Rich Lowry: The Bad-Faith Presidency

Barack Obama

Rich Lowry

At the end of the day, the root of President Obama’s mendacity on Obamacare  was simple: He didn’t dare tell people how the law would work. He couldn’t tell  people how the law would work.

Forthrightness was the enemy. It served no useful purpose and could only  bring peril, and potentially defeat. It had to be banished. Instead of candor,  Obama made the sale on the basis of dubious blandishments and outright  deceptions.

If this is the only way to pass your signature initiative—and a decades-long  goal of your party—it ought to give you pause. But Obama was a natural at  delivering sweeping and sincere-seeming assurances that weren’t true. This kind  of thing is his métier.

If he were awoken at 3 a.m. and told 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, even without a TelePrompTer. The salesmanship  for Obamacare represents in microcosm the larger Obama political project, which  has always depended on throwing a reassuring skein of moderation on top of  left-wing ideological aims.

All politicians are prone to shaving the truth, giving themselves the benefit  of the doubt and 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  makes him one of the greatest front men progressivism has ever had.

He will never admit his deep bias toward the growth of the federal government  for its own sake, 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, respectively.

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 term “re-distribution,”  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, who have long accused  Democrats of seeking ‘socialized medicine.’ But the redistribution of wealth has  always been a central feature of the law and lies at the heart of the insurance  market disruptions driving political attacks this fall.”

Heaven forbid the president tell people that. The Times notes that the last  time the president mentioned redistribution it was—of course—to say that he  wanted nothing to do with it. “Understand this is not a redistribution  argument,” he said of one of his economic initiatives in a speech in April 2012.  “This is not about taking from rich people to give to poor people. This is about  us together making investments in our country so everybody’s got a fair  shot.”

The president styles himself a committed pragmatist. At a fundraiser outside  of Seattle 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. And happened to defend it with every power at his  disposal.

In private, as I wrote here, the president admits that he has kept his true  ideological self carefully under wraps. According to Mark Halperin and John  Heilemann, the authors of Double Down, Obama brought up climate change  in a political strategy meeting in 2011 as an example of his undue caution.  “Maybe I should just come out and say what I really feel about this,” he said.  “Maybe I should just go out and say what I think about everything.”

As a crazy thought experiment, his aides let him dabble with heart-felt  sincerity. He brought a list to the next meeting of causes dear to him, all of  which were liberal clichés: climate change, immigration reform, poverty,  Israeli-Palestinian peace, closing Gitmo, and gay marriage. Only the very last,  gay marriage, made a major appearance in the presidential campaign because he  couldn’t bear any longer to hide what he really thought about it.

He knew the danger of too much forthrightness.

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.

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