Opinion: President’s lie is undeniable

November 14, 2013


Dear Mr. President:

You lied.

More often than anyone can count you’ve said some version of the following in defense of the Affordable Care Act: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period.”

We learn now that perhaps as many as 2 million Americans cannot, in fact, do that under the new law. It requires that health insurance cover a comprehensive range of benefits, though more modest policies can be grandfathered in, provided those policies have not been significantly changed since the ACA was enacted in 2010. Anyone whose policy fails to meet one of those two criteria must get a new one.

So what you said was incorrect, and that’s bad enough. You made matters worse in a Nov. 4 speech in which you claimed you didn’t say what you did.

“What we said,” you told the audience, “was, you can keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law passed.” The “pants on fire” rating that you got from Politifact was richly deserved.

It is hardly news that presidents lie. Bill Clinton parsed an intransitive verb to hide his dalliance with a White House intern, George W. Bush claimed he never advocated “stay the course” in Iraq, Ronald Reagan swore he never traded weapons for hostages to arm the Contras in Nicaragua, Lyndon Johnson escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam by claiming American warships had suffered unprovoked attacks in the Gulf of Tonkin, Richard Nixon said, “I am not a crook.”

But surely you understand by now that you are not just another president. You are, rather, the embodiment of a movement, Exhibit A in the argument that a new America is taking shape before our eyes. So, the rules and expectations are different for you. No one who has been buoyed by that movement, no citizen of that new America, wants to see you acting like just another president, any more than anyone wanted to see Jackie Robinson strike out at bat or Neil Armstrong stumble while stepping off the lunar lander.

Is that fair? No. So what?

You are probably familiar with the political axiom that one campaigns in poetry, but governs in prose. That’s true enough, ordinarily, something voters understand, if only instinctively. But the byproduct of embodying a movement is that when you promise poetry, people expect a little poetry. This latest episode amounts to torpid prose.

It is worth noting that people maintain a deep reservoir of goodwill toward you, even now. And it says something that even after three years of strident, hypocritical, extreme and often delusional Republican pounding, even after bizarre comparisons with the Third Reich and slavery, even after claims that death panels are coming after Nana, the ACA remains popular with nearly half the American public.

This is something of a political miracle. But you stretch your luck beyond breaking if you think you can continue to defy gravity while absorbing both the wounds Republicans inflict upon you and those you needlessly inflict upon yourself.

The botched rollout of the ACA with its amateur-hour website was bad enough. Now there’s this. An observer can only wonder what you were thinking. Did you believe the lie would not be discovered? Did you think the political gain was worth the embarrassment? Did you not know enough about the law to realize this bomb was ticking?

None of those scenarios reflects well upon you.

Thankfully, you have apologized and promised, albeit without specifics, to provide relief for people who now need to buy insurance despite your blanket promises. That needs to happen yesterday. Your legacy teeters here, Mr. President, Jackie Robinson waiting for the pitch, Neil Armstrong poised above lunar soil. Two words of advice:

Do better.

— Leonard Pitts Jr is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 4 months ago

How wrong you are on this one. President Obama said that the ACA would not force you to leave your doctor if you wanted to keep seeing him. It does not have the legal authority to force insurances to renew policies. After all this has settled down people will be happy with their new medical insurance. Most people don't seem to realize the massive scope of this undertaking. I'm sure that those who are writing the code to make this work are now running on fumes.

Joshua Cain 4 years, 4 months ago

I remember him saying something like this...."That means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what."

He says "period" to emphasize the "promise" (arguably a lie) is absolute. No room for ambiguity, misrepresentation, or caveat.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 4 months ago

Leave Obamacare on the table because it calls for no more junk insurance policies which is over due.

Leave existing insurance on the table for those who enjoy spending large sums of money for medical insurance some of course is worthless. What could possibly be more American?

Make IMPROVED Medicare Single Payer Insurance for ALL available to all taxpayers as one of our choices. This choice REDUCES the cost of government, public and higher education and doing business in general. Why isn’t congress on board?

Let's Compare Single-Payer (HR 676 and S 703) Expanded Medicare for All Vs. Proposed Healthcare “Private insurance with Public Option” http://www.healthcare-now.org/docs/spreport.pdf ( very interesting findings)

Now allow consumers to make their choice instead of congress. Let the chips fall where they may.

I want my tax dollars spent on a useful endeavor such as Medicare Single Payer not on:

  1. insurance over charges

  2. or obscene CEO salaries

  3. or golden parachutes

  4. or shareholders

  5. or special interest campaign funding!!!

Make IMPROVED Medicare Single Payer Insurance for ALL available to all taxpayers as one of our choices. It is time for my tax dollars to support a fiscally prudent insurance program.

Moreover, tax dollars also pay for critical elements of the health care system apart from direct care—Medicare funds much of the expensive equipment hospitals use, for instance, along with all medical residencies.

More on Medicare Single Payer Insurance. http://www.pnhp.org/facts/single-payer-resources Physicians for a National Health Program Health Care NOW http://www.healthcare-now.org/

Bob Smith 4 years, 4 months ago

Where have I seen this post before? Right here on this award-winning website at least a couple of hundred times!

Richard Heckler 4 years, 4 months ago

Health Care is s human right. Human bodies are designed to require health care at some point... this is not a choice. It is time to ditch expensive health insurance for everybody rich or poor. USA medical insurance is NOT a good dollar value simple as that.

John Graham 4 years, 4 months ago

While private insurance certainly has issues as you outlined, remember the GAO has listed Medicare on the list of high financial risks facing government agencies since 1990. GAO reported in 2012 Medicare had $44B of improper payments (defined as waste, fraud and abuse) out of the total $550B spent. That is 7.9% of all Medicare payments the GAO found to be improper. There would be no reason to believe this percentage would get any smaller if Medicare was expanded to include all Americans, the percentage could very well increase as more people on the program means even more opportunities for improper payments. So while private insurance certainly has cost issues, Medicare has a very big problem of its own that has been going on for years that the government can't seem to address.

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