Yes, President Obama lied, but that’s nothing earth-shattering. Politicians of both political parties lie all the time - and we let them.
On April 1st, 2010, a week after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, President Obama stood in front of a crowd in Portland, Maine and said something he’d say many times again over the next few years: “[I]f Americans like their doctor, they will keep their doctor. And if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it. No one will be able to take that away from you. It hasn’t happened yet. It won’t happen in the future.” Yet in the last month, millions of Americans have received letters from their insurance companies saying that their plan is canceled because it does not meet the new regulations established by Obamacare.
Last week, NBC News demonstrated that not only was what Obama said false, but his administration has known it since at least 2010:
For this, the Washington Post’s fact checking team has given Obama “four Pinocchios”, the highest score for a lie on their scale, a rating that is simply defined as “whoppers”. Did President Obama really just knowingly and intentionally lie?
“Yes, Obama knew perfectly well that the extensive regulations of Obamacare would dislodge certain plans,” says George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator. “He also knew the history of Hillarycare's legislative failure, which fizzled after public fears about lost plans and lost doctors spread. To avoid the same fate, he had to fake up this claim.”
Anthony Esolen, who teaches Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence College, agrees but sees this as part of a greater problem of deception in American culture in general. “Did Barack Obama lie? Of course he did. The American people can hardly be told the truth about anything. Can they be told the truth about unwed motherhood? No. Can they be told the truth about abortion? No. Can they be told the truth about our finances? It doesn't matter; the great majority of the electorate wouldn't have the patience to listen. Can they be told the truth about what is going on in Iraq, or Egypt, or Afghanistan, or Syria? No.”
“Politicians lie to us, because we want to hear their lies; we lie to ourselves just as well. When you fairly admit the Machiavellian premise that there is no good beyond the political, then what can possibly restrain you from lying, especially when you can get away with it?”
Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute and author of Tea Party Catholic, also views the situation as evidence of a much bigger problem. “The willingness to tell the truth, but also the ability to listen to the truth, is in increasingly short supply today.”
“For so many politicians today – again, regardless of which party they belong to – the end justifies the means. To tell an untruth is invariably justified in terms of ‘the greater good,’ or some other type of self-serving utilitarian, consequentialist, or proportionalist ‘rationale’ that was explicitly condemned as contrary to not just the entire tradition of Catholic faith but also reason itself in Blessed John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor.”
“But we can’t just blame the political class. It’s also true that plenty of ordinary Americans simply don’t want to hear the truth. […] In that sense, all of us are complicit in the untruths that permeate every level of American political and economic life.”
If lying has become normal in politics, Esolen points out there’s been exceptions in history. “Not all presidents have been arrant liars. Grover Cleveland had such a reputation for scrupulous honesty, that when an insurance company in Connecticut was near the brink because of rumors that it was insolvent, they turned to Cleveland to help them out. Cleveland was out of office, a Democrat abandoned by his own party. But everyone knew that Cleveland would not only not tell a lie. He would not affirm something he did not know was absolutely a fact. Cleveland looked over their books, and told Americans that they need not worry. It saved the company.”
“What will be the political fallout?” Esolen asks rhetorically. “If we were a healthy nation, the man would resign in disgrace, joined by all those who aided him in the enterprise. I don't think there will be any fallout. I dearly hope I am wrong.”
Gregg reminds us, though, that those with a lack of concern for the truth can never entirely escape its natural consequences. “Truth, however, has a way of making its presence felt, not least because when we make choices against the truth, it usually comes back to haunt us, often in unexpected ways.”
The following Aleteia Experts contributed to this article:
Anthony Esolen teaches Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence College. A senior editor for Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, he writes regularly for Touchstone, First Things, Catholic World Report, Magnificat, This Rock, and Latin Mass.
Dr. Samuel Gregg is director of research at the Acton Institute. He has written and spoken extensively on questions of political economy, economic history, ethics in finance, and natural law theory.
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.