Tom Purcell, 8/31/2009 [Archive]

Better BS Needed

Better BS Needed

By Tom Purcell

It's not that Americans mind being BS-ed. It's that we get agitated if sufficient effort is not put into the spinning of the yarn.

BS-ing has a long history in America. In our earlier years, the tall tale became an American art form. The colorful characters who tamed the frontier loved to sit around campfires swapping wildly exaggerated stories about America and American heroes.

They told tales about lands so fertile they produced watermelons as big as houses. They talked about people, such as John Henry, Daniel Boone and Johnny Appleseed, who achieved super-human feats.

We've had our share of snake-oil salesmen and flimflam artists over the years. These scoundrels weren't judged on the rightness or wrongness of their scams so much as the skill with which they practiced their craft. We often went along with their BS because it made us feel good to hope their BS was true.

I was first introduced to the art of BS-ing as a kid growing up in the '70s. On the weekends, after a day of working hard in the yard, our fathers would sit on the back porch together enjoying a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbons. They'd swap stories of every kind.

"That catfish was as big as a VW bug and I was just getting it into the boat when ..."

Cable television kicked BS into high gear in America. With so many channels competing for our attention, the news shows have gotten ever more sensationalistic. They'll air most anything that causes us to tune in.

A few summers back, there were several news reports about shark attacks at popular beach spots. It would turn out that that particular summer had fewer attacks than a normal summer.

Which brings us to politics.

BS-ing and politics have always been close cousins in America. The politicians have always told us yarns and we've always hoped they were telling the truth.

We love to vote for the guy who promises us lots more government goodies and lower taxes -- even though we know we'll end up with lots more government debt and higher taxes.

Most Americans were on board when LBJ told us he was going to spend tax dough to eradicate poverty in America. We ended up spending billions only to get more poverty.

Now President Obama is telling us he can expand health insurance to cover everyone and improve quality for everyone and produce efficiencies that will reduce costs for everyone.

But we're not biting on this tall tale. We are suffering BS fatigue.

It's true that if anyone can spin a yarn, Obama can. He enthralled millions during the campaign. He convinced many he was a centrist who would reach across the aisle -- that he was a nimble thinker who was going to bring a fresh problem-solving approach to Washington.

It took him only a couple of weeks to reveal that he was nothing like the wonderful candidate he portrayed himself to be -- that he is, in fact, an old-style, big-spending Democrat who is trying to ram through old ideas that America rejected 30 or more years ago.

Though Obama's greater sin is this: His health-care yarn isn't very good.

His story is all over the place. His plot is weak and lazy. Nobody can figure out what the story is about or where it is headed.

Sure, he's got some crowd-pleasing items in there -- that the rich will pay for everything and everyone else will remain unaffected -- but mostly, his yarn is so weak that we see right through it.

We sense Obama is just telling us what he thinks we want to hear. We worry that what he really hopes to do is plant a seed that will one day blossom into a single-payer, government-run system.

As I said, it's not that Americans mind being BS-ed. It's that we get agitated if sufficient effort is not put into the spinning of the yarn.

© 2009 Tom Purcell. Tom Purcell, a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Sales at (805) 969-2829 or email Visit Tom on the web at or e-mail him at

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