Taken for a Ride


On May 22, Crawford’s most famous resident took a mountain-bike ride on his sprawling ranch outside of town. Sixteen miles into a 17-mile circuit, the president tumbled off his bicycle, evidently face first, scraping his chin and hands. (The timing couldn’t have been worse; Bush gave a major address on Iraq a few days later. The White House, ever obsessed with appearance, choreographed the speech to prevent the politically battered president from looking physically beat up as well.) After the fall, the Secret Service offered to ferry Bush back to his ranch house, but he would have none of it. Bush dusted himself off, climbed back on his bike, and pedaled home.

Even a press office intern could have spun this story to reinforce Bush’s carefully managed image as the rugged warrior president. But when asked about Bush’s fall, White House spokesman Trent Duffy opted to cover for the boss. “It’s been raining a lot, and the topsoil is loose,†Duffy said. The major news outlets went with Duffy’s explanation. Bush had hit a damp patch and fell. It wasn’t his fault.

There’s one rather large problem with this rationale: it’s simply not true. Some seditious Web loggers checked the weather data and found that rain hadn’t fallen in Crawford in nearly 10 days. According to data from the reporting station in nearby McGregor, the Crawford area received 2.79 inches of rain on May 13, and .03 inches on May 14. Not a drop had fallen for more than a week preceding the president’s ride. Rather, the sun was out, and temperatures were in the 80s.

If it hadn’t rained, where did Duffy get the rain excuse? It appears that he, or someone at the White House, simply made it up. You may wonder why the president’s spokespeople would lie about something so trivial. It’s not as if his bicycle accident would cause a sudden drop in the polls (as opposed to, say, that mess in Iraq). After all, some of our past presidents couldn’t have even gotten on a bike—Howard Taft and Grover Cleveland come to mind—let alone fallen off one.

Perhaps after you’ve told enough lies without any repercussions, it becomes a compulsive habit. In the administration’s view, Bush is infallible. This White House happily lies to absolve Bush, and his main lieutenants, of responsibility for any mistake. After three years, the lies are too numerous to list fully.

A few of the biggies: The administration claims that the nation’s growing $500 billion annual deficit isn’t Bush’s fault—it was caused by war and recession. Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and many independent economists, report that more than half of our looming 10-year debt is the result of the administration’s ill-advised long-term tax cuts. On Iraq, the deceit is well documented. There was the Niger-uranium falsehood in last year’s State of the Union speech. Bush and Dick Cheney also said multiple times in the buildup to war that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program, a claim that most experts knew at the time was false. There is the still-peddled falsehood of a Saddam-Osama connection (even Bush eventually admitted this was wrong, though other officials, including Cheney, cling to it). More recently, Bush’s contention that the prisoner-abuse scandal was the work of “a few bad apples†is ludicrous in the face of mounting evidence that the torture of prisoners for intelligence is a policy set at the highest levels.

Cynics will claim that all presidents lie, but this administration’s mendacity is stunning. It has lied often and blatantly, from yarns about bicycle mishaps to lies about the justifications for a war that has killed tens of thousands.

That’s the sad truth. —DM