Martin: 'You can keep it' - a new breed of presidential fibbing

Martin: 'You can keep it' - a new breed of presidential fibbing

December 11th, 2013 David Martin in Opinion Columns

President Barack Obama

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

No, I'm not going to use this column to throw darts at President Obama's, "If you like your health plan, you can keep it," lie. That dead horse has been flogged enough for now. Instead, I am going to characterize the type of fib he made to the American public and how it is a whole new breed of presidential dishonesty.

It is no revelation that presidents lie. Find me one who hasn't lied while in office, and I'll trade you a unicorn for that name.

For centuries, these guys have been some of the greatest liars of all time. And whether the untruths they've told have been whoppers or little whites, their lies usually share a common purpose -- to get that president what he wants, typically advancing a divisive agenda.

During the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I was bouncing around the Internet and came across a blog post with the title, "Of Course Presidents Lie." While it was hard to miss the author's blatant Obamacare apologist theme, it was also hard to deny it was a really interesting piece. In less than 2,000 words, he offered an entertaining list of well-known Oval Office controversies, from Old Hickory's "judicial tariff" to Monica Lewinsky, and many things before and since.

Of course they've all mislead, and neither Republicans nor Democrats can claim higher ground on this front. Franklin Roosevelt swore the United States wouldn't join WWII while he simultaneously made moves to do just that, and George W. Bush told America that beyond the shadow of a doubt, Saddam Hussein held stockpiles of "the most lethal weapons ever devised" while he was really launching a war on a hunch.

And as it turns out, Honest Abe wasn't really that honest after all.

The author of the blog broke presidential deceptions into two main categories: forgivable and unforgivable. For a lie to be considered forgivable, he wrote, it has to eventually benefit or protect Americans. So, I'm assuming he was suggesting the jury is still out on this, "You can keep it" ruse. But while reading the list of past falsehoods, it dawned on me that President Obama has introduced us to a novel type of lie from a Commander in Chief.

You see, all the other lies I can recall have been cover-ups in which the offenders intended to conceal the truth indefinitely, or at least until public attention was diverted safely away. This one was different, though. President Obama knew he was going to be found out while still in office, albeit after his reelection. And he had to have known that he'd catch some serious heat for fleecing his fellow Americans.

This legislation has stood the American health care system on its head, affecting millions of people, and the main selling point that our highest elected official pitched since he was Sen. Obama was a bald-faced lie. He knew it was a lie, he knew he'd be found out, and he didn't care. If the end does in fact justify the means, Machiavelli would be beaming over this strategy.

Of course the term "lie" is a strong word. "You can keep it," is now being referred to more softly as a misstatement or misrepresentation. Last week, Obama said of his namesake legislation, "We've learned not to make wild promises." Washington lies are now "wild promises"? I'm still trying to figure out what to make of that phrase.

We're always worried about where bad precedent can lead us. How a harmless-looking snowball can turn into a destructive avalanche. Sometimes that angst gets overblown on issues, but this development is one to consider soberly.

A new kind of lie has been introduced -- an, "I don't care if my cards get called as long as I get what I want," kind of lie. This brazen attitude towards deception brings yet another Machiavellian principle to mind: the notion that it is better for a leader to be feared than loved.

And if this type of behavior from our president doesn't scare you, nothing will.

David Martin is an adjunct history professor at UTC.