ''liar,'" a label that did not even show up in the center's poll last year.

Politicians and officer holders have always put a slant on information. It's now called "spin," and spin experts rake in big money for their whirling services. Spin accentuates the positives and leaves the negatives in the tangle, forcing people to unravel the coils to understand an issue.

The Bush administration has been a master of spin. Often the ploy cuts the president's message to the bone so that he can say in all honesty that his tax relief plan gives "23 million small-business owners an average tax cut of $2,042." But as any C student knows, an average in this context is deceptive, that when you study the fine print, most mom-and-pop operations won't get it while very rich business owners get huge tax cuts. For example, of Vice President Dick Cheney's $1.2 million in 2002 income, about $238,000 would qualify for the cut.

Shaving the truth has become an art form and we all know this, so what's the big deal? The big deal is that I get tired of people who are supposed to be our leaders manipulating Americans as the witless rabble unable to separate wheat from chaff, that they try to sell us a bill of goods day after day and not expect us to catch on.

The weapons of mass destruction ruse, the back and forth over what the Bush people knew and when they knew it and how they manipulated or didn't manipulate flawed intelligence tends to overshadow myriad other deceptions.

The administration says it is increasing funds for AIDS victims in Africa and elsewhere. Sounds compassionate, but the details show that a good portion of the money will be funneled to conservative religious organizations that will preach abstinence as the tonic for the disease that kills about 8,000 people and spreads to 14,000 others every single day.

Bush shunned the Kyoto agreement on global warming measures because he wanted to base policies on "sound science" and demanded do-overs, but when the do-overs remained counter to his political goals, the administration used gallons of Wite-Out to banish the findings it didn't like.

The equivocating spans a range of issues, from forest thinning -- ostensibly to reduce wildfire dangers -- that are little different from clear cutting millions of acres, to "energy independence" by drilling in an Arctic reserve that could yield an amount of oil that would meet America's appetite for one measly day.

Don't expect the little white fibs to abate, not in this election season. As Bush said this week, "it's going to be the year of the sharp elbow and quick tongue." Keep your ears and your minds attuned.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at:


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