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MISLEADER.org -- "A Daily Chronicle of Bush Administration Distortion" -- is the most recent "Project of "MoveOn/MoveOn.org, 'Democracy in Action'."

"Misleader.org will provide an accurate daily chronicle for journalists of mis-representations, distortions and downright misleading statements by President Bush and the Bush Administration. Misleader.org is presented as a service of MoveOn.org, the on-line public interest group."[1]

In the Spotlight:

MISLEADER.org was launched on September 14, 2003, with the following letter -- The Misleader -- by Robert L. Borosage:

The scandals surrounding President Bush's lies about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in his State of the Union address (2003) to the nation have overlooked the full scope of his duplicity that night. The White House claims that State of Union addresses are carefully vetted, suggesting that the distortions on Iraq were some kind of rare bureaucratic snafu. In fact, for George Bush, the State of the Union address is a form of presidential performance art. The president's pollsters pre-test key words and phrases. His handlers preview each practiced gesture, dramatic whisper, narrowed eye. The speech is vetted, but as much for message and image as for fact. And in his last State of the Union address, the gulf between word and reality was immense and purposefully misleading.

Mr. Bush devoted the first half of his address to domestic issues, no doubt to prove his concern about rising unemployment and falling wages. But this placed some of the most mendacious portions of the speech first. Consider:

"We will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents and other generations," the president began, while peddling a plan of top hat tax breaks and wartime spending that has taken the federal government from record surplus to record deficit in less than two years. The president's own figures project deficits as far as the eye can see, adding $1.9 trillion to the federal debt over then next 5 years, while vital public investments -- in schools, in energy independence, in health care and homeland security - are starved for funds. In fact, he will pass on to the next generation the burden of both the fiscal debt and the investment deficit.

His "first goal," he said, is "an economy that grows fast enough to employ every man and woman who seeks job," but his own economic advisors project that his economic plan - if everything goes well - will create fewer jobs this year than were lost in the last. In fact, George Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over an economy that has lost jobs, not created them - more than 2.9 million lost since 2001.

In selling his tax breaks, the president was at his most disingenuous. "This tax relief is for everyone who pays income taxes…Ninety-two million Americans will keep this year an average of almost $1,100 more of their own money." This is a perfect example of the old caution about "lies, damn lies and statistics." As Citizens for Tax Justice reported, 80% of Americans get less than the president's "average." More than half of all taxpayers get less than $100. Almost a third get nothing at all. Millionaires will enjoy tax breaks averaging $90,000 a year, while middle income Americans will pocket an average of $256. Together they make up the president's "average."

The president promised "we continue to work together to keep U.S. Social Security sound and reliable…" But the costs of his tax cuts alone exceed by three times the entire projected shortfall in Social Security - the shortfall the president invokes to justify cutting benefits by privatizing the program.

His "second goal," he announced, is "high quality, affordable health care for all Americans," that will put doctors not "bureaucrats and trial lawyers and HMOs" in charge of American medicine. But in fact, his plan does nothing to extend health insurance or to control the soaring prices. His prescription drug plan requires seniors to move into an HMO in order to receive a drug benefit. More than one-third of all seniors wouldn't even have that option since HMOs aren't available in most rural areas. Worse, the president's plan provides no check on soaring drug prices, and would prohibit Medicare from negotiating the best price for seniors. In essence, the president would provide a $400 billion subsidy not to seniors but to drug companies, giving them a fine return on the investment they made in Republican campaigns last year.

Incredibly, President Bush declared that his "third goal" was "to promote energy independence for our country while dramatically improving our environment." In fact, the president has proposed a Big Oil energy program that treats conservation with disdain and, by the administration's own estimates, would only increase our reliance on Persian Gulf oil. It was Enron and the oil lobby that Vice President Cheney met with to draw up his plan, not the Sierra Club.

On environmental issues, the president became simply Orwellian in his inversion of the truth. "I have sent you Clear Skies legislation that mandates a 70 percent cut in air pollution from power plants over the next 15 years," he declared to applause. In fact, his plan does nothing to regulate carbon emissions, allows 50% more sulfur emissions and five times more mercury emissions than enforcement of current law. Compared to alternative legislation developed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Resources Defense Council [sic] (Natural Resources Defense Council) estimates that the Bush "clear skies" legislation will result in 100,000 additional premature deaths by 2020.

Similarly, his "healthy forests" initiative used the recognized need to clear out flammable underbrush as an excuse for giving timber companies the writ to cut down wide swaths of protected forest.

On education, the president vowed that his mandated testing reforms would "be carried out in every school and in every classroom." But he did not bother to mention that he broke his own promise to fund the reforms, shorting them by $8 billion, while cutting after-school programs by 40%. Worse, the president mocked his pledge to "leave no child behind" (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) by insisting that the Congress pass tax cuts for the wealthy rather than avoid debilitating cuts in school and university budgets imposed by states and localities struggling with the worst fiscal crisis in fifty years.

And on Iraq, the president's distortions went far beyond the lies about the purchase of uranium in Africa, the discredited aluminum tubes, the laughable mobile labs and flying drones. The heart of his case against Hussein was that the secular dictator of Iraq might slip his mythical secreted weapons to the stateless Islamic terrorists that he despises. The president did not mention that the CIA's official estimate was that this was likely to happen only if Hussein saw war as inevitable and sought to exact revenge for his demise. Nor did the president mention that this threat is surely far more likely to be posed by the communist North Koreans who have booted out international inspectors and have nuclear weapons, by the nuclear-armed Pakistani dictatorship that harbors al Queda's remnants and by the US-fortified Saudi Arabia emirate which was the source of the funds and the terrorists of 9/11. Yet the White House chooses to talk with the North Koreans, embrace the Pakistanis, and defend the Saudis.

In his speech, Mr. Bush scorned the alternative of continued containment, air occupation, embargo and inspection as "trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein." This distortion was at the heart of the case for launching a war against a country without waiting "until the threat is imminent." The president did not deign to provide Americans with any estimate of the cost, scope and duration of the coming invasion and occupation, much less warn of the potential hatreds and terrorist retributions it could engender, nor the distraction of scarce resources and expertise from the war on terror that it inevitably required. We were left to discover those realities only after the fact.

Mr. Bush's distortions were and are the product not of oversight or editing error, but of political calculation. The president has pursued policies that are designed to reward special private interests or placate his right-wing base. If admitted, these policies would not be popular. So the president packages them in appealing wrapping, labels them with popular names, and peddles them as something they are not. He misleads Americans because they don't want to go where he would take them.

Some suggest this represents the normal counterfeits and distortions of politics. But as the president says, this is a time of large consequence and great sacrifice. When he delivered his State of the Union address, in the midst of recession on the eve of a war, surely the American people deserved a president who would level with them. Instead the president chose not to lead but to mislead. And in doing so, he squandered the trust of a nation that came together as one after the horrors of September 11.

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