The Database Revisited

4 comments January 26th, 2008at 01:26pm Posted by Eli

As much as I despise the Bush administration and believe that the 935 Lies Of BushCo. Database is a worthy and valuable endeavor, I think my friend Anders makes a valid comment:

The philosopher in me really wants to insist that the database lists statements that turned out to be false, not “lies”. A statement that turns out to be false is not necessarily a lie when it is made. For one thing, it has to be known to be false to be a lie. I have no doubt that, for example, Bush may really have believed we found weapons of mass destruction at the time he said so.

The point is that moral culpability of the act really depends on the epistemic situation of the speaker at the time, not on the objective facts as later determined. It is perfectly possible for false statements to be fully justified by evidence available at the time of their making, in which case, the maker is blameless for going where the evidence points.

I am not saying these statements were even justified by that standard. But by and large don’t see any serious attempt by the compilers of the database to clearly identify *lies* among these statements.

I don’t really want to defend the Bushie’s conduct with these statements. But this conflation of lying with speaking falsely seems to me a every sleazy rhetorical maneuver. To me, Bush-bashers are no better than Coulter or Rush Limbaugh if they exploit such a conflation. One should have higher standards of argumentation.

Now, I believe that Anders is probably giving BushCo. far more benefit of the doubt than they deserve. I think that in most cases, Bush and his inner circle were well aware that what they were saying was false or, at best, completely unsubstantiated (remember “The intelligence is being fixed around the policy”?).

But Anders is correct that the database does not take the additional step of closing the loop by contrasting BushCo’s false statements with what they knew at the time. It’s easy to say that the Bushies said 935 things that were untrue, but if you want to prove that they’re liars and not just fools, then you have to show that their statements were as clearly false then as they are now. They do some of this on the main page, but not within the individual database items.

However, I feel obliged to point out that even if you give the Bushies the maximum benefit of the doubt and say that they were simply mistaken 935 times about something as weighty as the reasons for going to war, that is pretty damning in its own right.

Entry Filed under: Bush,Corruption/Cronyism,Iraq,Republicans,Terrorism,War


  • 1. Ruth  |  January 26th, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    The example of WMD’s is a pretty weighty one, as we know that evidence had already been brought to the WH that the proof just wasn’t there. A higher standard of defining lies doesn’t demand that we know what went on in the mind of the liar. It might not be possible to prove intention, ever, but having all the resources of our intelligence services rejected is enough proof to me that the intent was to deceive.

  • 2. SPIIDERWEB™  |  January 26th, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    1. You are absolutely right with your last sentence.

    2. Ruth is correct.

  • 3. Eli  |  January 26th, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    I think there *is* a lot of evidence that the Bushies were lying, but it would have been nice if the database had supplied that without just presenting the statements without their contemporary factual counterpoints.

    At a bare minimum, each item could have had a link to a writeup explaining what was known (or not known) at the time – since most of the lies were on a handful of topics, repeated over and over and over again.

    Then again, maybe all this was in the database and I just didn’t look at it closely enough. But it really should be available at the item level.

    In other words, I think the database is still valid – I just think they missed an opportunity.

  • 4. Anders Weinstein  |  January 27th, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks for the response. While I have contempt for the Bushies, I generally do not believe that they cynically lied to argue for the war. My view is that (1) Bush & co (particularly the neo-con counselors who have influence over Bush) are idealogues. According to their idealogy, taking out Saddam was indeed a natural next step after Afghanistan. This outlook skewed their interpretation of the evidence and the prospects for the war. They distrusted the CIA/State dept (who they viewed correctly as not sharing their idealogy), set up their own intelligence shop, picked and chose confirming data while ignoring disconfirming data, in order to bring the data in line with what they antecendently “knew” to be true.

    Well this is not a good recipe for getting at the truth! However, it is like hearing satanic messages in backwards recordings — if you are suitably primed, you do really hear them there! The problem is really the idealogy. The willingness to let it color the interpretation of intelligence is an epistemic vice, but I am not sure if other politicians are immune to it.

    (2) They also believed the end of selling the policy justified almost any means of spinning, stretching, and using innuendo in their public statements. They downplayed the democratic domino theory that was one big part of the war rationale and focussed on emphasizing the perceived threat. This was indeed more cynical. But it seems typical of politicians on both parties to me.

    Finally I would also point out that there was a pretty good consensus that Saddam did possess stocks of chemical weapons. This was a fatal bluff on Saddam’s part.

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