The Vietnamization of the health care debate: White House aide defends untruth.
And the Arthur Sylvester Award for Lying in Service to the Government goes to…Linda Douglass, the Obama communications director for the White House Office of Health Care Reform.
Who was Arthur Sylvester and for what did Ms. Douglass, a former ABC News reporter, win this dubious award?
Arthur Sylvester was once the one-man Washington bureau for the Newark Evening News, a prominent New Jersey newspaper that folded in the early 1970s. He had the good fortune to be one of a handful of journalists covering an underdog presidential candidate in the early stages of a presidential race, when access to the candidate was free and easy — long before the days of Secret Service coverage, mammoth staffs and 24/7 cable TV news cycles.
So it was possible for Arthur Sylvester in 1960 to get significant face time with the candidate, a Massachusetts senator named John F. Kennedy. JFK remembered, and as the New Frontier and its Band of Brothers gathered in Washington in 1961, Arthur Sylvester stepped up to glory wearing the new title of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. His new boss: the aptly named and now recently deceased Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara.
Mr. McNamara, as has been recounted all over again with his passing, was one of the architects of America’s Vietnam policy. Mr. Sylvester, the Linda Douglass of his day, was charged with explaining that policy to the journalists covering McNamara and the Pentagon, not to mention to the American people.
Alas, as the American people would slowly — very slowly — discover, the Vietnam policy being implemented by Mr. McNamara and JFK’s self-esteemed team of “the best and the brightest” was one of the worst debacles in American history. One of the reasons it took so much time to understand what was going on was that Mr. Sylvester (among others) was being less than forthcoming about what was actually happening as the policy moved along the track.
Sylvester’s role in all of this was immortalized in the 1972 bestselling book that begat the term, The Best and The Brightest. The book was a searing indictment by Pulitzer Prize-winning liberal journalist David Halberstam of all the “best and the brightest” who populated American liberalism in its governing heyday. The story was a meticulous tick-tock of those supposedly brainy liberals — the “whiz kids” as they were called in the moment — who flocked to Washington and wound up creating the bloody disaster of Vietnam policy that would define the Kennedy-Johnson era in American and world history. Or, as Halberstam himself said in a phrase that is an eerily appropriate assessment of the Obama-ites now trying to get control of one-seventh of the American economy, they were arrogantly devising and executing “brilliant policies that defied common sense.”
Sylvester’s job was to sell the whiz kids’ Vietnam policy to Americans in precisely the way Ms. Douglass is assigned to sell the Obama health care plan today. The problem? Let’s let Mr. Halberstam describe it:
In Saigon…Arthur Sylvester, McNamara’s press officer, was arguing with a young New York Times reporter named Jack Langguth over the government’s lack of credibility in its Vietnam statements. Sylvester said that although it was unfortunate, there were times when a government official had to lie, but that he, Sylvester, as a former newsman, had a genuine objection to lying. Langguth answered that if you had a real objection to lying, you would quit, and the failure to resign meant that you had a soft job where you could exercise power, and that your principles were secondary. Sylvester looked at him almost shocked.”If you believe that, you’re stupid and naïve, (said Sylvester) and you didn’t seem that way at lunch earlier today.”
On another occasion, Sylvester was even more succinct:
“Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, than you’re stupid. Did you hear that? — Stupid.”
On still another occasion, Sylvester asserted a “right” that most observers did not see in the Constitution: “the inherent right of the government to lie.”
Mr. Sylvester’s infamous tenure comes to mind as Ms. Douglass has put herself front and center to challenge video clips of her boss that have appeared on Breitbart.com TV (“SEIU Health Care Forum 3/24/07”). Contrary to the President’s new fable that his health care program is designed to preserve the right of Americans to keep their own private health care insurance, he is pictured pre-presidency saying something quite different.
Here is Obama speaking to the Service Employee International Union in 2007. As all can see from this once buried treasure now on Breitbart, it shows candidate Obama saying: “My commitment is to make sure that we’ve got universal health care for all Americans by the end of my first term as president….I don’t think we’re going to be able to eliminate employer coverage immediately. There’s going to be, potentially, some transition process: I can envision a decade out, or 15 years out, or 20 years out.”
Shown as well on this tape is Obama saying at an AFL-CIO conclave: “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health care plan…that’s what I’d like to see.” There are others on the tape, but they are members of Congress and while they are saying the same thing as the President in fairness they are not Ms. Douglass’s responsibility.
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