The world of political spin is one in which no one can dare take another’s words at face value. War can be peace, freedom can be slavery, and ignorance can be strength, if a source close to the White House deems it so.

Some people say spin is lying. (“Spin is lying,” says essayist Roger Rosenblatt.) Some people say it is not. (“Spin is not lying,” says P.R. maven Howard Rubenstein.) Others take a middle position. (“It’s a matter of degree,” says former Reagan adviser Lyn Nofziger.) In fact, with spin, one can never be sure. That’s the point. “Lies or not,” notes Clinton campaign adviser Ann Lewis, “spin adds up to more than just the truth.”

In Bill Clinton’s Washington, most people seem to find the question of spin vs. lying largely irrelevant. The city operates under what Washington Post White House correspondent Ann Devroy calls a “tacit understanding, that even though we say you shouldn’t lie, the definition of lies and the definition of truth are all sort of malleable.”

This malleability is one reason our politics have ceased to have much relationship to governance. That obsolete ideal has been replaced by a theater of the absurd designed simply to foster the impression of governance. This is true not only at the skanky margins, where a self-evident crook like Al D’Amato can appoint himself an ethics cop, but right in the red-hot center of the political system.