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Have Democrats rediscovered virtue?
By Patrick M. Garry
Maybe there's good news in all the mud-slinging and character slurs that have been coming from the left during this presidential election. Perhaps Democrats have finally gotten the message. They denied it all throughout the Clinton presidency, but now they are like the recent convert – preaching the message with an almost fanatical extremism.
It appears that Democrats have rediscovered the sin of lying. All during the 1990s, they said lies didn't matter. They said personal virtue didn't count as much as policy agendas. They said accusations of lying were just a distraction from the business of government. Truth was relative; it depended on the ever-fluctuating meaning of "is." But conservatives never bought into that excuse. They never stopped arguing that a democracy's elected leaders could not honorably govern without moral virtue. And now, it appears, conservatives have won over the liberals.
Morality has made a comeback in the election of 2004. In every Democratic ad and every John Kerry speech appears the most stinging of moral judgments: George Bush is a liar; George Bush lied about Iraq; George Bush lied about 9/11; George Bush lied about the budget; George Bush lied about how many hurricanes would hit Florida. As Democratic chairman Terry McAuliffe put it: "If you lie about your military record, you lie about creating jobs, about the deficit, about fully funding education; about a real prescription-drug benefit." Hallelujah! What an occasion for conservative celebration -- that Bill Clinton's one-time money launderer and moral apologist should now recognize what he denied for eight years. Personal integrity does matter. Of course, it helps if the lies are really lies: if the accusers know the definition of a lie, even if they don't know the definition of "is."
Call it the Clinton revenge. The Democratic furor in hurling accusations of dishonesty seems like nothing more than a fit of revenge, like a child who has just gotten out of detention and starts lashing out at all the kids he thinks ratted on him. Lying about the level of the deficit? About how many jobs the private-sector economy might create? If that's lying, then the weather forecaster lies every day he wrongly predicts sunshine.
Maybe the Democrats didn't learn anything after all. Lies are not what happens when political hopes and predictions go unfulfilled. Did Woodrow Wilson lie when he promised to keep America out of World War I? Did FDR lie when he promised to end economic pain and uncertainty? Did JFK lie when he said the U.S. had a vital interest in Vietnam? Did LBJ lie when he said his big spending programs would not cause inflation? Did Bill Clinton lie in 1998 when he said that Saddam Hussein posed an immediate risk to the United States, that Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction and giving aid to Osama bin Laden, that America should not wait for the U.N. to act?
The Democratic promiscuity in its accusations is just another way to gut moral virtue. In the 1990s, they claimed it was irrelevant. In 2004, they are taking the opposite tack, by diluting it to the point of emptiness: if everything is a lie, then nothing is a lie. They're just using the word 'lie' the same as they're using the word 'Hitler' and 'Nazi' and 'thug' to smear President Bush. But these smears only show one thing: that the Democrats don't really know what a lie is, just as they obviously don't know what a Nazi is, or who Hitler was.
If the Democrats were sincere, they'd realize that their accusations could just as easily be turned against themselves. If President Bush has lied about the budget deficit, didn't Democrats lie for decades about welfare, only to finally admit the truth when Clinton signed the welfare reform bill? If President Bush lied about the amount of federal funds going to education, haven't Democrats been lying for years about how they were going to improve the public school system? Didn't the Democrats lie all through the sixties and seventies about the value of high-rise, low-income housing that would later turn into skyscraper ghettos? Didn't the Democrats lie all throughout the Reagan and Bush presidencies when they said an aggressive stand against the Soviet Union would only end in nuclear holocaust? Didn't the Democrats lie when they said the way to turn around the U.S. economy was through more taxes, more regulation and more government bureaucracy?
The thing about lies – they've never changed, not since the time of Abraham. A lie is a statement you intentionally make when you know for a fact that it is false. Like when John Kerry said he didn't throw away his medals, even though he had. When he said he spent the Christmas of 1968 in Cambodia, even though he hadn't. When he said he didn't own a SUV, even though it was technically his wife's. When he said President Bush's troop deployment plan was dangerous and ill conceived, even though two weeks earlier John Kerry had supported the idea. Like when CBS and all the Bush revilers shrugged off the lie of the forged National Guard documents with the truth-defying claim that the documents were "fake but accurate." A forged signature? A forged document? The truth? What difference does it make, we're talking about an election here -- and the great evil one, George Bush, is leading in the polls.
The thing about all the accusations of 'lying' that the Democrats are making against President Bush – they're like the crazy driving of a teenager who has just received his license. Or like a new toy a little child plays with, over and over. But you can't blame the Democrats. After all, it's been a long time, a very long time, since they've used the language of moral virtue. Maybe one of these years, they'll actually learn how to use it like an adult.
© 2004 Patrick M. Garry
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