At the end of the day, the root of President Barack Obama’s mendacity on “Obamacare” was simple: He didn’t dare tell people how the law would work.
Forthrightness was the enemy. It served no useful purpose and could only bring peril, and potentially defeat. Instead, President Obama made the sale on the basis of dubious blandishments and outright deceptions.
If this is the only way to pass your signature initiative, it ought to give you pause. But Obama was a natural at delivering sweeping and sincere-seeming assurances that just weren’t true.
If he were awoken at 3 a.m. and told that he had to make the case for nationalizing the banks by denying he was nationalizing the banks, he would do an entirely creditable job of it.
All politicians are prone to shaving the truth, trying to appear more reasonable than they are. Obama has made it an art form. Bad faith is one of his signal strengths as a politician, and it makes him one of the greatest frontmen progressivism has ever had.
He will never admit his deep bias toward the growth of the federal government, or that he doesn’t care that much if Iran gets the bomb, or that he is liquidating the American leadership role in the Middle East. No, no — he is just trying to make government work, giving diplomacy a chance and pivoting to Asia.
In this vein, the things that the president couldn’t say about “Obamacare” keep mounting. The New York Times reported the other day on how the word “redistribution,” which aptly describes the law’s intent and effect, is anathema.
“These days the word is particularly toxic at the White House,” according to the paper, “where it has been hidden away to make the Affordable Care Act more palatable to the public and less a target for Republicans ... But the redistribution of wealth has always been a central feature of the law.”
The Times notes that the last time the president mentioned redistribution, it was to say that he wanted nothing to do with it.
The president styles himself a committed pragmatist. At a fundraiser the other day, he averred, “I’m not a particularly ideological person.” He just happened to risk Democratic control of Congress to advance the cause of nationalized health insurance. And happened to insist on the left-most plausible version of the law.
In private, the president admits that he has kept his true ideological self carefully under wraps. According to the authors of “Double Down,” Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Obama brought up climate change in a political strategy meeting in 2011. “Maybe I should just come out and say what I really feel about this,” he said.
As a crazy experiment, his aides let him dabble with heartfelt sincerity. To the next meeting he brought a list of causes dear to him: climate change, immigration reform, poverty, Israeli-Palestinian peace, closing Gitmo and gay marriage. Only gay marriage surfaced in the presidential campaign because he couldn’t bear any longer to hide what he really thought on the issue. He knew the danger of too much forthrightness.
Syndicated columnist Rich Lowry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.