When Congressman Joe Wilson cried out "You Lie", during President Obama's health-care address to Congress in 2009, he violated the Congressional rules of decorum, but did raise a question that gets more pertinent as Obama ramps up his electoral rhetoric. Is it OK to say things as fact that are really opinions? What about stretching data to fit your narrative? What if you know it is false, but others will believe you? What if everybody knows it is false, but it would be really, really nice if it were true?
Actually, in the past couple of months President Obama has made at least three statements which were so divorced from obvious reality that one has to wonder what he thinks and what he thinks the public thinks.
1. In early April, Obama - flanked by the uncomfortable Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Stephen Harper of Canada - railed preemptively against the potential "activist" Supreme Court which might strike down Obamacare,"a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically-elected Congress." In 2009, Obamacare passed the House 219 to 212 with all Republicans and 34 Democrats voting "no"; it passed the Senate 60 to 39, with no Republican votes. The stench of the deals needed to obtain its passage contributed greatly to the rise of the Tea Party and the Democrats major electoral losses in 2010. Today the public wants it repealed by 50% to 40%. Maybe his base likes it; maybe it is a legacy that will grow in popularity over the years; maybe it was a tribute to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid's legislative skills; but a mandate in Congress? It would be interesting to know if he believes that.
2. In May Obama called Mitt Romney's criticism of Obama's spending and debt as a "cowpie of distortion", requiring the hapless Jay Carney to claim that under Obama spending has increased at the slowest rate since Eisenhower. Well, if you take the level of Bush spending (No Child Left Behind; Medicare Part B; Iraq; Afghanistan) as a base, add the TARP and the Stimulus to create a "Revised Bush Base", and accept the limitations later placed by a Republican Congress, a cross-eyed statistician might be able to ignore the fact that Obama has run up $5.5 trillion of debt and consistently had federal spending over 24% of GDP for the first time since World War II. It would be interesting to know if Obama believes that he has exercised fiscal restraint - or if he thinks the public will believe it.
3. Now, President Obama has done what what even Paul Krugman has called "bungled the line" by claiming that the private economy "is doing fine". One can accept his real point that public sector employment is being reduced while private sector employment is growing slowly, but we are still down 5 million jobs from the pre-recession peak, household incomes are shrinking and household wealth is down 40% in three years, foreclosures are unabated, and there is broad public economic fear for the short term - and the long term. It would be interesting to know what Obama thinks the private economy is - Wall Street? Small businesses? The 80 + % of workers not employed by the government? Even offering the most gracious interpretation, what thought came to Obama's teleprompter-less mind to make him say this?
Maybe Congressman Wilson was just a bit prescient. Even the Washington Post gave the President three pinnochios for the "fiscal restraint" claim, and the "doin' fine" comment will be grist for thousands of American Crossroads commercials. (I would offer it to Howard Dean who feels that Obama would be OK if he could just find a good slogan.) Perhaps we don't need to wait until November for Hans Christian Anderson's young child to make his observation about the emperor's sartorial deficiencies.
This week's video is of Senator Diane Feinstein (D - CA) complaining about recent intelligence leaks - some from the top of the administration - which have compromised work with Israel against the Iranian nuclear program, the work of a Pakistani doctor who helped verify Osama bin Laden's location, infiltration of al Queda in Yemen, Obama's personal weekly approval of a terrorist "kill list", and other sensitive operations. At least we can take comfort from President Obama's position that politically-motivated leaks would be offensive.