The Vietnamization of the health care debate: White House aide defends untruth.
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The only difference here is that instead of lying about Vietnam we’re talking about lying about health care.
It is now crystal clear that the Obama administration is lying about the president’s goal of achieving a single-payer health care system. Let’s be even more blunt:
The President is lying.
And Ms. Douglass has specifically gone on camera to lie for him — just as Arthur Sylvester lied for Robert McNamara and the two presidents for whom McNamara worked.
There are consequences for presidents who do this or who are perceived as doing this. LBJ and Richard Nixon lost their presidencies when it came clear to Americans that they had not been told the truth about Vietnam (LBJ) and Watergate (Nixon). George H.W. Bush’s breaking of his “read my lips — no new taxes” pledge opened him to charges of lying — and cost him re-election. Bill Clinton came within an ace of losing his job — and effectively lost most of his second term — when he lied over Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones. While there is not a single shred of proof to this day that George W. Bush knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but lied and invaded anyway, the perception — deliberately pushed by people like then-Senator Obama — is that if he didn’t lie then he “misled.” However you slice it, the perception was damaging to the remainder of the Bush presidency.
And yes, as someone who served in the Reagan White House during the Iran-Contra affair, it must be said that while President Reagan never thought he was “trading arms for hostages” (and in truth, I’m not sure he ever did believe this in his heart-of-hearts, as he indicated), he finally went to a disapproving American people and said this:
“A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind.”
With that apology, the American people forgave a president they liked a lot. Several staff members lost their jobs. The Reagan era proceeded, the polls stabilized and the President got back to his job.
Which makes the Obama lie on health care reform all the more ironic. Having reached the presidency propelled by those insisting Bush was a liar, to now be caught on videotape lying quite specifically and in detail about his health care objectives has the potential for being a torpedo amidships for the political ship Obama.
Just as it did with LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43, the perception of lying or the discovery of an actual, quite deliberate lie shifts the debate from one about the substance of the president’s program itself to the much worse and increasingly angry perception by average Americans that they are being quite deliberately lied to. “You’re lying to me!” barked a self-identified Democrat to House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer in a YouTube moment. Hoyer was in Utica, New York, to discuss high speed rail, a subject about as far from health care as one can get. The challenge to him by a fellow Democrat named Don Jeror came first on the stimulus bill — not health care. “I recognize a liar when I see one,” snapped Jeror. Hoyer’s response? To praise the construction of the Erie Canal in the 1800s.
At least Sylvester had the lack of 24/7 cable news and the Internet going for him. Linda Douglass doesn’t have that luxury, but it certainly hasn’t fazed her. With a seeming nonchalance if not eagerness to please her boss and staff seniors, she has quite deliberately gone on camera to assume the role of a 21st century Arthur Sylvester. She has looked the American people right straight in the eye and, in spite of the quite vivid video evidence to the contrary, told us all something that we now know to be a complete Sylvester-style untruth.
Which is to say: a lie.
The implications for the health care debate as it goes forward are considerable. As the understanding grows that the President’s staff, not to mention the President himself, is willing to deliberately lie about health care — just as Sylvester and his bosses did with Vietnam — an entire presidency can be undermined. “It’s only about sex” went the plaintive defense of Clinton aides during the impeachment imbroglio. While there were plenty of people who thought it was about other things — perjury being but one — if one accepts the Clinton standard — and many people did — one can only come up with bad news for Obama.
The “it’s only about sex” defense implied that the whole issue just wasn’t important. There is not an American out there who believes their health care isn’t important. It would be almost impossible to touch a more sensitive nerve in the American psyche. Even the controversy of war, necessitating as it always does the physical service of the mostly young and (these days) volunteers, doesn’t have the impact of messing with the health care of every breathing American. Millions of Americans may never get closer to military service than the movies. Not everyone has skin in the game in the sense of a family member or friend walking around Iraq or Afghanistan. But you can take it to the bank that every single citizen has skin in the game of health care. And they know it.
Which means that once they understand the President and his staff are, in the tradition of Arthur Sylvester, all too willing to deliberately lie — there will be hell to pay.
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