Dennis Hans: My Name Is Rummy and I Have a Problem
“My Name Is Rummy and I Have a Problem”
Baseball hand signals ideal solution to prevaricating public servants
By Dennis Hans
The problem: A president and senior officials who cannot control their need to deceive the public.
The solution: A system of hand signals that alerts the public to the nature of the impending deception.
First, let’s consider the problem.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s leaked memo is the latest in a long line of indications that he and other senior officials of the Bush administration — including President George W. Bush — say things in public that don’t match what they say or believe in private.
For example, on September 10, weeks before the memo leaked, Rummy told a gathering at the National Press Club ( http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2003/tr20030910-secdef0661.html ) that he doesn’t always tell the truth. “[S]ometimes I overstate for emphasis,” he said.
The context of his admission was a question from NPC president Tammy Lytle about his confident assertion back on March 30 that “We know where [the Iraqi WMD] are.” Rummy conceded he didn’t “know” any such thing; he only knew the locations of a number of sites where banned weapons COULD be. He told Lytle he should have said “I believe” or “Our intelligence tells us” — should have made it clear he didn’t really “know.”
Sounds like Rummy may have been bitten in March by the Bush “certitude” bug, which leads the victim to pretend that he “knows” something is true when in fact he thinks either it’s probably or possibly true or at least has yet to be definitively proven false.
If that were the only form of deceit Bush and Rummy practiced, we would have a serious but manageable problem. Alas, it’s not. Both employ other forms, including the classic “bald-faced lie.” In the very same answer where Rummy admitted he has an overstating-for-emphasis problem, he delivered this version of Bushist blarney:
“What we had . . . is a long list of suspect sites. And they were sites that the inspectors had been in the process of looking at when they concluded that the inspection process really wasn't working, because of lack of cooperation on the part of Saddam Hussein's regime.”
In fact, the U.N. inspectors had concluded no such thing. They had unimpeded access since November 2002 to any site they cared to visit, including all the worthless ones the U.S. and Britain urged them to inspect. Hans Blix wanted the Iraqis to make a greater effort to document their claims that they had destroyed in the early 1990s all of the “unaccounted for” WMD weapon stocks as well as chemicals and biological agents, but he and nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei were asking for additional time to complete a very productive inspections regime.
Bush, Rummy and the other cabinet officials are too old and too set in their ways to develop the honesty habit. But if we make it fun for them, they might be willing to provide a visual clue when they’re fixin’ to fool us.
Bush loves baseball, and one of its great traditions is the hand signals a third-base coach uses to communicate with the batter. If the coach wants him to take the pitch, he might tug on his cap. If he wants him to bunt, perhaps he’ll touch his left elbow. If he wants him to swing away, he might touch his nose.
I propose that we have a hand signal — displayed by the president to his audience — for every form of rhetorical deception. Bush would flash the appropriate signal to viewers just before he engages in a particular form of deception. But, you ask, what if Bush rejects the proposal? Then we sweeten the offer by granting him the right to wear a baseball uniform at all public appearances. He loves to don uniforms he’s not qualified to wear, so how could he resist the chance to strut around as a Texas Ranger on Tuesday, a New York Yankee on Friday, a world champion Florida Marlin on Sunday?
We’ll give Rummy, Rice, Cheney and Powell the same deal as the president. But in return, each must execute the appropriate signal before he or she deceives:
• Overstatement: right hand tug on right ear.
• Understatement: left hand tug on left ear.
• Deception by cutting out the crucial context: slit-throat motion with either index finger.
• Third-degree Certitude (saying that something is definitely true when you only believe, but don’t know for a fact, that it’s true): “thumbs-up” signal.
• Second-degree Certitude (saying it’s definitely true when you think there’s only a 50-50 chance it’s true): thumbs-sideways signal.
• First-degree Certitude (saying it’s definitely true when you strongly suspect, but don’t know for a fact, it’s false): thumbs-down signal.
• Fact-based lie (technically true but designed to leave a false impression): right hand raised while left hand is placed on imaginary Bible, as if taking an oath, followed by eye wink.
• Unjustified Ambiguity (pretending something might be true — Saddam was involved in 9-11 — despite having no untainted evidence to support the claim): circling motion of the right forefinger at the side of the head to indicate impending “crazy talk.”
• Bald-faced lie: touch nose with forefinger, then extend that finger outward a foot to symbolize Pinocchio-style prevarication.
• Whopper: pantomime taking a big bite out of a big sandwich, which you’re holding with both hands.
My favorite whopper is Colin Powell’s Feb. 5 statement to the U.N. Security Council: “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”
Under the current system, only Powell, CIA director George Tenet and a few others were in on that world-class whopper. But a democracy works best when ALL the citizens know what they are being fed. That is why we must induce President Bush and his top aides not merely to deliver whoppers, but to identifty them as such at the moment of delivery.
©2003 by Dennis Hans
Bio: Dennis Hans is a freelance writer who has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. Prior to the Iraq war he published “Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His ‘Techniques of Deceit’” ( http://www.democraticunderground.com/articles/03/02/12_lying.html) and “The Disinformation Age” ( http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0303/S00011.htm). He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu