It was, I think, the most brazenly mendacious claim an American president has told since Bill Clinton’s finger-wagging insistence that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
I have in mind Barack Obama’s statement, made earlier this week, in which he said this: “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.” (Emphasis added.)
That is not, in fact, what the president said. Not by a country mile.
What Mr. Obama actually said, dozens of times, is a variation of what he said during a speech to the American Medical Association on June 15, 2009: “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.”
But Mr. Obama is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill fabulist. It appears as if he’s in the process of becoming an inveterate one. He was, after all, building one untruth upon another. I say that because by now it’s obvious to nearly everyone, including liberals, that the president and his aides knew that when he made his initial claim that under the Affordable Care Act you will be able to keep your health-care plan “no matter what”–that you would keep it “period”–he knew the assertion was false. Yet he repeated it over and over again. (I’d urge you to watch this short video produced by New York magazine, which is a montage of Obama quotes claiming “you can keep your plan no matter what.”)
The last six weeks have been brutal ones for the Obama presidency. And I’m guessing that the damage that’s been inflicted will not be transitory. All the failures surrounding the Affordable Care Act–from the disastrous rollout of the federal health-care exchanges, to sticker shock surrounding premiums and deductibles, to the jolting realization that millions of people are now being forced out of health-care plans they like (with millions more to follow)–has likely left an indelible mark of incompetence on Mr. Obama. He looks like nothing so much as a community organizer who is totally overmatched by events.
That would be injurious enough. But now you can add to the mix the shattering of Mr. Obama’s credibility; the belief among a growing number of his fellow citizens that he cannot be trusted, that he will corrupt words in order to advance his ways. Those character defects would be troubling enough in, say, a state senator. They are much more problematic to find in an American president. It’s all very discouraging.
Mary McCarthy once said of the playwright Lillian Hellman, “[E]very word she writes is a lie, including `and’ and `the.’” Mr. Obama isn’t at that point yet. But he’s closer than he thinks. And unless he puts an end to his multiplying deceptions, Barack Obama’s presidency will not only lie in ruins; his reputation will as well.
Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.