One of my favorite lines from the 1958 Oscar winning movie Cat on a Hot Tin Roof wasn’t one of the famous quotes by the seductress Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) in her numerous, passionate appeals to her resisting husband Brick (Paul Newman). No, it was something said by the larger-than-life Big Daddy (Burl Ives) speaking about what he despised most in life — pretenses, hypocrisy, and most of all, mendacity.
In this heated political season, I must say that I agree with Big Daddy — there isn’t anything I loathe more than mendacity. As Senator John Kerry and former Vice President Al Gore played tag team on Sunday, attacking President Bush for his alleged lies and betrayal on the issue of Iraq, I was reminded of that very thing.
Banking on the collective memory loss of the American people or the fact that no one outside the beltway generally cares what politicians think or say, they each made shameless attempts — consciously or unconsciously — to distance themselves from some of their own statements made in recent years on the issue of Iraq and its leader’s threat to the international community.
In a foreign policy speech on January 23, 2003 at Georgetown University, Sen. John Kerry stated clearly why he believed Saddam Hussein was a menace to society. “Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime. He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation. He miscalculated an eight-year war with Iran. He miscalculated the invasion of Kuwait. He miscalculated America’s response to that act of naked aggression. He miscalculated the result of setting oilrigs on fire. He miscalculated the impact of sending scuds into Israel and trying to assassinate an American President. He miscalculated his own military strength. He miscalculated the Arab world’s response to his misconduct. And now he is miscalculating America’s response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction.”
Kerry went on to say that the threat of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction is not new, but that “it had been with us since the end of the Persian Gulf War.” If Kerry believed this a year ago, why is he attacking President Bush today for the very same thing that he believed such a short time ago? Will he chalk this up too to the misinformation he supposedly received from the White House and intelligence community?
With all due respect Mr. Kerry, you really should have raised your hand and asked some questions about this before you voted to give the President the authority to use force back in October 2002, if there were still questions in your mind. Sorry, but now is a little too late to plead ignorance.
But Kerry was not alone in his mendacious statements on Sunday. At a Democratic rally in the former Vice President’s home state of Tennessee, Al Gore — disturbingly reminiscent of Howard Dean’s recent rant — shouted criticisms of President Bush to the crowd, “He betrayed this country! He played on our fears. He took America on an ill-conceived foreign adventure dangerous to our troops, an adventure preordained and planned before 9-11 ever took place.”
I hate to put a damper on Al Gore’s high spirits, but beneath his passion is a slight hint of hypocrisy. And for what benefit? Is the man running for office?
In a speech given to the San Francisco Commonwealth Club on September 23, 2002, Gore, in fact, spoke of his own great concern about the Iraqi threat. He may have differed with President Bush at length on how to go about disarming the dictator, but he had no apparent doubt about Saddam’s WMD or ability to use them.
“We know that he has stored away secret supplies of biological weapons and chemical weapons throughout his country,” Gore said. “Iraq does pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf and we should organize an international coalition to eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction. Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to completely deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.”
Speaking to Saddam’s capability to acquire or distribute WMD, Gore added, “What makes Saddam dangerous is his effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction. What makes terrorists so much more dangerous than they have ever been is the prospect that they may get access to weapons of mass destruction. There isn’t just one country that is attempting to get access, nor is there just one terrorist group. We have to recognize that this is a whole new era, and the advances in the technology of destruction require us to think anew.”
Gore also included an interesting tidbit that he somehow left out of his speech on Sunday, “We have a goal of regime change in Iraq, we have had for a number of years.” Although the grammar isn’t exactly correct, he plainly admitted that the policy of regime change in Iraq was something that had been around long before President Bush took office. Why, now, is Al Gore implying that this “preordained” Iraqi “adventure” was something President Bush cooked up?
I realize it’s only February and election season is far from over, but politics is one thing, mendacity is another. I have a suggestion for the politicians and their speechwriters this season: Give us, the American public a little credit. Spend the next nine months trying to earn our trust — not our disdain. In the end, regardless of who wins, this type of rhetoric benefits no one.