Lies, Damn Lies, and Ari Fleischer

How Bush's "Imperial Presidency" led to the crowning of King Donald

Ari Fleischer, press secretary and propagandist for George W. Bush, weighed in on Nancy Pelosi's end-of-speech flourish. 

Fleischer to me typifies the part of the Republican Party establishment that is not currently in government, the "old school" who are occasionally willing to say a critical word or two about Trump but stop far short of the notion of doing anything about him and who will rally around him the instant anyone outside the club speaks up. 

To the Republican Party as it exists now, there is no question of choosing country over party for they have decided that their party is the country: its past, its future, its highest form. To the extent that the better angels of their nature demands they act for the public good, they are willing to assume that keeping Republicans in power and Democrats out of it is a higher good than, say, keeping people alive or keeping the country solvent or safe.

But Fleischer's entrance into this fray, where he defended a document full of lies as being symbolically sacred, reminded me of his most infamous contribution to the Twitter discourse, when he wrote a thread defending the run-up to the Iraq invasion and his role in it:

Exhibit A in his attempt to rewrite history and rehabilitate the image of the Bush-Cheney administration was the finding that "no intelligence service was pressured by the Bush administration" to come to a particular conclusion about Iraq's development of WMDs.

I mean, when you put it that way, it all begins to sound a bit familiar, doesn't it? "No pressure, no pressure!" Check the transcript! It was a perfect war.

Coming from the same administration that derided their opponents — those who questioned the truth of the rationale for the invasion — as belonging to "the reality-based community" and the administration that claimed that empire means you can define your own reality, all of this rings more than a little hollow.

Fleischer doesn't dispute that the findings were cherry-picked, describing "tunnel vision" where low-quality leads were followed when they agreed with the existing assumption that Iraq had WMDs. He doesn't contest that the conclusion spoonfed to the Bush administration and then presented to the country at large by Bush and Fleischer and others was wrong.

But he was there, you see, and so he can tell you: George W. Bush never went to the CIA or anyone else and said, "Fellas, I really want to invade Iraq and I'd like to justify it on the basis of WMDs. Can you whip me up some lies?"

And because that never happened, we can't say that Fleischer or Bush lied. 

Except... here's the thing. Would Bush have needed to tell them specifically what he was looking for, or was that something they would have known? And if they knew it and acted on it... what's the difference between that and the scenario in which Bush does go to them and ask them for a specific conclusion? 

Plausible deniability. 

Maintaining plausible deniability may make one less legally culpable, but it doesn't make one more honest.

Power is itself coercive. This doesn't mean that a powerful person can never ask anyone for anything, but if the most powerful man in the world isn't thinking about how the people who work for him might be bending and bowing to that power, he isn't qualified to wield it. 

I don't for one moment believe that men like Bush or Fleischer or Trump fail to understand the nature of power, not when they all leverage it so effectively over the course of their lives. Donald Trump himself summed it up on the Access Hollywood tapes: "When you're famous, they let you do it."

The president of the United States doesn't have to get out the thumbscrews to put pressure on someone. It's ridiculous that the same people who act like a piece of paper is a holy talisman that must be deified and protected because it has words on it that were said by the president can also act like the president is just a simple plain-talking plain dealer who never meant for anything he said to be taken as an untoward promise or threat.

As the first US presidency of the 21st century, the Bush administration sadly set the tone for so much of the worst that has followed, including the ever-spiraling "war on terror" conducted by both parties. I would also say that it specifically paved the way for the Trump regime, from the theory of the all-powerful imperial president to the conscious decision to ignore actual factual reality and substitute their own.

As press secretary, Ari Fleischer conducted himself more traditionally than any of Donald's maladroit mouthpieces have, but he still deserves a considerabe portion of the credit for having laid the foundation for our new normal.

Richard Nixon gave us "When the president does it, it's not illegal."

Trump has embraced that and also, guided by the example of Bush and Fleischer, given us a new one: "When the president wants it, it's not coercion."

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