During the 2008 campaign and throughout the subsequent debate over his health care legislation, President Obama used his mother’s experience as a cancer patient fighting to get coverage to pay for treatment for what her insurer said was a pre-existing condition as an emotional argument to sway skeptics. However, a new book by New York Times reporter Janny Scott has revealed this story appears to be a fabrication.
The Times reports today (in a story buried on page 14 rather than on the front page) that during the course of researching her book, A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother, Scott uncovered correspondence showing “the 1995 dispute concerned a Cigna disability insurance policy and that her actual health insurer had apparently reimbursed most of her medical expenses without argument.” In response to inquiries, “a White House spokesman chose not to dispute either Ms. Scott’s account or Mr. Obama’s memory, while arguing that Mr. Obama’s broader point remained salient.”
In other words, Obama lied in order to make a political point.
The early death of the president’s mother was a tragedy for her family, but Obama’s manipulation of the narrative about her life was utterly unscrupulous. While her battle for disability coverage probably was stressful, that has nothing to do with her son’s subsequent efforts to impose a government health care plan on the nation. Moreover, it should also be pointed out the president is in no position to claim his untrue account of his mother’s problems was the result of a misunderstanding about a matter in which he was not involved. According to Scott, the correspondence says his mother referred to her son as her attorney in these matters.
For those with short memories, it’s important to recall that Obama has used this story repeatedly, including during one of the presidential debates with opponent John McCain. During that debate he said:
For my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.
Lest you think calling out Obama for this fib is conservative spin, the Times quotes Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University, who said if the truth about Obama’s mother’s insurance coverage had been revealed during the campaign, “People would have considered it a significant error. I just took for granted that it was a pre-existing condition health insurance issue.”
Using personal tragedies to make political points is generally in bad taste, but it is typical political fare. It is much worse when such a story turns out to be a barefaced lie. Barack Obama owes the American people an apology.