Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on November 14, 2013

The following is an excerpt from’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.

image1154Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking
“George Clooney Thinks Hillary Clinton Will Be ‘Very Tough to Beat’ in 2016”–headline,, Nov. 12

A Noble Lie?
This column has been following with amusement the various equivocations and rationalizations supporters of ObamaCare have offered to avoid acknowledging plainly that Barack Obama’s central premise–“If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it”–was an out-and-out fraud. “Mr. Obama clearly misspoke when he said that” is how a New York Times editorial put it last week. The Times’s news side seems to have settled on “incorrect promise.”

But if the Times editors are in the market for talent, they ought to find out who wrote Sunday’s editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. This thing is a masterpiece:

First of all, this is a problem of the president’s own making. He did repeatedly say that if you like your insurance plan, you can keep it. He was three words short of the truth. All he had to add was “in most cases.”

It’s unlikely that this extra frankness would have hurt the political effort to sell the legislation. People understand that not everybody can be left unaffected by such a sweeping change, and Mr. Obama should have been careful not to embellish the assurance.

Was it a lie? He should have known the facts. By definition, a lie is a deliberate misstating of the truth; it is not simply something that was wrongly stated with good intentions, in this case perhaps, to make the complicated simple for public consumption. Those who believe the worst of this president will conclude that he lied; those who do not will be more charitable.

This is savory for multiple reasons. For one, adding a weaselly phrase like “in most cases” does not constitute “extra frankness.” Quite the opposite: It turns a shining promise into a foggy assurance with no clear meaning. Imagine if Obama tried that with his wedding vows:

Jeremiah Wright: Will you, Barack, take Michelle to be your wife, to love, honor and cherish, forsaking all others, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?

Obama: Yeah, most likely.

The Post-Gazette’s claim that “it is unlikely” such equivocation “would have hurt the political effort to sell the legislation” is supportable only if one assumes the enactment of ObamaCare was not the close-run thing it seemed at the time–in other words, that Harry Reid would have been able to command 60 votes and Nancy Pelosi 218 even without whatever political cover the fraudulent promise provided the Democratic members of their respective chambers. If that is true, however, then the entire “political effort to sell the legislation” was a sham: The fix was in, and Congress was prepared to act with complete disregard for public opinion.

Now for the best part: “By definition, a lie is a deliberate misstating of the truth; it is not simply something that was wrongly stated with good intentions, in this case perhaps, to make the complicated simple for public consumption.”

This is a bit of a head-scratcher. The Wall Street Journal established a week earlier that the pledge was the result of careful deliberation between “White House policy advisers” concerned about accuracy and “political aides,” who prevailed because, as the Journal paraphrased a comment from an unnamed former official, “in the midst of a hard-fought political debate ‘if you like your plan, you can probably keep it’ isn’t a salable point.”

So this was a deliberate misstating of the truth. By raising the possibility of “good intentions,” the Post-Gazette editorialists seem to be suggesting that it was a sort of noble lie. “The furor of the supposed great lie is an embarrassment to Mr. Obama,” they concede in conclusion, “but it obscures the larger and more important truth that the Affordable Care Act remains good policy.”

That evaluation seems increasingly delusional with every passing hour, but let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that ObamaCare was a well-intended policy: that Obama pushed for it out of a sincere desire to help people. That would make its failure an example of what the scholar Barbara Oakley calls pathological altruism.

That seems to us, however, to give Obama too much credit. For one thing, it takes more than altruistic motives to justify lying. Suppose one could establish that Bernie Madoff sincerely wanted to make his clients wealthier. Would that mitigate his guilt for defrauding them?

Further, good intentions are not the same as pure intentions. People often have altruistic and selfish motives for the same action. Even if we assume Obama honestly wanted to help people and made his fraudulent promise in pursuit of that goal, it would be silly to deny he also made it in pursuit of his own aggrandizement–of the approbation that comes with a “legacy” of substantial “achievement.”

Of course, that’s not working out so well for him now. Whether or not this is a case of pathological altruism, it definitely is pathological narcissism.

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