I have an iron-clad rule for all Presidents, regardless of party, ideology and political philosophy: Don’t use deception as a tool of governance. I have a related rule for Presidents who get elected by pledging honesty and transparency in government: Especially you!
The President’s health care law, a.k.a. “Obamacare,” whatever its merits, was probably the most dishonestly sold, packaged and passed major law in U.S. history (if someone has another candidate, please submit it.) Not all of the dishonesty was due to President Obama’s personal efforts–he didn’t tell its House and Senate not to bother to read the various versions of the bill, for example, or submit to the CBO patently manipulated assumptions to ensure its projection of a net budget surplus from the law immediately prior to its passage, assumptions that were substantially revised later. He is the one who pledged over and over again that if you liked your current coverage, nothing the law did would stop you from keeping it, a promise that seemed dubious at the time and that has in fact proven to be either mistaken or deliberately misleading.
Still…the law was passed. Utilitarian justifications and rationalizations for various tactics and maneuvers to get it passed are unnecessary now. So why does the President and his campaign team feel that they have to skirt the truth in their public relations and re-election efforts?
The Tom Hanks-narrated Obama campaign film “The Road We’ve Traveled” has already been charged with truth fouls by objective analysts on many points, including Obamacare. In the assessment of FactCheck.org, the best and most objective of the various political fact-checking websites, the film dissembles regarding, among other things...
- “The film says ’17 million kids could no longer be denied for preexisting conditions,’ implying all of them were being denied care before the federal health care law was passed. But that’s the total number of kids who could potentially be denied coverage or charged higher premiums if they sought coverage on the individual market.”
- “It also implies that Obama has reined in the costs of health care premiums — which ‘had been rising three times the rate of inflation,’ as the film says. But the law hasn’t reined in premiums, which still rose three times more than inflation last year. In fact, experts say some of the recent growth was caused by the law, which requires more generous coverage.”
- “The film suggests that Obama refused to compromise on health care. Obama did hold out for a comprehensive bill, but there was compromise along the way, including the decision to drop the “public option” that he once championed. Later, he called the law ‘nine-tenths of a loaf.’”
Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s “Fact-Checker” has called the Obama campaign on an even more blatant misrepresentation. From the film:
Narrator Tom Hanks: “He knew from experience the cost of waiting [on health care reform].”
President Obama : “When my mom got cancer, she wasn’t a wealthy woman and it pretty much drained all her resources”
Michelle Obama: “She developed ovarian cancer, never really had good, consistent insurance. That’s a tough thing to deal with, watching your mother die of something that could have been prevented. I don’t think he wants to see anyone go through that.”
Hanks: “And he remembered the millions of families like of his who feel the pressure of rising costs and the fear of being denied or dropped from coverage.”
Kessler points out that this is, to be blunt (blunter that Kessler is willing to be), an outright lie, an attempt to make the audience believe something that is not true, and a portrayal of events that the President and the people making the film knew and know isn’t true.
“…The sequence, in fact, evokes a famous story that candidate Obama told during the 2008 campaign…During the 2008 campaign, Obama frequently suggested his mother had to fight with her health-insurance company for treatment of her cancer because it considered her disease to be a pre-existing condition. In one of the presidential debates with GOP rival John McCain, Obama said:
”‘For my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.”
“But then earlier this year, journalist Janny Scott cast serious doubt on this version of events in her excellent biography, “A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s mother.” Scott reviewed letters from Dunham to the CIGNA insurance company, and revealed the dispute was over disability coverage, not health insurance coverage. Disability coverage will help replace wages lost to an illness. (Dunham received a base pay of $82,500, plus a housing allowance and a car, to work in Indonesia for Development Alternatives Inc. of Bethesda, according to Scott.) But that is different than health insurance coverage denied because of a pre-existing condition, which was a major part of the president’s health care law.
“Scott writes that Dunham, who died in 1995 of uterine and ovarian cancer, had health insurance that ‘covered most of the costs of her medical treatment…The hospital billed her insurance company directly, leaving Ann to pay only the deductible and any uncovered expenses, which, she said, came to several hundred dollars a month.’
“Dunham had filed the disability claim to help pay for those additional expenses. The company denied the claim because her doctor had suspected uterine cancer during an office visit 2 ½ months before Dunham had started the job with Development Alternatives, though Dunham said the doctor had not discussed the possibility with cancer with her. Dunham requested a review from CIGNA, saying she was turning the case over to ‘my son and attorney Barack Obama.’
When Scott’s book was published, the White House did not dispute her account. ‘The president has told this story based on his recollection of events that took place more than 15 years ago,’ a spokesman said.
“Now let’s look at what the movie does with this story. It does not directly repeat the claim that Obama’s mother was denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition, fighting for treatment in her hospital room. But look at what it does say:
“1. Hanks says the president knew the cost of waiting on reform. (Though disability coverage was not an issue in the health care debate.)
“2. The president says cancer ‘drained all her resources.’ (Health insurance paid for most of her bills, so this is not the case of someone being bankrupted by tens of thousands of dollars in bills. Her salary of $82,500 in 1995 was the equivalent of $123,000 today, but Scott says she had little savings.)
3. Michelle Obama says Dunham “never really had good, consistent insurance.” (It is unclear what she means by this, except maybe that Dunham had different jobs, some of which did not provide insurance. But Dunham had good health coverage when the cancer was discovered.)
4. The first lady also suggests the death “could have been prevented.” (Again, it was not an insurance issue. Before going overseas, Dunham was too busy with work and had skipped an important test recommended by her U.S. doctor, dilation and curettage, that might have spotted the cancer earlier. Then an Indonesian doctor diagnosed her problem as appendicitis and removed her appendix. By the time the cancer was finally discovered, it was third-stage.)
5. Hanks says that Obama’s family felt “the pressure of rising costs and the fear of being denied or dropped from coverage.” (Maybe for disability, but not health insurance.)
“In the end, the impression left by the film, especially if you watch it, is very similar to Obama’s 2008 campaign rhetoric: His mother was denied health-insurance coverage, draining her resources, and with better coverage she might have lived longer. The film suggests this experience helped inspire the president to keep fighting for the health care law, even in the face of advice from aides that he accept a less-than-satisfactory compromise.
“Note that none of the quotes in the film actually use the words “health insurance” or “health insurance coverage.” Instead, the first lady says “insurance” and Hanks says “coverage,” which could just as easily mean disability insurance. But that would not be as evocative—or as motivating.
“Asked for a response, the Obama campaign referred us to the previous White House statement on Scott’s book.”
The last line is pretty damning. The “previous White House statement” when the author’s research showed that Obama had misrepresented what happened to his mother in the 2008 campaign made the reasonable excuse that the President had misspoken and that his recollection of the circumstances surrounding his mother’s death after 15 years was imperfect. Fine. But that isn’t a satisfactory, reasonable or truthful explanation now, for an intentional misrepresentation in a campaign film that was scripted and produced after the President was made aware of his previous error—even if it really was an error.
Kessler’s parentheticals add up to three unavoidable conclusions:
1. The death of President Obama’s mother had absolutely nothing to do with a denial of health care coverage, and thus are completely irrelevant to his quest for health care insurance reform.
2. The film intentionally aims to make a viewer believe otherwise. When one uses a misrepresentation of known facts to make someone believe something other than the truth, it is called lying.
3. The President approved an intentional misrepresentation of the facts in his campaign film.
My questions are simple ones: Why? Why was this necessary? How can this be a respectable and fair way to communicate with the public?
Surely the argument can be made that Obamacare is a good and necessary law without lying about Obama’s mother’s cancer. Can’t it? Whatever Democrats feel about what they believe are unfair and misleading attacks on the President and his signature achievement, sure they can rebut them without resorting to lies and deception…can’t they? What does it say about President Obama’s integrity that he would agree to launch his re-election campaign with a slick, celebrity narrated film containing intentional misrepresentations and untruths?