You Can’t Fool Them if They’re Paying Attention

Stuart Taylor is much more polite than Rep. Joe Wilson, but he reaches a similar conclusion about the president’s veracity:

I can’t help thinking that the deviations from truth-telling identified by various critics go to the heart of his plan, compromise his credibility, and could accelerate health-cost inflation with ruinous consequences for the economy.

He then ticks off the list of misstatements and deceptions:

The centerpiece of Obama’s advocacy has been that “my plan” will “slow the growth of health care costs,” now nearly 17 percent of gross domestic product and racing higher. But his plan would quite clearly increase costs dramatically, which is why he is proposing so many new taxes, “fees,” and other levies.

The worst, as Taylor points out, is his claim that imposing a fine on someone who fails to purchase health insurance isn’t a tax. But even the mainstream media concedes “it’s deceptive to pretend that this is not a tax.” There is more: the promise not to increase the deficit leaves out the part about the need to hike taxes later on, and then there’s the ever-shifting promise that we won’t have to change doctors or insurance plans.

Really, when you think about it, there isn’t any significant issue—revenue, cost, rationing, or Medicare—on which the president has been candid. It was painfully obvious why the Democrats wanted to string up poor Joe Wilson. The episode needed, from their perspective, to be about Wilson’s rudeness or Republicans’ supposed hidden racism, not about the president’s honesty.

In most administrations, the press acts as a blinking red light: “We’d better get our facts right, or the press will nail us,” aides whisper to one another. But in this White House, extreme complacency and a serving of arrogance together with an abundance of confidence that the mainstream media will cover for them combine to impede the usual fact-checking and spin-restraint systems that usually are in operation. And of course, with the president’s preference for ad hominems, the White House finds it so much more satisfying to attack the messenger (e.g., Sarah Palin, town-hall attendees, Medicare contractors) than to deal with the underlying criticisms.

Given the president’s inability to convince the public of the meirt of his health-care ideas, we might find some reassurance in the notion that lying and spin don’t pay off in the long run on a critical issue in which the public is exceptionally engaged. And it really doesn’t work if the legislative process is slowed sufficiently to allow a full public airing of the issues. Pundits and politicians complain that our political system is broken. But here it’s working beautifully–there’s an ongoing and robust debate, politicians’ lies are being uncovered, and the bicameral legislature (even with one-party domination) provides ample opportunity to block unwise and dangerous proposals. Now it’s possible that the Democrats will resort to brute force and parliamentary tricksterism to jam through their bill. But even then there’s a remedy: the 2010 elections.