There is lying, and then there is lying.
It seems that President Barack Obama doesn’t know the difference, or more likely that he thinks the average American doesn’t know the difference.
He may be in for a rude surprise and an even ruder final three, lame-duck years.
Yes, all presidents lie, if not explicitly, then indirectly. I don’t have the documents in front of me – Doris Kearns Goodwin wasn’t free for lunch – but I’m willing to bet that even George Washington, father of our country, and “Honest” Abe Lincoln lied for what they considered to be the best interests of the nation.
These days, presidential handlers and suck-up journalists try to prettify or fog up reality with a standard list of euphemisms: The president misspoke; was misleading, disingenuous or inaccurate; stretched the truth; dissembled; misinformed, etc.
But most Americans, although they tend to be increasingly uninformed, are able to cut through the fog.
They tolerate plenty of grey. They tend to excuse presidents who make campaign promises that they then routinely break when the reality of governing sets in.
Obama promised to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, to cut the deficit in half, to keep unemployment at less than 8 percent if Congress supported a stimulus package of nearly $900 billion. None of those was true. But, hey, most people figured he wanted them to be true, and he intended for them to be true, at least when he said them. So, they gave him a pass.
Most Americans will also support lies told to protect the safety of the country. Indeed, they expect and want their president and his chief lieutenants to lie in certain circumstances, such as when dealing with a mendacious leader of a hostile nation.
But it is something else when the intent is to deceive the American people instead of a hostile foreign regime. It is something else when the lie’s intent is to cloak the reality of a controversial agenda, or to protect one’s own political career.
Those kinds of lies from Obama now form a list too long to escape the notice of an otherwise forgiving public.
The president’s “difficulties” of recent weeks are only incidentally because of the disastrous launch of the Obamacare website. If healthcare.gov worked perfectly, it would be even worse.
The problem is the promise the president made about three dozen times, before and after the law passed, that those who liked their health plans and doctors would be able to keep them. “Period.” No exceptions, no caveats, no “unless something changes.” As millions upon millions of people are finding out, that was a lie.
It is not a glitch. It is a core feature of the law. Obamacare depends on people being forced to pay for coverage they don’t want or need.
No matter how much the president tries to dissemble and spin it, he knew it was a lie and he told it anyway – dozens of times. And the “fix” he proposed this week, to delay the impact of his lie for a year, doesn’t change the bottom line.
Now that he has people’s attention – and not in the way he wanted – it is more difficult for Obama to head fake his way out of it. When he said this will affect “only” 5 percent of the population, people know that means at least 15 million people. People know that if Republicans tried to throw that many off food stamps, the president would be comparing it to the end of civilization.
And it makes Americans more likely to wonder about all the other head faking that has been going on.
Are we really supposed to believe that Obama was unaware that nobody with the right technology experience was in charge of the health care website – supposedly his signature achievement?
Are we really supposed to believe that the president didn’t know the National Security Agency was spying on American citizens before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked a trove of documents proving it?
Are we supposed to believe that the president didn’t know about the IRS targeting groups that opposed his election last year? That he had no knowledge of the Justice Department bugging the Associated Press? That he didn’t know his intelligence agencies were bugging the phones of other world leaders, including American allies?
Are we supposed to believe that, weeks after an organized terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Lybia, the president really thought it was a spontaneous demonstration over a lame video that had been out on the web for months? Are we supposed to believe he hasn’t “rested” since then in a quest to bring the perpetrators to justice?
Obama is starting to make George W. Bush look like a hands-on guy. He is taking out-of-touch – or maybe telling lies – to a whole new level.
And that is the main reason the rest of his agenda is in trouble.
If he makes promises about border enforcement being part of immigration reform, what sober person will believe him? When he assures us that “nobody is going to take away your guns,” as a result of his gun-control agenda, who is going to be sucker enough to believe him?
That’s the problem with lies told for no other reason than self-interest. Eventually they catch up with you.
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org