Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pants on fire


Politicians lie -- heck, lying seems to be part and parcel of the very definition of "politician." How and why they lie, though, may offer us insight into their thought processes. And of course the central figure as politicians go these days is Barack Obama.

Over at Reason, Jacob Sullum and David Harsanyi plunk down two pieces of the puzzle.

Sullum:

For connoisseurs of Obama-speak, the address featured a trifecta, combining three of his favorite rhetorical tropes. There was the vague reference to "those who” question his agenda, the "false choice" they use to deceive the public, and the determination to "be clear" and forthright, in contrast with those dishonest naysayers. These devices are useful as signals that the president is about to mislead us.


In other words, Obama carefully constructs his lies as part of his pre-game strategy. He sets his strawmen up and soaks them in kerosene, stocks the pond with red herring, etc., before he ever goes forth to do battle. He uses falsehood to fortify his castle before his first sally forth.

Harsanyi:

Holy burning bushes! Did you know that everyone — and I mean everyone — agrees with the president? Obama stressed this week that you can "talk to every health care economist out there and they will tell you that ... whatever ideas exist in terms of bending the cost curve and starting to reduce costs for families, businesses and government, those elements are in this bill."

Not "some" or "most" or "Peter Orszag on a two-day bender" but "every" health care economist in the entire world would tell you as much.

This sort of exaggeration reminds us of another whopper the president unloaded. While promoting the stimulus plan in January, he claimed that "there is no disagreement that we need action by our government, a recovery plan that will help to jump-start the economy."


Having pre-savaged his prospective opponents before making his argument, Obama now attempts to strengthen that case by denying the actual existence of those opponents. It's one of his patented lie types -- "you're either with us or against us" with a twist of "and there's nobody against us."

A third important piece of the Obama lie puzzle turns up in an interview with the Washington Post yesterday:

Every single criteria for reform I put forward is in this bill. ... I didn't campaign on the public option.


Except, of course, that he did exactly that:

THE OBAMA PLAN ... Offers a public health insurance option to provide the uninsured and those who can’t find affordable coverage with a real choice.


So now we know that Obama is willing to flagrantly lie about what he's said and done in the past, even in the certain knowledge that the evidence is there to demonstrate that yes, he's lying.

I always thought of Bill Clinton as a narcissistic liar -- he thought he wouldn't get caught because he was Bill Clinton.

George W. Bush, I never did quite figure out. It was a tossup between "he's crazy enough to actually believe the stuff he's reading off the telemprompter" and "he just really doesn't care whether we know he's lying or not ... he's the decider and the whole talking bit is just a way to pass some time with his subjects, not anything to be taken seriously or referred to later."

Obama's a liar of a different sort. His lies don't seem to be based on his own self-image, as inflated as that self-image may be; nor is he, to all appearances, shithouse rat insane; nor does he take the "decider" tack -- he strives to create a "consensus" by preemptively claiming that one exists, which must mean that he places at least some importance on the idea of consensus.

As far as I can tell, Obama's lies are based on his impression not of himself, but of you. To put it bluntly, he thinks you're stupid. He believes that you'll believe whatever he says, even if he was saying something different a year ago and even if what he's saying now is obviously and demonstrably false. I guess that was true of a majority of American voters a year ago, but it seems to be getting less and less so.

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