The viral political video clip of the day is the one in which White House Press Secretary Jay Carney loses it during his exchange with ABC’s Jon Karl when the latter pressed him about the latest twist in the ObamaCare fiasco. Karl pointed out that contrary to the assertion by President Obama, even those who bypass the dysfunctional website are forced to wait in the same line when they try to apply by phone or in person. Since those who assist the people who employ those methods must use the same website and thus be stuck in the same queue, Carney wasn’t quite telling the truth when he said it would take only 25 minutes to apply that way. In response, Carney began mocking Karl, condescendingly dismissing the question and acting as if somehow the veteran reporter wasn’t quite smart enough to understand his somewhat disingenuous spin of the president’s latest fibs.
That Carney lost the room a long time ago is well known. Rather than work with the press to explain the administration’s stands, Carney seems to spend his daily briefing lecturing them and barely containing his frustration and anger when they don’t buy his spin. But while this is pretty much the opposite of what a press secretary should be doing, Carney is merely reflecting the attitude of his boss. That was made plain by the president’s speech yesterday to an adoring crowd of Democratic party workers and health-care activists in which he used the same tone in explaining his infamous lie about promising Americans that if they liked their health-care plan, they could keep it under ObamaCare. Unlike Carney, who was just talking down to a room full of journalists, the president was talking down to the American people as if they were too stupid to follow along with the permutations of his tortured explanations.
The president claimed that there was no difference between what he was saying for three years about ObamaCare and today. After all, if the health insurance that people had was grandfathered in before the 2010 passage of the bill, they were OK. “What we said was you could keep it if it hadn’t changed since the law was passed,” Obama impatiently snarled. And didn’t people understand that there was always “churn” in insurance markets. The president didn’t bother to hide the thinly veiled condescension in these comments.
Of course, for three years he didn’t add the “if”–the guarantee was unconditional. But the point here is that this is a president who never thinks he should be called to account for his past statements or behavior. After all, this is the same man who claimed over and over again while he was in the Senate that the troop surge in Iraq in 2007 would lead to more violence and accomplish nothing. Yet once in office, he claimed the surge as his own and then pretended that everything he had said about it actually meant the opposite of what he meant at the time. The same rule applies to his Senate vote against raising the debt ceiling. In the past year, he has characterized Republicans who used the same tactic to try and stop his policies are nothing less than anarchists trying to destroy the government. But now he claims when he did exactly the same thing to George W. Bush, it was not only different but also somehow acceptable.
That this is hypocritical is obvious. But there is more to hypocrisy in the president’s explanations of the huge gap between what he says and the truth. Implicit in every explanation is his exasperation with those who won’t think along with him as he schemes his way through political controversies. It’s not just that the public and the press aren’t buying his spin, it’s that he seems to think we’re too stupid to understand that his noble motives and great intellect should allow him the sort of leeway that isn’t granted to lesser mortals. What the president—and his press secretary—is doing is not so much explaining the administration’s policies as talking down to the rubes that they govern. In doing so, Obama is playing not so much the democratic leader as the benevolent despot who knows what’s best for the peasants.
That presidents and their minions eventually become so accustomed to power and so frustrated with the need to be accountable in a democracy isn’t a new phenomenon. But this administration’s second term seems to be sinking into this morass in which all other lame ducks have found themselves, with a lack of grace or a sense of their own implausibility that few of its predecessors could match.