Naturally, when I heard President Bush is now claiming to be in the forefront of the fight against corporate crime, I thought it was an April Fools' joke. But no, there it is in print -- he made a big speech about it in Houston, of all places, not far from the Enron building.
"We had to confront corporate crimes that cost people their jobs and their savings," he said. "So we passed strong corporate reforms and made it very clear, we will not tolerate dishonesty in the boardrooms of America."
We did? We won't? Oh, he was talking about the Sarbanes bill, that set of inadequate corporate reform measures that he opposed until it passed the House of Representatives with just a handful of dissenting votes and he couldn't face the political heat any longer. That bill.
I notice a favorite quibble from the White House here -- its new explanation is that Bush didn't oppose the bill per se, he just opposed "many of its main provisions." That would be exactly the same way he opposed "many of the main provisions" in the Patients Bill of Rights Act when he was governor of Texas: He hated it so bad he never did sign it and then later claimed, "We passed the Patients Bill of Rights in Texas." I think he has a pronoun problem.
The people who spend their time keeping track of George W. Bush's fibs, exaggerations, distortions, misleading remarks and flat-out lies are working at a frenzied pace these days. I particularly enjoyed the Bushies' sober new analysis that John Kerry's fiscal plan would leave us $1 trillion in the hole. This is the same set of drunken sailors that wants to leave us $5 trillion in the hole over 10 years by making the Bush tax cuts permanent. Great, let's save $4 trillion and vote for Kerry.
A weekend's wallow in media coverage of the first anniversary of the end of the Iraq war netted some prize specimens of spin. On one side, fawning pro-administration journos happily reported everything is tickety-boo over there, whole thing just a glorious success (not counting 570 dead Americans and the unknown number of Iraqi civilians).
The Pollyanna Sunshine award in this category goes to William Safire of The New York Times, who reported, "Free electricity keeps air-conditioners humming, oil is flowing, schools and businesses have come back to life." I suppose the opposite pole would be the new prime minister of Spain's succinct description, "a continuing disaster."
Most of the establishment press took the "glass half-empty and half-full" route. ABC News did a "scientific" poll, my favorite kind, finding Iraqis themselves pretty much divided on the "good thing-bad thing" question. Unfortunately, a closer look at the poll shows 83 percent of the Kurds on the "good thing" side, leaving a fairly significant "bad thing" majority among both Sunnis and Shiites. Not a happy augury.
As a congenital optimist, I'd like to go for the "half-full" option, but what you have to watch are the trends. Time is not on our side, and the death rate keeps going up. That the Pentagon FUBAR-ed (fouled up beyond all recognition) the occupation is painfully clear, and the latest reports of contracts gone awry, inefficiency and profiteering don't point to improvement. At the very least, we can conclude that bringing democracy at the point of a missile is a lot trickier than the neocons believed it would be.
I thought one of the most helpful evaluations was in the March 29 issue of The Nation by Jonathan Schell, who has the advantage of having studied weapons proliferation issues for many years. Schell draws back from the "is not -- is so" ping pong match to inspect the war and occupation in a much larger context. He's not happy, either. The worst part of the hangover is probably our loss of credibility around the world. We attacked Iraq, which didn't have WMD, while doing nothing about Dr. Abdul Khan, the Pakistani who spread nukes all over the planet.
Then there's the case of Richard Clarke, the top adviser on counter-terrorism to both Clinton and Bush. In his stunning interview on "60 Minutes," I thought the most chilling moment was what he said took place immediately after 9-11: "Well, Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq. And we all said, 'But no, no. Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan.' And Rumsfeld said, 'There aren't any good targets in Afghanistan, and there are lots of good targets in Iraq.' I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.'
Clarke said it was as though after Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt had wanted to attack Mexico.
Another Clarke insight, "I blame the entire Bush leadership for continuing to work on Cold War issues when they (came) back in power in 2001. It was as though they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years before."
Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated columnist.