The pundits and political observers are all atwitter over Barack Obama’s statement, “If you want to keep your plan, you can” when in reality, people with lousy plans can’t. They are demanding he own his lie and some are even talking impeachment (geez, these folks never learn). Well, get over it.
As Jon Stewart pointed out last night, his statement was certainly less than honest but it was said in response to a campaign that was equally dishonest. Obama also had policy people telling him one thing and political people telling him another. The debate inside the White House probably went something like this:
Somebody on the political side came up with the line “If you want to keep your plan, you can keep it.” The policy folks said, “You can’t say that. Some people with really shitty coverage will lose it.” To which the political person said, “Well, if you have a really shitty plan then you don’t want it. So therefore it’s true.” Obviously, the political guy was trying to give the president just enough cover, and confidence, to make the statement. The president, who was completely committed to passing this law, bit. Now, he’s paying the piper.
But really, it’s minor in the history of presidential lies. Let’s rehash. George W. Bush told us and the world, unequivocally, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He even sent Colin Powell to the U.N. with bogus evidence. Hundreds of thousands of lives, billions of dollars and years of war later, we are still paying for that one. Bill Clinton said, “I did not have sex with that woman” and “That depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” Fifteen years later, we still remember those lines. George Bush the First famously said, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” He said it to Republicans and it cost him his re-election. Ronald Reagan adamantly denied trading arms for hostages but, in fact, did just that. (He sold weapons to Iran!) To his credit, he owned up to it two years later when the evidence of the sale, and his knowledge of it, was incontrovertible. Carter and Ford stayed honest but they also followed Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon so the nation’s tolerance for dishonesty was at an all time low. Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin to drag us deeper into Vietnam, a war that cost over 50,000 American lives. And the list goes on.
So in the scheme of things, Obama’s lie is pretty minor. And it’s not like he’s got a string of lies that make him look like a habitual liar, except in the eyes of the wing-nuts who believe anything and also lie to themselves. He was selling a program, not leading us into war.
Should he own his statement and make some sort of apology? Probably. But it won’t quiet his critics. That said, a bunch of politicians criticizing another politician for lying rings hollow. And the self-righteous outrage of pundits and observers is certainly overblown.