“YOU LIE!” These are the words shouted out by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C) on September 9, 2009, during a speech by President Barack Obama to a Joint Session of the Congress, as Mr. Obama touted the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Mr. Wilson was widely excoriated by the mainstream press, including the network news and major daily newspaper editorialists – even some in his own party, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who is usually the first to stab his fellow Republicans in the back. But more about Mr. Wilson later.
Most people lie sometime during their lives. Most often it is done to avoid responsibility for something they realize was wrong in the first instance. They range from the venial – “I did not eat those chocolate chip cookies in the freezer” (Larry Huss – circa 1955) to venal – “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false.” (President Bill Clinton – circa January 1998). For some it becomes pathological. There was a lawyer in my hometown who lied about everything from the unimportant (why he was late) to the critical (denying an affair to his wife). He lied so regularly that my father once commented that he would lie when the truth would serve him better. Amongst adults it is most frequently about sexual improprieties – Mayor Sam Adams, Gov. Neil Goldschmidt Rep. David Wu, Sen. Bob Packwood and that just scratches the surface and that’s just in Oregon.
But there appears to be new disturbing trends in Mr. Obama’s presidency. It comes in three forms: the denial of knowledge, the denial of responsibility by accepting responsibility, and the calculated withholding of known, critical information that contradicts the Administrations assertions. Let’s take them in that order.
It is difficult to pinpoint when the “denial of knowledge” was first used by Mr. Obama and his Administration but perhaps one of the first and most glaring instances involved Attorney General Eric Holder who denied prior knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious – the secret program conducted by the Justice Department to run guns into Mexico to the drug cartels in order to track their use but, instead, resulting in the death of United States Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Subsequent internal Justice Department memos confirmed that Mr. Holder received copies of several reports detailing the program and the fact of Agent Terry’s murder.
But Mr. Holder wasn’t finished. Mr. Holder denied any knowledge of a Justice Department investigation that resulted in the interception of telecommunications and internet traffic from FOX and AP reporters. Subsequent internal memos showed that not only did Mr. Holder know of the investigation but that he signed one of the affidavits falsely stating that the FOX reporter was the subject of a criminal investigation in order to gain court approval for the communications intercepts.
These “denials of knowledge” have become common place in Mr. Obama’s administration. There was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s denial of knowledge about security concerns at the United States embassy in Benghazi, about the attack on the embassy and about the “stand down” order in the wake of the attack. There were Lois Lerner’s denials about the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative and “tea party” organizations. And National Intelligence Director James Clapper denials about NSA spying on American citizens. And of course, the White House denying that Mr. Obama knew anything about any of these – or pretty much that Mr. Obama knew much about anything else that was controversial.
The newest one is the “denial of responsibility by accepting responsibility. One of the most recent examples is Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebilius testifying before Congress on the failed roll out of the Obamacare enrollment websites. Ms. Sebilius first identified Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Chief Operating Officer Michelle Snyder as responsible for the debacle and then when pressed told the Committee, “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.” Clearly she did not mean it since she went on to attempt to blame Republicans for the failures – fortunately she could not find a way to blame President George W. Bush. In fact, had she been sincere about accepting responsibility she would have detailed her failures and offered her resignation. Her acceptance of responsibility was simply a canard to prevent an actual examination of the causes for failure.
Ms. Sebilius’ “acceptance” of responsibility was an echo of Ms. Clinton’s appearance before Congress where she “accepted” responsibility for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Steven and three others in Benghazi but denied prior knowledge of any of the facts that would have actually held her responsible. It was an “I am responsible because I have the title, but I really didn’t know anything about it” acknowledgement. And again it was done more to deflect an investigation into actual responsibility than to accept responsibility.
Frankly, it is exactly the same thing that Mr. Obama did recently during a speech in Boston: “There’s no excuse for it. And I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP.” Not that he is responsible for the failure – the White House had made numerous assertions that Mr. Obama was unaware of the impending disaster – but rather he was responsible for fixing it.
And finally there is the most pernicious conduct – the calculated withholding of known, critical information that contradicts the Administrations assertions. Internal memos indicating that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) would result in the loss of existing insurance programs for millions of Americans and that millions of Americans would not be able to continue using their existing physicians once Obamacare was implemented were recently disclosed. They demonstrate that all of this was known prior to the final votes in Congress. And yet, this information was deliberately withheld so that Mr. Obama and his Administration could assert that “if you like your current insurance, you can keep it; if you like your doctor you can keep you doctor.” It was the critical assertions that mitigated against an outpouring of protests over the passage of Obamacare and which a whole number of members of Congress have acknowledged would have critically changed their vote. This was not just information that contradicted other information available to Mr. Obama – it was the only information available and it directly contradicted the narrative that Mr. Obama wanted to use. (This is completely different from the assertions of Weapons of Mass Destruction used by President George W. Bush to justify invading Iraq – that was an assertion that was believed by the president, the Congress and the heads of most Western nations that subsequently turned out to be wrong.)
I have been struggling to put a name to these. The dictionaries and internet searches are of little help – they direct me to words such as “hypocrisy, sarcasm, satire,” etc. I posed the question to a group of friends with whom I was golfing the other day and one of the group pointedly said, “Why don’t you call it what it is – lying?”
And that brings us back to Mr. Wilson. Instead of pillorying Mr. Wilson, the likes of Mr. McCain should honor him in the same fashion that the Congress honored Sen. Sam Ervin (D-N.C.) for outing another President who lied to the American public – Richard M. Nixon. So, Mr. Wilson, on my own behalf, thank you. Mr. Obama indeed lies.