You saw the front page of Friday’s Times? The Texas education miracle touted during the 2000 campaign appears now to have been slightly less miraculous. An audit of 16 Houston schools for the school year 2000-2001 recommended reclassifying 14 of them from ‘best’ to . . . well . . . there’s no easy way to put a good face on this . . . ‘worst.’ It seems that – for example – one school that had reported no drop-outs for the year had . . . well . . . 462 drop-outs. Stuff like that.

Is it possible we were misled?

It reminds one of the other Governor Bush – the one in Florida – who slashed the budget for drug treatment programs by 85% but claimed in a televised gubernatorial debate to have raised funding by 60%. He accomplished this miracle by shifting employees – who continued to do precisely what they had been doing before – from one accounting category to another. Honest, compassionate conservatism.

I know one risks being branded unpatriotic for suggesting it, but one almost senses the possibility the Bushes are not entirely honest with their followers.

  • We were told President Bush barely even knew Ken Lay, and thought of him as an Ann Richards supporter.
  • We were told that the secret energy policy discussions – with a long list of industry executives not even a lawsuit by the General Accounting Office could pry loose – were designed to benefit the public.
  • We were told that California’s instant energy crisis, which drained so many California dollars to Texas, was real and would require construction of hundreds of new power plants to resolve.
  • We were told we could slash taxes for the wealthy without raiding the Social Security Trust Fund.
  • We were told that this latest tax cut for the wealthy was crafted specifically to create jobs.
  • We were told, during the second presidential debate, that ‘most of the tax reductions go to people at the bottom end of the economic ladder.’
  • We were told, in the State of the Union Address, that Saddam Hussein had tried to procure uranium ore from Africa.

I know I’ll now get some unsigned e-mails about sex in the Oval Office and fundraising in the Buddhist Temple. But it’s worth noting three things. First, as we learned in kindergarten, two wrongs don’t make a right. Second, deceptions that directly impact hundreds of millions of lives are different from denying a sexual affair or crossing a fundraising line. Third, Al Gore didn’t cross a fundraising line. In most of the famous Clinton/Gore scandals – including the Buddhist Temple – investigation exonerates (albeit much too late to do any good). The Buddhist temple? Read Jeffrey Toobin’s 5,000 word piece in the New Yorker – Al Gore did nothing wrong. Inventing the Internet? He never said he did (but he was its key booster in Congress). Hillary’s $100,000 commodities windfall? Read the 60 pages on this in Jim Stewart’s Blood Sport. Clintonites trashing the White House on their way out the door? Simply didn’t happen.

But you wouldn’t know any of this from listening to Rush Limbaugh, or much of it from listening to Fox News.

Speaking of which, did any of you get this, that’s been going around the Internet? It came to me from a well-meaning friend who prefaced it by saying, ‘I am not a Rush Limbaugh fan, but, love him or loath him, he nailed this one right on the head.’ Here’s the part with which I quibble:

Our own U.S. Congress just voted themselves a raise, and many of you don’t know that they only have to be in Congress one time to receive a pension that is more than $15,000 per month, and most are now equal to being millionaires plus. They also do not receive Social Security on retirement because they didn’t have to pay into the system.

Here’s my quibble:

It’s not true. You have to be in Congress five years before qualifying for any pension, not just a single term. And the formula multiplies your salary by 2.5% for each year served. Thus you have to be there for 40 years to retire with full pay (which is still less than $15,000 a month). Also, it’s not true that Congressfolk are exempted from Social Security. For the last 20 years, they have had to pay into Social Security just like everyone else.

And yet you may also have seen this one, which, like the other, has been zooming around the Internet for a long time:

Social Security could be very good if only one small change were made. And that change would be to jerk the Golden Fleece Retirement Plan from under the Senators and Congressmen. Put them into the Social Security plan with the rest of us and then watch how fast they would fix it. If enough people receive this, maybe a seed of awareness will be planted and maybe good changes will evolve. WE, each one of us… can make a difference. How many people can YOU send this to?

(Click here for more details, if you’re interested.)

In fairness to Rush Limbaugh – words I wish he might utter more often towards others – I have not verified that the column attributed to him was ever actually written or spoken by him. But a quick Google search (on, for example, ‘Rush Limbaugh’ $1,185,000) shows that an awful lot of people think it was. And I find no links to columns by Limbaugh – horrified by this – repudiating it.

So one of two things is possible. Either he actually misinformed tens of millions of people in this huge way – playing on their frustrations and making himself yet again the voice of simple reason they can rely on for their understanding of the world – or else someone fabricated it and he let it go.

As he let go the misstatements of David Brock. When Brock was writing horrible things about people Limbaugh didn’t like, Limbaugh read those things over the air. When, years later, Brock wrote Blinded By the Right, acknowledging that much of what he had written (and Limbaugh had read) was untrue, Limbaugh failed to correct the record.

Contrast that with, say, the New York Times‘ handling of the Jayson Blair mess. Made aware that they had published fiction thinking it was fact – albeit fairly harmless fiction that would not, say, take a nation to war or turn elections one way or another – the Times responded with a colossal soul-searching, disclosure, and management shake-up.

Limbaugh reaches more people than the New York Times – many of whom proudly call themselves ‘ditto heads’ – and certainly reaches more voters in swing states. When are these ditto heads going to realize how scary this is? And start thinking for themselves? When are they going to start wondering whether Bush leadership is really the best, and most forthright, we are entitled to?

To borrow a phrase from above . . . ‘How many people can YOU send this to?’

(Have you seen our latest video?)

[Still Coming: Crazy Hospital Charges]


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