Over the last five or six years, Republicans have gone after President Obama with quite a bit of ferocity, launching attacks that most Americans have no doubt heard many times. Indeed, we can recite them from memory: Obama’s a radical socialist, power-mad tyrant who hates American traditions, wants to grab your guns, and is too dumb to speak without a teleprompter.
Putting aside whether that critique is in any way sane, Republicans generally haven’t had too much to say about President Obama’s trustworthiness. That changed rather dramatically in recent weeks, as we learned that instead of 100% of Americans gaining health care coverage or keeping the health insurance they like, about 95% of Americans will gain health care coverage or keep the health insurance they like.
And this has led some poor messengers to deliver an odd message. Here, for example, is Dick Cheney:
In an interview with Larry King, former Vice President Dick Cheney said that President Obama’s famous “If you like your plan, you can keep it” remark was a lie that the president repeated “over and over and over again.”
And here’s Mitt Romney:
Republican Mitt Romney is accusing President Barack Obama of being “dishonest” about his health care law…. In an interview on “CBS This Morning,” Friday, Romney said several times that Obama had been “dishonest.”
And here’s Paul Ryan:
“The next time you have a famous politician coming through Iowa, breezing through the towns, talking about big government, let’s be a little more skeptical,” Ryan said after berating President Barack Obama and Democrats for the troubled rollout of the health-care law.
Look, reasonable people can disagree about the severity of the “if you like your plan…” claim. It strikes me as an oversimplification of a complex policy, a position folks realized at the time was more of a shorthand than a 100% guarantee for literally every consumer in the nation, but if Obama’s critics want to consider it the Most Important Lie Ever Told, that’s up to them.
But listening to Dick Cheney, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan talk about honesty, credibility, and the need for skepticism is just a bit too much. Romney broke new ground as one of the most brazenly mendacious politicians of his generation; Ryan’s fondness for falsehoods is extraordinary even in a Congress where dishonesty is the norm; and Dick Cheney is, well, Dick Cheney.
Americans shouldn’t turn to Lance Armstrong for wisdom on performance-enhancing drugs in sports; we shouldn’t turn to Miley Cyrus for guidance on public modesty; and we shouldn’t turn to Cheney, Romney, and Ryan for lectures on honesty in politics. It’s not complicated: they have no credibility because they have a nasty habit for saying things that aren’t true.
It’s a subjective question and your mileage may vary, but on balance, I’d say President Obama’s track record on telling the truth has been very strong. Fair-minded observers can debate the efficacy of his agenda and the merit of his ideas, but it’s difficult for even the fiercest Obama detractor to say the president has established a track record of saying one thing and doing another, making promises he has no intention of keeping, or flat out lying.
He’s made predictions that haven’t panned out, and he’s changed direction based on circumstances, but thinking about some of the notable presidential whoppers, Obama hasn’t exactly offered his critics anything comparable to “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” or perhaps most alarmingly, “We did not – repeat, did not – trade weapons or anything else for hostages.”
So maybe notorious Republican prevaricators can pick something else to focus on?