Whoppers!

"I am not going to raise taxes, period," Bush the candidate declared repeatedly during the campaign. This wasn't a "goal," like his plan to make SDI operational by 1994; or a "target," like his program to make American students the best in the world. There is a difference. Those kinds of promises essentially tell us what a candidate would like to do, if only he could. Bush's pledge against tax increases, on the other hand, was what Bush promised he would do (or in this case, not do): Bush said he absolutely would not -- Read My Lips, solemn as Olympus -- would not, not, not! raise taxes, goddamnit. "I've taken a pledge to the American people, and I'm going to keep it: no new taxes!" It was the defining feature of his campaign, the very focus of his bid for office.

And it was a lie from the start. We all knew it. We all knew better than to believe it. But because he said it often enough, and confidently enough, enough of us still bought it. Bush's inevitable reversal on taxes in June 1990 gave away more than his political cynicism, though. It showed him up as a false convert to the supply side, a betrayer of the faith that gave him succor. A real Reaganite would have promised no new taxes and have bankrupted the country with deficits rather than raise them.

Bush also lied about another often repeated vow from the campaign trail, his promise of "no net loss to wetlands." During the campaign, it was the centerpiece of his "environmental president" spiel. Solemnly, Bush pledged to work personally with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to protect the wetlands from developers, the oil industry, and farmers.

Bush imposed a deadline of December 15, 1990, for the development of a wetlands protection plan. But when the oil lobby and other groups that had contributed large sums to his campaign protested the proposal, Bush caved in, granting them a one-month extension for further negotiations. On January 13, 1991, a few days shy of the deadline, the oil lobbyists protested again. And again Bush gave in to the pressure. A month later an agreement was finally worked out. But this time Bush backed down, saying that the plan was too strict; he wanted a weaker version instead. For five months the wetlands agreement languished, until mid-August, when, surprise, the Bush administration backed down again and Bush announced a new plan. Bush's new definition of a "wetland" is so narrow, however, that one-third of the 100 million acres of wetlands now protected under law -- lands that during the campaign Bush demanded be safeguarded -- will be eligible for development. The president who wondered aloud why American students are second to last in world math scores then hailed his plan, which will result in a 33.3 percent net wetland loss, as a "significant step" for the protection of undeveloped land.

Next, candidate Bush slogged through the murky swamp of government ethics, decrying lax standards and pledging to "simplify and improve the current government ethics code to make it clear and understandable. The standards of conduct will be based on common sense. None will be hypertechnical." Bush also demanded that these tough new ethics laws would "provide for civil as well as enhanced criminal sanctions."

In April White House Chief of Staff John Sununu gave Bush the perfect opportunity to test the new ethics rules. The dozens of personal trips Sununu took aboard air force jets were clearly and understandably (and obviously and flagrantly) in breach. Sununu, arrogant as ever, was unrepentant. Which sanctions would he get, plain old civil or those nasty enhanced criminal ones? Neither. Bush retaliated with a punishment not included in the original code: high praise. Slapping his chief of staff on the back, Bush declared that Sununu "has my full confidence." When Sununu added insult to injury two months later by taking a White House limousine to a New York stamp auction, Bush doubled the punishment, saying that he thought Sununu was "doing a first-class job."

As president, it seems, Bush has abandoned his old vice-presidential habit of lying to us occasionally, favoring instead a new practice of lying to us constantly. It is barely an exaggeration to say that virtually every major undertaking of the Bush presidency has been advanced behind a dust-cloud of falsehoods and doublespeak.

The early reversals and denials of his vice presidency, it turned out, were excellent preparation for the kind of richly layered deception Bush crafted in the days and weeks following the Chinese government's massacre of democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square in June 1989. In his dealings with China, the president revealed himself to be every bit as treacherous as Deng Xiao Ping. In the days following the crackdown, Bush publicly condemned the murders. He announced that all diplomatic "exchanges" between the two countries would be cut off until the Chinese eased restrictions on democratic reforms.

And yet over the July 4 weekend a month later, in violation of his own policy, Bush secretly dispatched National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and Assistant Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger to Beijing with a cake and champagne to assure Deng that the ambassador-turned-president was still his pal.

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