IN WHICH WE REVISIT THE TECHNICAL LIE….Matt Yglesias makes the case today that the Bush administration doesn’t actually lie most of the time. Rather, if you parse their words with hyper-precision, you’ll see that technically they’re telling the truth even if it’s plain to a four-year-old that their intent is to mislead and deceive. I’ve made exactly the same case myself, and Matt clearly shows keen insight by agreeing with me.

Still, it’s a mighty philosophical argument, so how about if we make it more concrete? Let’s take this statement from Dick Cheney on Meet the Press last year:

If we’re successful in Iraq…we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.

To see how this is technically defensible, let’s break it down:

  • Who attacked us on 9/11? Al-Qaeda.

  • Where do they operate from? Various places in the Middle East and Central Asia.

  • What’s the geographic base of that region? Arguably, Iraq is dead center.

Each phrase, then, is technically accurate. Taken as a whole, though, it’s obvious that his intent was to imply that Iraq was a primary base for al-Qaeda’s activities, which is clearly untrue.

The whole exercise is sophomoric, of course, sort of like listening to a first grader who doesn’t quite realize that adults can easily see through statements that he thinks are rather sophisticated. The difference is that in this case the first grader is surrounded by thousands of people who will dutifully pretend that of course he wasn’t implying that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 and then shake their heads in sorrow that anyone could be so consumed by Bush hatred as to misunderstand the vice president’s plain intent.

And the 70% of the country who nonetheless somehow got the idea that Saddam was behind 9/11? “I think it’s not surprising that people make that connection,” Cheney said. Indeed it’s not.

POSTSCRIPT: Or, for a better take on this same theme, just watch this clip from the Daily Show. Not only is Jon Stewart right, but he’s funny too!