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How dumb do they think we are?
By Mark Shields
WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- In my line of work, you get lied to a lot.
There are the generally forgettable fibs, like a senator who's making his seventh political trip to New Hampshire since the first of the year insisting he has made no decision about a White House run.
The falsehoods you remember are bold and brassy. I will never forget President George H.W. Bush stating with a straight face that the nominee's race had never even crossed his mind when he picked Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court.
Presidential candidate Bill Clinton demonstrated early his flair for fiction by contradicting all his campaign's previous statements on his non-service in the military when he admitted that, yes, during the Vietnam War he actually had received a draft notice calling him to military service.
Why had Clinton never mentioned this fact before during the endless Q-and-A sessions about his military record? In a polygraph-punishing explanation, Bill Clinton lamely explained he had just "forgotten."
Let's be clear: If you were a young man of draft-eligible age during Vietnam, you might be excused for forgetting your first kiss or your first beer. But you would forever remember that ominous moment when the letter, carrying with it the full force and power of the U.S. government, arrived summoning you to bear arms.
So, too, did George H.W. Bush fully understand that his nomination of Clarence Thomas, an African-American jurist of modest legal achievement, would discomfort and demoralize many Democrats.
Today in Washington, the big, barefaced lie is very much back.
For two years, the George W. Bush White House had asserted that Bush's closest political advisor, Karl Rove, had nothing to do with press leaks revealing that the wife of the former U.S. ambassador whose report had publicly refuted administration claims that Saddam Hussein had attempted to buy "yellowcake" uranium ore from Africa for nuclear weapons was an undercover CIA officer.
Scratch those assertions: Karl Rove did tell Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper that former Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.
A senior Bush administration official told The Washington Post that, shortly after the publication of Wilson's piece in the New York Times -- which undercut the administration's case for launching a pre-emptive war against Iraq -- two top White House officials had called six journalists to disclose the identity and the position of Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife.
That same senior administration official said: "Clearly it (the leak 'outing' Plame) was meant purely and simply for revenge."
Are you ready for a barefaced lie? Listen to the Republican talking points. It is true that Rove did talk to Matt Cooper. But he was not trying to smear Wilson and thus silence a formidable critic of Bush's Iraq policy.
No, Rove's only motive was to make sure that Cooper and Time did not publish something that could turn out to be false. This is a side of the man we have not seen before -- selflessly saving gullible newsmen from publishing anything inaccurate.
Imagine how busy Rove must have been during Bush's 1994 race for Texas governor, when his campaign was accused of launching a whispering campaign in East Texas about Democratic Gov. Ann Richards' affinity for gays. Try as he must have, Karl just couldn't stop the circulation of those ugly rumors.
In 2000,George W. Bush's campaign was accused of spreading the vicious charge that Bush's main rival, Sen. John McCain, was unstable because of the time he had spent as a POW in isolation.
You just know Karl must have been speed-dialing reporters, valiantly trying to kill that slander. In 2004, the man who bankrolled the Swift Boat Veterans against John Kerry was one of Rove's oldest Texas allies.
Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News, who has covered Rove long and well, puts it this way: "Throughout his political career, bad things happen -- sometimes involving dirty tricks -- to his enemies or rivals." Is that because he's evil? "He's amoral. He doesn't set up a plan to damage, defeat or destroy his enemies because he's evil. He does it because he's so unbelievably competitive and amoral."
All of this raises one nagging question: Just how dumb do the Bush people believe we are, that we would swallow, for even a nanosecond, the fabrication that Karl Rove's only motive in calling reporters was to discourage inaccurate stories? Do they really think we are that stupid?
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