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Originally published July 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 15, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Leonard Pitts Jr. / Syndicated columnist

We elected a president and got "The Truman Show"

Richard Nixon was a crook. He was also a liar and an anti-Semite who sought to subvert the Constitution. I wish he were president again...

Richard Nixon was a crook. He was also a liar and an anti-Semite who sought to subvert the Constitution. I wish he were president again.

I'd also take Jimmy Carter, widely perceived as being about as effectual as Elmer Fudd; or Bill Clinton, fastest zipper in the West.

Flawed men, yes, but say this much for them: When it came to a choice between people and party, between the public and the politics, there was at least a bare chance they would put the people, the public, first.

No such chance exists with the current occupant of the mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue. Given a choice between what's best for the country and what suits his political and ideological needs, George W. Bush will invariably, unfailingly, pick the latter.

More proof, not that any is needed, arrived last week.

The testimony before a House committee of Dr. Richard Carmona — until 2006, the nation's surgeon general — was not the biggest W-related news of the week. That distinction would likely go to the new report that the Iraqi government has met half its benchmarks of progress. Or to the classified intelligence analysis, which reportedly says that, four years after the invasion of Iraq, al-Qaida is the strongest it has been since September 2001.

Yet, Carmona's testimony is still worth noting for the insight it offers into the administration's mindset. Not that he said anything we've never heard before. Carmona told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the administration censored him whenever his science conflicted with the administration's ideology.

He said he was prohibited from speaking about condom use because the administration believes in abstinence-only sex education. He was told not to speak about stem-cell research. He was refused permission to make a speech at the Special Olympics because that was seen as helping a political opponent, but he was asked to speak at events benefiting the GOP.

As I said, nothing new. I've lost count of how many officials — from the EPA to NASA to the Justice Department to the intelligence community — have testified to the Bush gang's habit of twisting, denying and ignoring verifiable facts to fit political needs.

Yes, every presidency is shaped by ideology and politics. But it's hard to imagine another administration so thoroughly politicized that people it recruited to rebuild a war-shattered nation would be asked less about their qualifications than about their opinions of Roe v. Wade. Or intelligence estimates that didn't toe the party line would be dismissed as "guessing." Or the nation's top doctor would be politically prohibited from giving his best medical opinion.

Indeed, some of us can remember a time when a president understood himself to be not just the leader of his party but also the leader of his nation. Some of us can remember when he was expected, at least some of the time, to place himself above politics, to act as the living embodiment of the nation's ideals, president of all its people. A time when truth was truth was truth — and truth was the ultimate arbiter of dissension.

Now politics is truth.

At the end of "The Truman Show," Truman Burbank, the innocent who has just learned his entire life to this point was a TV fantasy, addresses the man responsible. His question is poignant. "Was nothing real?"

I can imagine a similar question lifting from the American electorate in January of 2009 as we finally exit an eight-year sojourn in a political fantasy where there were no ideals — only ideologies, expediencies, angles to be worked and appeals to the base.

Was nothing real? Was nothing true? Was nothing beyond politics?

The answer has been self-evident for a long time now: No, nothing was.

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is:

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