The Truth According to Me

By David Atkins
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Tonight marks the fifth installment in my memoir, "My State of the Union." The response of my audience to this series has, frankly, been overwhelming. The powerful story of a noble country overcoming adversity to defeat terrorism and spread democracy without needlessly raising CAFE standards has clearly resonated with a wide audience. Unfortunately, it has also attracted an unprecedented level of scrutiny, scrutiny that has raised questions about some of the details contained in advance copies of tonight's speech. While it is tempting to dismiss such questions as just more Washington "gotcha" politics, I value my reputation for "Texas straight talk."

1. First and foremost, while State of the Union speeches belong to the genre of nonfiction, they are inevitably a personal, subjective recounting by the president. (Could FDR really prove that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"?) I have made every effort, however, to verify the accuracy of each statement with the assistance of White House staff, in between their duties responding to subpoenas. Some discrepancies are inevitable due to the vagaries of memory, complex accounting standards of the Congressional Budget Office and the poor audio quality of NSA wiretaps.

2. Some errors appear to be innocent mistakes in copy-editing. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has alerted me that the line, "No person is above the law" should instead be "One person is above the law." My comment that "we have carefully listened to critics of our domestic surveillance program" should have read "listened in on . . ."

3. The figures cited for wetlands restoration include net gains resulting from new wetlands in areas formerly occupied by the polar icecaps.

4. My staff has informed me that Mohamed ElBaradei, not Dick Cheney, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. My notation for "undisclosed location" next to Dick's December schedule sure looked a lot like "Oslo."

5. The Arabic man who will be seated next to Laura is a taxi driver from Arlington being honored for returning Karl Rove's BlackBerry. Advance news stories have misidentified him as Hafez al-Sharaq, the brave Sunni leader who has urged nonviolence and cooperation with the elected Shiite majority. Al-Sharaq was unable to attend due to a minor traffic accident in Baghdad in which his car exploded.

6. In the spirit of bipartisanship, I included the Clinton period in calculating the "24 million jobs we have created through the end of 2005." The figures for 2001-05 are smaller. Whether they are smaller by "a lot" or a "whole lot" is open to interpretation.

7. My reference to "hard lessons I learned during two tours of duty in Vietnam" was never meant to imply that they were my tours of duty.

8. HHS data confirm my statement that the United States leads other Western countries in health care expenditures, lack of insurance and infant mortality. Admittedly, different statistical measures might better support the claim that "the American health care system is the envy of the world."

9. The statement that "our administration has always respected the importance of checks and balances" is not, as has been implied, a reference to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. I have no recollection of ever meeting Abramoff ("Injun Giver," as I used to call him) nor his lovely and charming wife, Pamela, and their cute and rambunctious twins.

10. I am not and have never been a "numbers guy." OMB staff supplied the wording that we have "steadily reduced the growth of actual over expected projections of the budget deficit, excluding ongoing one-time expenditures for wartime and disasters." Admittedly, it isn't Shakespeare.

The experience of responding to this unprecedented attention has been trying. But it has also taught me that the strict rules of nonfiction can get in the way of telling a story that conveys a larger "emotional truth." I encourage my fans to look for my forthcoming novel, "Victory in Iraq."

The writer lives in Arlington. His e-mail address isdavid.atkins@comcast.net.


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