Bush’s Lie

BUSH’S LIE….At his Wednesday press conference, President Bush made it clear that Donald Rumsfeld’s departure had been planned for some time, and that he had lied about this a week earlier during an interview with several reporters. Since then, even some conservatives have been laying into him for this admission.

But, really, this has gotten way too much attention. There’s a pretty broad-based understanding, after all, that personnel issues are special: you’re expected to deny that anything is going on until the minute you make an official announcement. And there’s really no other way to do things. You can’t refuse to ever comment on your own subordinates, but at the same time you can’t give away future personnel moves by suddenly clamming up about them. The result is a kabuki dance accepted by everyone in which you’re allowed to lie about this stuff until something official happens.

However, this lying is typically a bit more smoothly done. What this kerfuffle really shows is that Bush must have been pretty rattled by the specter of upcoming defeat and then by the massive defeat itself. Politicians may be allowed to effectively lie about personnel changes, but they’re also expected to be a little more subtle and ambiguous about them. Last Tuesday, when Bush first answered the question, and this week, when he explained himself, he was obviously flustered enough that he couldn’t think of a way to do that. So he just flatly lied and then admitted it. That’s pretty unusual.