White House

Lying About Lies: Why Credibility Matters to Obama

The president is trying to reinvent the history of his you-can-keep-it promise on health care.

Miffed: Obama chides short CRs.
National Journal
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Ron Fournier
Nov. 5, 2013, 3:56 a.m.

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.


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