The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal.com’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.
If Only He’d Done That Instead of ObamaCare
“How Obama Can Make History Again: Grow a Beard”–headline, NationalJournal.com, Oct. 30
“If you like your plan, you can keep it.” That assertion, repeated with small variations, was Barack Obama’s central pledge when he was campaigning for president and then for the enactment of health-care “reform.” The pro-Obama New York magazine has assembled a 95-second video montage of the future and current president making the assertion two dozen times between 2008 and 2010.
Surely this is the clearest example of a broken presidential promise since George H.W. Bush’s “Read my lips: no new taxes.” In Bush’s defense it may be said that political exigencies–a Democratic Congress, a foreign-policy crisis–forced him to accede to a tax hike. Similarly, Obama in 2008 opposed the idea of an individual mandate to purchase health insurance, but agreed to it because his preferred options, the “public option” (in which the government would compete with private insurers) and “single payer” (in which the government would be the only insurer) were political nonstarters even with an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress.
But the you-can-keep-your-plan promise was not a sacrifice to political necessity. TheObamaCare law included a grandfather clause permitting the continuation of existing plans even if they aren’t compliant with ObamaCare’s mandates. But as we noted Tuesday, the administration applied that provision narrowly, so as to maximize the number of cancelled policies.
What do you call a political promise delivered repeatedly and emphatically only to be broken deliberately? David Firestone, an editorialist at the New York Times, calls it an “unfortunate blanket statement.” We suppose another example of an unfortunate blanket statement was “I am not a crook.”
Euphemism is only one way of attempting to fog up the debate so as to escape accountability. Another is equivocation–the informal logical fallacy of using ambiguous language in an effort to mislead. The classic political example is Bill Clinton’s claim “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Clinton was using “relations” in the narrow sense of “intercourse,” even though most people understood him to be making a blanket (heh) denial of hanky-panky.
According to Obama and his defenders, what he meant by “plan” or “insurance” is something different from what you might have thought he meant. Former Clinton operativeJames Carville, asked by Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly if Obama “lied in the runup to ObamaCare,” answered as follows:
Well, I think he could have said, I think the more accurate statement would have been that you will keep your coverage unless you are an individual market and have a so-called insurance policy that doesn’t meet the basic requirements. You know, just calling something health insurance doesn’t make it health insurance.
You see the game Carville is playing here. If you liked your plan and it was cancelled on account of ObamaCare, it’s not that Obama failed to keep his promise, it’s that the promise didn’t apply to you because your plan wasn’t a plan at all.
What he doesn’t spell out is that the legal definition of “health insurance” is part of the ObamaCare legislation. So the Obama pledge qualified by the Carville equivocation is a tautology: If your plan is one that ObamaCare permits you to keep, you can keep your plan.
Firestone, meanwhile, equivocated on another term:
The so-called cancellation letters waved around at yesterday’s [House Energy and Commerce Committee] hearing were simply notices that policies would have to be upgraded or changed. Some of those old policies were so full of holes that they didn’t include hospitalization, or maternity care, or coverage of other serious conditions.
Remind us to come back to that “maternity care” bit in the next item. And the equivocation isn’t limited to the problem of canceled policies. At the same hearing, as Mediaite.comnotes, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius insisted that theHealthCare.gov website “has never crashed. It is functional but at a very slow speed and low reliability.” Probably pining for the fjords.
Obama himself, in another ghastly speech yesterday, asserted that policy cancellations are for the benefit of “the underinsured”:
There are a number of Americans–fewer than 5 percent of Americans–who’ve got cut-rate plans that don’t offer real financial protection in the event of a serious illness or an accident. Remember, before the Affordable Care Act, these bad-apple insurers had free rein every single year to limit the care that you received, or use minor preexisting conditions to jack up your premiums or bill you into bankruptcy. So a lot of people thought they were buying coverage, and it turned out not to be so good.
“Bad apple” is a curious rhetorical choice, as shown in this 2005 article from The Economist:
The United States is a “nation of law,” George [W.] Bush insisted after the sickening photographs showing American soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison appeared last spring. The “disgraceful conduct” had been the work of “a few bad apples” who would be brought to justice.
Some of Obama’s supporters among journalists and policy wonks are more forthright. BusinessInsider.com’s Josh Barro admits the promise “isn’t proving true” but asserts: “One of the key reasons that America needed health care reform is that a lot of existing health plans were bad. There are a lot of health plans that Americans shouldn’t be able to keep.”
Time’s Kate Pickert echoes the argument: “Despite what President Obama said, thousands of people are being forced to change plans. But their new ones may offer better coverage.”
Jason Linkins of the Puffington Host is explicit about the equivocation. He explains that the Obama promise “sort of contains multitudes,” so that “the answer to the question of, ‘Is this still a true statement?’ is basically, ‘Kind of?’ But the words ‘plan’ and ‘like’ are doing a lot of heavy lifting to make that possible.”
Even more remarkably, Linkins employs baby talk when he acknowledges that the president’s promise was straightforwardly untrue: “The news today is that lots of people aren’t going to keep the plans that they are on, and are receiving notice from their health insurance providers that they will be shunted onto different, perhaps more expensive plans. And they no likey.”
The difference between saying “they no likey” and “they are displeased” is that the former implies it is babyish to hold a politician accountable for his promises. Smart and sophisticated people like Linkins knew better all along than to take Obama at his word. As Otter observed in “Animal House”: “You [fouled] up. You trusted us.”
Salon.com reports approvingly that at yesterday’s hearing, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois said “what many Democrats have long been thinking”: “After a 3½-year campaign to repeal, to discredit, to even shut down the government over ObamaCare, I want to say, get over it!”
She was addressing Republicans, and her implication here is that they are losers who refuse to accept defeat. That’s an odd thing for a member of the minority party to say to her colleagues.
But in any case, “Get over it!” constitutes an attempt to change the subject. Yes ObamaCare opponents lost the legislative and legal contests and enough electoral contests to make the law’s implementation impossible to forestall. But it’s the supporters who ought to get over it, for they are the ones accountable for the disaster now unfolding.
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