In selling the health-care plan that bears his name, President Obama has, according to the fact-checking website Politifact, said at least 34 times that "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it." That statement was not completely true, and it's a lie that is today causing the President no end of political headaches.
Still, before we fully castigate the President for his rhetorical flights of fancy, it's important to keep in mind that Obama was--to a large degree telling Americans what they wanted to hear. In fact, he was giving them the type of comforting assurances they insist upon getting before backing any major policy change from Washington.
So Mr. Cohen admits that President Obama lied and that he was engaged in "rhetorical flights of fancy." That seems to seal the deal.
But for Cohen, it doesn't. He blames us. You read that right, dear reader. He blames you and me. Why? Cohen continues:
But doing so [telling the truth] would have opened Obama and his democratic allies up to the charge that Obamacare would lead to widespread dislocations--and made the path to reform that much politically harder to traverse.
It is true that had President Obama not lied and, instead, had told people that if they have individual health insurance, they won't be able to keep it, some of those people who supported ObamaCare would have opposed it. And, given the close vote, with even 34 Democrats in the House of Representatives voting against ObamaCare, that might have made the difference.
So how is that our fault? Because, writes Cohen, "we can't handle the truth." But is the issue that we can't handle the truth? Not really. Cohen's fear is and, apparently, Obama's fear was, that we would have handled the truth. That is, we would have noted the bad consequences of Obama's new wave of regulation of individual health insurance and, on that basis, opposed the law.
It's incredibly corrupt to justify lying because otherwise you won't get your way. Cue a line from Homer Simpson here that I can't remember, but that goes something like this: "Marge, I had to lie or else I wouldn't have got what I wanted."
A good test of Cohen's approach is to take it out of politics and apply it to our lives, say, buying something from a merchant. I recently had my house re-roofed. Imagine the following conversation before I signed the contract:
Roofer: My bid on this is $10,000.
Me: Really? That's great. I've been talking to other roofers and they're quoting me prices of $14,000 to $16,000. Why is yours so much lower?
Roofer: Because we use a special material that's cheaper but just as high-quality and we pay our workers 15 percent below the competition, but they're first-rate workers who like working for me so much that they're willing to work for that much less.
Then fast forward to when the roof is done, and, with the first rain of the season, it leaks. I call up the roofer to confront him:
Me: You told me that the tiles would be just as high-quality. They don't seem to be. And I notice some of the tiles weren't nailed on correctly. That looks like shoddy workmanship to me.
Roofer: Well, I lied, but please don't castigate me. I was telling you what you wanted to hear. I could see that you needed comforting assurance before you hired me. I just sensed that you couldn't handle the truth.
UPDATE: Jon Murphy correctly points out that the Simpson line is not from Homer, but from Bart. It's as follows: "I only lied because it was the easiest way to get what I wanted." It's from Episode 280. Here's the sound.