Obama Lied, People Did Not Die
Friday night on Real Time, Bill Maher hosted a discussion among three guests supportive of Barack Obama, including U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida. Wasserman-Schultz argued not only that health care reform would usher in utopia, but that President Obama did not lie when he promised that no one would lose his or her insurance because of the Affordable Care Act.
Of course, unless the President was completely unaware of what is going on in one of his cabinet's departments- Health and Human Services- he knew after HHS wrote regulations implementing the ACA (sometime after passage) that some individuals would not be able to keep their insurance plan. For her part Wasserman-Schultz, if President Obama stated that it will snow in most of the country tomorrow, two days hence would say he was only warning Americans to prepare for a potentially brutal winter.
That brings us, as is my habit, to Rush Limbaugh. Leave it to Rush- in the interests of fanning outrage among his listeners- to take a serious shortcoming of Obama (misleading Americans about their health options) and blow it up into something unrecognizable to the informed. On Friday, he maintained
Folks, this is a huge lie. This is a purposeful, huge, fraudulent lie known by everybody in the regime with the intention of deceiving the American people for the express purposes of electing Barack Obama in 2008 and reelecting him in 2012...
This is huge, folks.
It's a purposeful, deceitful, fraudulent law. I think Obama's lie about keeping your insurance may be the biggest lie ever told by a sitting president. This is not an error. It was not a mistake. This was a calculated, purposeful lie...
It was not a lie when during the uncertainty of 2008, Senator Obama wanted voters to believe no one would lose his or her insurance. But perhaps that's nitpicking. The claim that Obama's lie "may be the biggest lie ever told by a sitting president" represents a monstrous effort to mislead Limbaugh's audience. (It's not, however, a lie given the qualification of "may be." It may be the biggest lie. It may be the smallest lie. Or it may be- oh, you get the point.)
"Richard Nixon resigned over a lie nowhere near this big," Rush claimed. Admittedly, Watergate- a word he was sufficiently crafty to avoid- was such a long time ago and committed by a president who aside from being corrupt was superior to any of his party since that time. (But then, "otherwise, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?")
Bush II, however, was such a short time ago. In June, 2003 Christopher Scheer of Alternet compiled ten lies the Administration told about Iraq in order to gin up support for the forthcoming war. Seven were uttered by President George W. Bush and the others by Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld. Complete with explanation, the Bush 7 cited are:
LIE #1: "The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program ... Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons." -- President Bush, Oct. 7, 2002, in Cincinnati.
LIE #2: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." -- President Bush, Jan.28, 2003, in the State of the Union address.
LIE #5: "We've learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases ... Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints."-- President Bush, Oct. 7 .
LIE #6: "We have also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We are concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] for missions targeting the United States." -- President Bush, Oct. 7.
LIE #7: "We have seen intelligence over many months that they have chemical and biological weapons, and that they have dispersed them and that they're weaponized and that, in one case at least, the command and control arrangements have been established." -- President Bush, Feb. 8, 2003, in a national radio address.
LIE #10: "Yes, we found a biological laboratory in Iraq which the UN prohibited." -- President Bush in remarks in Poland, published internationally June 1, 2003
My favorite is Scheer's #2 because, although Saddaam Hussein had not "sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," it appears not to be a lie because Bush seemed to be contending only that the Administration had been told it had transpired. But days after that infamous State of the Union address, Michael Kinsley explained
Bushies fanned out to the weekend talk shows to note, as if with one voice, that what Bush said was technically accurate. But it was not accurate, even technically. The words in question were: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Bush didn't say it was true, you see—he just said the Brits said it. This is a contemptible argument in any event. But to descend to the administration's level of nitpickery, the argument simply doesn't work. Bush didn't say that the Brits "said" this Africa business—he said they "learned" it. The difference between "said" and "learned" is that "learned" clearly means there is some pre-existing basis for believing whatever it is, apart from the fact that someone said it. Is it theoretically possible to "learn" something that is not true? I'm not sure (as Donald Rumsfeld would say). However, it certainly is not possible to say that someone has "learned" a piece of information without clearly intending to imply that you, the speaker, wish the listener to accept it as true. Bush expressed no skepticism or doubt, even though the Brits qualification was only added as protection because doubts had been expressed internally.
It is not possible to "learn" something that is not true. But as Bush likely understood, it would have been foolish to state "the British government has said." A lot of people discount what someone says he has heard or read: "Do you believe everything you read (or are told)" is a common reaction. It's much wiser, though in this case dishonest, to claim "we have learned" or "they have learned" because "have learned" suggests the information already has been confirmed.
So in the context of lies told by other Presidents (not only Bush II and Nixon), President Obama's lie "if you like your plan, you can keep it" is not historic (unlike his election which, we all were told, was historic.). Controversy over the Administration's statements should draw attention to the improvement of insurance benefits gained by most individuals who do lose their plan- and to the reality that President Obama's policies are superior to the man himself.