President Obama’s Perfect Lie

What is a perfect lie in politics? It is a lie that gives strength to one’s defenders, cast’s blame on one’s enemies, and yet the victims of the lie would rather let people believe it is true than correct it, because the truth will hurt even worse. These lies are rare, but when you have one, it is a wonderful thing to behold. There is only one problem with perfect lies.

They are still lies.

As Reason’s Matt Welch points out in devastating fashion, President Obama has found such a lie, and repeats it often, though it has no basis in fact whatsoever, and Obama has to know it has no basis in fact whatsoever. Here is the latest version, from a speech this week:

“Between 2001 and 2009 […] a very specific philosophy reigned in Washington: You cut taxes, especially for millionaires and billionaires; you cut regulations for special interests; you cut back on investments in education and clean energy, in research and technology. The idea was if we put blind faith in the market, if we let corporations play by their own rules, if we left everybody to fend for themselves, America would grow and America would prosper. That was the philosophy that was put forward. For eight years, we tried that. And that experiment failed miserably.”

It’s just not true.

From Welch:

“Between 2001 and 2009 George W. Bush did not “cut back on investments in education,” he increased them by 58 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. Regulations? “The Bush team has spent more taxpayer money on issuing and enforcing regulations than any previous administration in U.S. history,” Reason columnist Veronique de Rugy wrote in January 2009, in a piece that should be distributed to every audience member before an Obama speech.”

He goes on to quote the data summary from de Rugy:

“Of the new rules, 159 are “economically significant,” meaning they will cost at least $100 million a year. That’s a 10 percent increase in the number of high-cost rules since 2006, and a 70 percent increase since 2001. And at the end of 2007, another 3,882 rules were already at different stages of implementation, 757 of them targeting small businesses. Overall, the final outcome of this Republican regulation has been a significant increase in regulatory activity and cost since 2001. The number of pages added to the Federal Register, which lists all new regulations, reached an all-time high of 78,090 in 2007, up from 64,438 in 2001….Between fiscal year 2001 and fiscal year 2009, outlays on regulatory activities, adjusted for inflation, increased from $26.4 billion to an estimated $42.7 billion, or 62 percent. By contrast, President Clinton increased real spending on regulatory activities by 31 percent, from $20.1 billion in 1993 to $26.4 billion in 2001….The data also show that, adjusted for inflation, expenditures for the category of finance and banking were cut by 3 percent during the Clinton years and rose 29 percent from 2001 to 2009, making it hard to argue that Bush deregulated the financial sector….In eight years, Bush increased the federal government’s regulatory staff by 91,196 employees. Clinton cut it by 969.”

There is no way to spin this or justify it. President Obama–you know, that inspiring guy who was going to be honest and transparent and restore integrity and trust to government?—is lying his figurative head off, because he knows that the Republicans, arguing as they are for less regulation and smaller government, will never correct him by saying, “Wait a minute! We went out-regulated you Democrats last time we were in power!”

I don’t care whether you support Obama or loathe him. Presidents should not knowingly misinform the public, or lie to those who trust them to tell the truth.

Even when the lie is perfect.

7 thoughts on “President Obama’s Perfect Lie

  1. Perhaps it is not the quantity,
    but the quality that is important.

    Maybe one unregulated practice
    can change the landscape.

    Consider this—
    Excerpted from the Huffington Post, September 18, 2008.

    A Nation of Village Idiots
    by James Moore

    “Let’s just consider the money. The public bailout of insurance giant (becoming a dwarf) AIG is estimated at $85 billion. According to one report, that’s more than the Bush administration spent on Aid to Families with Dependent Children during his entire time in office. That amount of money would also pay for health care for every man, woman, and child in America for at least six months.

    How did we get here?
    That’s pretty easy to answer, too. His name is Phil Gramm. A few days after the Supreme Court made George W. Bush president in 2000, Gramm stuck something called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act into the budget bill. Nobody knew that the Texas senator was slipping America a 262 page poison pill. The Gramm Guts America Act was designed to keep regulators from controlling new financial tools described as credit “swaps.” These are instruments like sub-prime mortgages bundled up and sold as securities. Under the Gramm law, neither the SEC nor the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) were able to examine financial institutions like hedge funds or investment banks to guarantee they had the assets necessary to cover losses they were guaranteeing.

    This isn’t small beer we are talking about here. The market for these fancy financial instruments they don’t expect us little people to understand is estimated at $60 trillion annually, which amounts to almost four times the entire US stock market.”

    The entire “swap” marketplace became so complex that financial institutions were hiring physicists and other high-level math types to create and understand it all. If I remember correctly, credit default swaps drove the meltdown.

    Obama’s perfect lie? Ha!

    Come better prepared next time.

    • An addendum to the earlier comment: It’s really dirty pool to be snotty about preparation, especially when your own point is either sloppily chosen or intellectually dishonest: by what legerdemain does The Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 become relevant to a discussion of regulation during the Bush administration? Obama’s speech under discussion begins “between 2001 to 2008″…do you see the problem? 2000 is not “between 2001 and 2008.” If you’re going to be snide, at least have something legitimate to be snide about.

  2. It is real simple, then, Gyasi: if you want to talk about the quality, talk about the quality. If your issue is enforcement, talk about enforcement. My point needs no justification of Bush’s policies, which is not relevant: the clear meaning of what Obama says is untrue, because he talking about neither enforcement nor quality, but lack of regulations. Do you deny it? You’re changing the subject, and you don’t have my permission to do that. I expect a President who was elected on a promise to be straight…TO BE STRAIGHT. Silly me. Gullible me. Gullible everyone.

    As an aside, I’d argue that subprime mortgages, pushed by Democrats Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, drove the meltdown. The credit swaps would have been stable investments if these two Democrats hadn’t bullied Fannie and Freddie into making bad loans. Blaming Gramm (and WHY didn’t Democrats know what was in the bill? Oh—right—they don’t believe in reading bills…) is selective history to say the least, but about what I’d expect from a writer who says, “the Supreme Court made George W. Bush president in 2000”—talk about a “tell.”

    But I digress.

  3. I’m staying well out of the line of fire between you and “Gyasi”, since each of you seems to be able to goad the other into offering comments having nothing to do with the original topic. (You, at least, have the small slice of wit required to recognize a digression when you see, or make, one.)

    But on the fundamental issue of “cutting regulations”, while you’re right that this is a “lie” in the bean-counter sense, it’s absolutely true in the sense in which he intended it, and in which most people would understand it. In my own field of international taxation, to take a specific example, in 2007 the IRS cut 8 pages of regulations under Code section 367 and replaced them with 29 new pages that greatly increased the ability of large corporate taxpayers (the only people who really care about section 367) to do whatever they wanted and not face the tax problems they had under the old regulations. Thousands and thousands of pages of regulations and other administrative guidance were issued between 2001 and 2008 because Congress ordered their issuance to implement the gigantic corporate tax breaks it had enacted. Anybody who thinks that corporate America wasn’t happy as pigs in — well, you know — under the Bush administration (and the Democratic Congress at the time — who share the responsibility, good or bad, for all this) hasn’t been paying attention. Why else would corporations be lobbying so desperately to extend the “Bush tax cuts” that expire this year, when the government is starving for money? And why are they rushing like lemmings to implement tax planning before next January 1, when the tax provisions enacted this year take effect? Because after that, their behavior and opportunities will be far more heavily regulated.

    Whether or not the Bush administration cut international tax “regulations”, it unquestionaby cut international tax “regulation.” Saying that Obama’s assertion is a “lie” is true only in the sense that Clinton’s sworn testimony was “not a lie.”

    You forthrightly, and rightly, publicize and criticize the many, many lies that politicians and officials tell. Singling this statement out for recognition as the “perfect lie” seems almost willfully obtuse. You have many better targets to shoot at.

    Well, at least I’ve drawn fire away from Gyasi.

    • No you haven’t.

      “Reason” is right. You can’t be honest and say more regulations and expenditures are fewer regulations and expenditures…and remember, Obama focused especially on education, where there is no question that the Bushies spent a lot of money and regulation time—whether to good ends or not is a different matter. Politicians who intentionally blur the truth destroy their trust, and yes, I hold Presidents to a higher standard, and I hold a President who said “I’m going to be different” to the highest standard of all.

      My pal Gyasi used a 2000 piece of legislation from the Clinton administration to claim I was “unprepared” in discussing Bush administration regulations from 2001 forward. And by the way: legislation can be repealed. The Democrats have controlled Congress since 2006. If Gramm’s law remained in place long enough to cause the 2008 meltdown, the blame is bi-partisan.

  4. @ Tom—thanks for trying to provide a diversion. AND thanks for providing some “light” as opposed to heat to the discussion.

    @ Jack—technically you are right. The bill passed in December of 2000. Perhaps it merely set the tone for the next eight years.

    The overarching issue is this—
    To call the POTUS a liar is serious. To say he told a PERFECT lie is over the top. And, to put forth that supposition sans iron-clad, specific and irrefutable evidence that is not open to debate on any level or subject to nuance puts one in the same category as Joe Wilson shouting an rude interruption from the gallery. I suggested that you “come better prepared next time” because you and I and everyone who reads your blog knows that you can Bing and Google and ProQuest your way to data that supports your position all day long. And we are not talking splitting hairs, but solid commentary, analysis and facts that say your perspective is correct. Maybe not right or true in the purest sense, but correct in that it is supportable.

    It’s probably not the best use of my time to argue points on this one.

    Love the blog, though. What a great mental workout! Thanks for sharing…

    • But, you know, I don’t Bing and Google my way to selective data. Presidents often lie, sometimes with good reason. When they don’t have a good reason, they should be called on it. They deserve respect and the benefit of the doubt, but as I told Tom above: this POTUS asked to be held to a higher standard of integrity that he has simply not met. I am accommodating him.

      My definition of the perfect lie is predicated on the fact that virtually no one is motivated to call it what it is…it’s not surprising that a libertarian publication that is generally anti-government regulation (and basically non-partisan) would spoil the perfection. A perfect lie is not the worst lie…just a well-constructed one. I would like to see the day when a facility at lying was not part of the required skill-set for elective office.

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