It might not seem possible that President Obama could do more harm to his credibility and the public's faith in government than misleading Americans about health insurance reform. But he can. The president is now misleading the public about his deception.
In a speech Monday night to his political team, Obama said: "Now, if you have or had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really liked that plan, what we said was you can keep it if it hasn't changed since the law passed."
No, no, no, no, no--that's not what the Obama administration said. What it said was:
"That means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what." – President Obama, speech to the American Medical Association, June 15, 2009, during the debate over health insurance reform.
"And if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it. No one will be able to take that away from you. It hasn't happened yet. It won't happen in the future." – Obama, remarks in Portland, Ore., April 1, 2010, after the bill was signed into law.
These quotes are courtesy of Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler, who gave Obama four Pinocchios for the you-can-keep-it whopper, repeated countless times by Obama. "The president's statements were sweeping and unequivocal—and made both before and after the bill became law," Kessler wrote. "The White House now cites technicalities to avoid admitting that he went too far in his repeated pledge, which, after all, is one of the most famous statements of his presidency."
What Obama told supporters Monday is what he should have told the public all along. "So we wrote into the Affordable Care Act, you're grandfathered in on that plan. But if the insurance company changes it, then what we're saying is they've got to change it to a higher standard. They've got to make it better, they've got to improve the quality of the plan they are selling," Obama said at an Organizing for Action event. "That's part of the promise that we made too. That's why we went out of our way to make sure that the law allowed for grandfathering."
"If we had allowed these old plans to be downgraded, or sold to new enrollees once the law had already passed, then we would have broken an even more important promise--making sure Americans gain access to health care that doesn't leave them one illness away from financial ruin," Obama said Monday. "The bottom line is that we are making the insurance market better for everybody and that's the right thing to do."
Watch the video of Obama reinventing history with the "what-we-said-was" construction. Notice how he is looking at notes. Remarkably, this was not an off-the-cuff remark; it was written, reviewed, and approved by senior White House officials, then recited by the president. An orchestrated deceit.
Why didn't Obama add their caveats during his reelection campaign? His aides debated it. Some argued that the president had to shoot straight with the public. Others feared that the public wouldn't understand the nuance and GOP rival Mitt Romney would use it to his advantage.
The cynics won. The truth was buried. And the man who promised to run the most transparent administration in history participated in a lie.
On history's scale of deception, this one leaves a light footprint. Worse lies have been told by worse presidents, leading to more severe consequences, and you could argue that withholding a caveat is more a sin of omission. But this president is toying with a fragile commodity: his credibility. Once Americans stop believing in Obama, they will stop listening to him. They won't trust government to manage health care. And they will wonder what happened to the reform-minded leader who promised never to lie to them.