You lie!

Arnold Kling makes a salient point about Obama’s health care speech:

Of the following statements made by President Obama in his speech on health reform last week, which is not true?

a) “if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. ”

b) “the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally. ”

c) Now, this is the plan I’m proposing. It’s a plan that incorporates ideas from many of the people in this room tonight — Democrats and Republicans.

d) Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan.

Strictly speaking, I would suggest that none of these statements was true. In addition, the following statements also were misleading:

e) “if you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who don’t currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. ”

f) “Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a preexisting condition.”

g) “under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance”

h) “It [the public option] is only part of my plan”

i) “we’ve estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health care system”

j) “the plan I’m proposing will cost around $900 billion over 10 years”

k) “The only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud, as well as unwarranted subsidies in Medicare that go to insurance companies”

What is misleading about statements (a) – (k) is that each of them referred to a plan that, strictly speaking, does not exist. As far as I know, the Obama Administration never submitted a plan to Congress.

This is all very true – I thought the same thing while listening to the speech.  But it was also an effective lie and perhaps even a necessary lie because the vast majority of Americans don’t follow this debate very closely.  This is important for two reasons.

First, Obama is being attacked by the opposition as having a plan (Obamacare anybody?) and it’s much more effective to say “They’re lying about my plan because this is my plan and what they’re saying isn’t true” than to say “They’re lying about my plan because I don’t have a plan.”

Second, it’s simply rhetorically much easier to frame it as Obama’s plan rather than talking about the Baucus plan or the House plan or Plan B or whatever other plan there is.  That would be confusing for most listeners, and that’s the last thing Obama needs.  That would be a John Kerry speech, not a Barack Obama speech.

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2 thoughts on “You lie!

  1. I think it would be more effective rhetorically to just lay out exactly what needs to be in a bill or he’ll veto it. It would make him look like an enforcer keeping the less-trusted Congress in line. Now and then Obama could pop up and point to provisions in bills coming out of committee that would be deal breakers to show how serious he is. If I were writing his speech and crafting his plan I would done two things:
    1. Make a bill that’s totally worked up and scored by the CBO and health experts for cost and effectiveness
    2. Promise to veto any bill that: taxes people under $250k, subsidizes care for illegal immigrants, lowers Medicare/caid benefits, doesn’t lower the cost curve, isn’t 10-year deficit neutral by the CBO, doesn’t provide insurance to anyone who wants it, raises the cost of insurance for middle-class families, or allows preexisting condition discrimination

    Use his speech to announce that he’s providing Congress with such a bill, but that they don’t have to take it and he’ll sign anything that meets those criteria if they have ideas about how to do it better.

    This allows him to say “my plan” without drawing Hillarycare comparisons. Anyway, “lie” is way too harsh here; by “my plan” Obama clearly means he’ll sign a bill that does these things, and that these are the broad outlines that he’s providing Congress. I mean we know what’s actually being debated here, and what Obama’s describing are features shared by all of the bills under debate. There’s not much value in this sort of rhetorical gotcha stuff, and Obama would draw exponentially more heat if he was forcing a plan down Congress’s throat.

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