From millions to trillions, the ghost of Johnson’s credibility gap haunts Democrats.
Ambushed at Credibility Gap.
— Anti-Lyndon Johnson button popular in the 1960s
The 1967 board game was called “Credibility Gap.”
Created by two academics, it was inspired by what now might be called LBJ Syndrome, the pattern of behavior exhibited in the 1960s by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. A pattern of behavior that gradually led Americans to the belief LBJ was a hopeless teller of untruths. “Credibility gap” was the much used political term of the day applied to Democrat LBJ whether talking about subjects major (Vietnam, the economy, health care) or minor (insisting an ancestor fought at the Alamo even though said ancestor was soon found to have never arrived in Texas until a decade afterwards.)
As Americans listen to the smooth assurances from President Obama that his health care plan would cost $634 billion over 10 years, a look back at how liberal assurances like these actually work out in practice is in order. Specifically, let’s take a look at the smooth assurances in 1965 from LBJ as to the costs he saw for Medicare. Medicare, of course, was the liberal health care panacea for seniors enacted into law by LBJ and a Democrat Congress in July of 1965 and is a fixture of today’s America.
So how much was Medicare supposed to cost the American people?
Promised a solemn LBJ: $500 million a year.
You read that right. The cost of Medicare was projected to be $500 million — million with an “m” — a year. So said LBJ himself. Repeatedly, as he noted in his 1971 memoirs. So too did a March 11, 1965 story in the New York Times insist that: “Federal appropriations of about $500 million a year from general tax revenues would be required” to pay for Medicare.
What has the actual cost turned out to be?
In a report in February 2008, barely a year ago, the Wall Street Journal noted the trustees of Medicare admitted “Medicare’s unfunded liability is $74 trillion.…According to the Congressional Budget Office, health-care spending is on a course that could crowd out all other government programs.”
Crowd out all other government programs. Think of what that means. The current Obama budget proposal is a mind-bending $3.5 trillion. It funds everything from the entire Pentagon to all those 9,000 earmarks up to and including Iowa Senator Tom Harkin’s now infamous study of smelly Iowa pigs. Yet it would vanish inside the black hole of the fiscal universe that is Medicare without a trace.
Crowed a gleeful LBJ in his memoirs about securing passage of his Medicare bill: “Forecasts of disaster continued right up until the day Medicare went into effect. There were predictions…that the system would collapse under its own weight. The Commissioner of Social Security, the Secretary of HEW [Health, Education and Welfare, the predecessor bureaucracy to today’s Department of Health and Human Services] and I personally tried to reassure the public that such ominous predictions would not materialize. After one such reassuring statement had been issued, I said to John Gardner [the Secretary of HEW]: ‘John if you’re wrong in your calculations, we’re both going to look like the worst kind of damn fools.’”
FORTY-FOUR YEARS LATER, disaster looms. The Medicare system (along with other government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae) is collapsing of its financial weight right in front of our eyes. John Gardner was in fact wrong in his calculations. LBJ’s promise of the cost of Medicare now makes him look exactly like the “worst kind of damned fool” if not, as was frequently charged at the time, a serial liar with a “credibility gap.” In 2009 the country is $74 trillion hell and gone from the LBJ promise that $500 million a year and a few tax tweaks here and there would usher in the milk and honey of affordable health care for seniors.
What’s remarkable is that this kind of short historical memory is precisely what Obama and his followers are so brazenly counting on. Do they know this kind of history? Of course they do. These are not stupid people. They are doing what they are doing with a cold-blooded deliberateness, economic disaster be damned. Why? They are about nothing more complex than giving themselves a crack-like fix from gaining power and holding power. Wielding power, not creating private sector jobs that are at the heart of a healthy economy (and hence an affordable private health-care system), is the very root of a community organizer’s mind set, community organizing the job the President used to launch himself into the Illinois State Senate. As with LBJ, who launched his own political career with a community organizer-like job from the Roosevelt administration (he was appointed head of the Texas National Youth Administration, a perch he used to get elected to Congress), Obama is portraying himself increasingly as someone who will do and say whatever is required to hold and maintain power.
Only this past Friday Obama looked the country in the eye and said today’s health-care system was causing an American bankruptcy “every thirty seconds.” When the data was questioned, Obama’s chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, Christina Romer, blithely looked into TV cameras and brightly answered “I’ll have to check the numbers but the idea is absolutely true.” And there it was: a snapshot of Obama’s LBJ Syndrome in action. Say whatever you need to say in the moment, do whatever you need to do so you can get and hold power, in this case the power to reshape America’s health-care system for liberal special interest groups. Who in turn will re-elect and re-elect and so on ad infinitum.
The trick the Obama crew learned from LBJ, who in turn learned it from FDR, is to focus always on the promise, never on the results. Just as LBJ cited homey letters from seniors (“Please try to pass Medicare for us old folks,” Johnson quoted one elderly letter writer from Illinois) to highlight the need for his $500 million, so too Obama’s “Forum on Health Reform” last Thursday in the White House counted a group of “Everyday Americans” among the special interest lobbyists gathered to discuss the need for his $634 billion health plan. You can bet these folks had not a clue of LBJ’s Medicare history, nor, presumably, were they told.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online