First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Truth, Lies, and the story of an Ethiopian-American
It's been sad and also a little amusing to watch the mainstream press deal with the discovery that one of the documents about Saddam's nuclear problem is a probable forgery.
Seeing the word "untruth" on the cover of Time last week was only one of the salvos. Technically, they weren't calling President Bush a liar -- but everybody knows that "untruth" is the standard euphemism for "lie."
A lie is a statement which the speaker knows is false.
When the speaker thinks it's true, it's not a lie, even if the statement turns out not to be true. It's a mistake when the speaker didn't know better. An error.
But calling someone named Bush a liar worked so well (for the Left) in 1992, you can hardly blame them for trying it again.
Of course, even then it wasn't a lie. For those who don't remember, Bush had campaigned in 1988 with the promise: "Read my lips: No new taxes." But then the Democrat-controlled Congress absolutely refused to consider any budget proposal that did not include new taxes.
So Bush did the very thing he was being pressured to do: He compromised. That's how government is run. Instead of forcing a huge crisis, he made the sacrifice of his own credibility in order to get a budget passed at all.
Well, did the Left respond with approval of his doing exactly what they demanded that he must do? Not at all. It was all about what a liar he was.
But he wasn't a liar. He was a promise-breaker, yes. But the irony is that he was defeated in the next election by the worst promise-breaker in the history of the presidency. He only kept promises to two groups: pro-abortion women's groups, and the Chinese.
Compared to Clinton, Bush, Sr. was a paragon of promise-keeping.
But the Left doesn't actually care about the truth value of accusations of lying. Clinton was a liar and they knew it, but all through the Whitewater and Monication scandals, they kept insisting on more and more documentation, rather the way Creationists insist on seeing every single generation before they'll admit that evolution has been proven.
Since President Bush is now being accused of lying, just as his father was, let's keep a few things in mind:
First, it's campaign season.
Second, the very people accusing him of "lying to the American people" are the ones who assured us that Clinton's lies under oath weren't bad perjury. Certainly not worth impeaching him.
Third, he didn't lie. They know he didn't lie. So when they say or imply that he was lying, they're the liars.
Fourth, they haven't even proven or even hinted that his statement was false in the first place! They've only demonstrated the probability that one of the sources British intelligence used to reach their conclusion about Saddam's uranium-seeking was forged. The Brits had other sources as well, which have not been disproved.
Fifth, in all the talk about President Bush leading us into war "under false pretenses," nobody on the Left seems to remember the obvious fact that in 1992 Saddam had substantial stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and active programs for developing more. If he had actually ceased those programs and destroyed those stockpiles, it would have been easy for him to show proof of it. Yet rather than show such proof, he allowed his country to be invaded and himself to be thrown out of power.
Duh. How hard is this to figure out? He had the weapons! He just hid them really, really well. And his weapons programs were proceeding apace, including procuring fissionable materials.
In other words, Bush not only did not lie, he also was not wrong.
And, more to the point, are any of Bush's accusers seriously suggesting that we should not have invaded Iraq? Oh, no, not a whisper of that.
So what is all this about?
It's about campaign 2004, that's what it's about. Nibbling at the edges of a good president, in hopes of replacing him with somebody who'll nominate liberals to the Supreme Court and keep the dictatorship of the Left on moral and social issues in place, because they don't trust democracy.
And people who don't trust democracy are hardly going to worry about whether they're falsely accusing an honest man.
The irony is that they are accusing him of the very thing they are doing by accusing him: Lying to the American people.
A little while ago, when I finished my part in a conference of librarians in Houston, I took a taxi back to the airport. My driver was a black man whose name on the taxi license looked foreign. So I asked him where he was from.
Ethiopia, he told me.
Ah, I said. So you speak Amharic?
For some reason, the fact that I knew name of the most widely-spoken language in Ethiopia was all the encouragement he needed to tell me the story of how and why he got to America, which he hadn't told to any of his previous passengers.
He grew up in a privileged home in Addis Ababa. His father was an educated man and worked for the government. But under the totalitarian government of the time, he could see that this was no place to raise his family. He determined to take his family out of Ethiopia.
The father's mistake was that he was an honest man. So he mentioned his plans to someone that he trusted. And a few nights later, at three a.m., soldiers came to the door and dragged him out of the house without even giving him a chance to dress.
The family never saw him again. Nor were they told what had become of him. But they were lucky, even so -- because, like Saddam's government, the Ethiopian government at the time was prone to torturing a man's children in front of him or slaughtering whole families when it suited their purpose.
Of course, with their father -- his influence and his income -- gone, there was scant hope of following through on his plans to leave the country.
Nevertheless, the family knew where things were headed, and so my driver, still young, got the help of a cousin in getting out of the country. The United States granted him asylum as a political refugee. (Apparently having your father murdered by the government is your ticket into the country -- too bad about those Latin Americans whose fathers, instead of being dead, are trying to enter America in order to get jobs that will let them keep their family from starving.)
In 1995, after the Ethiopian government fell, he went back home and married the woman he loved. He also searched for any kind of information about what had happened to his father, but found nothing.
He brought his wife back to the United States, and now they have a three-year-old son, whom they are raising without fear that someday he will see his father dragged out of the house by strangers.
"During all those years," he said, "we kept wishing for America to come and throw out our government. America was our only hope. Get to America ourselves. Or America come to us and set us free. I was jealous in the Gulf War. If only Ethiopia had oil like Kuwait! Then America would throw out our government."
He's a citizen of the United States now. "I am just like all the other people who came to America. For freedom, for opportunity. My son is just like any other American -- his ancestors came to this country so he could grow up as a free man."
And his parting words to me: "You write about me, that I say thank you to America. With all my heart, thank you."
So now I've passed along that message from Mohammed Kebret, a fellow American, and one who knows from experience just what freedom means.
Copyright © 2003 by Orson Scott Card.
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