Have most folks heard of the game called “Telephone”? In some parts of the world, it’s apparently called “Chinese Whispers,” and it works like this:
Someone whispers a message to another, who is then supposed to share the exact same message with someone else, who then whispers to another person, and so on. The point of the game is that the message invariably changes – along the way, someone misunderstands or misspeaks, altering the original whisper in some fundamental way.
Occasionally, this happens in politics, too.
As we talked about the other day, John Fund made an observation in a National Review piece that was accurate: “Did you know the Obama administration’s position has been defeated in at least 13 – thirteen – cases before the Supreme Court since January 2012 that were unanimous decisions?” It’s not altogether interesting – I think we knew that the Obama administration is to the left of the Supreme Court – but it’s nevertheless true. In 13 occasions, the Obama administration urged the court to rule in one way, but the justices ruled in another.
But then the game of “Telephone” started. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) told Fox News that the Supreme Court has ruled unanimously on 13 occasions “that the president has exceeded his constitutional authority.” That’s completely wrong. Most of the cases, including the “buffer zone” case, had nothing to do with Obama at all.
Soon after, former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) also told a conservative radio show that the Supreme Court issued 13 unanimous decisions that said “the president or the administration exceeded its constitutional authority.” Again, that’s plainly false.
The whisper changed again when RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer talked to a national television audience over the weekend (via Greg Sargent):
“[I]n the last three years alone, 13 times, the Supreme Court, unanimously, 9-0, including all of the president’s liberal picks, have struck down the president’s executive orders.”
This isn’t just factually wrong; it’s demonstrably ridiculous in ways that are nothing short of amazing.
If Spicer were close to being right, it wouldn’t much matter. If, say, the Supreme Court had struck down the president’s executive orders 11 times, it’d be close enough. Or if there were 13 rulings, but not all of them were unanimous, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning.
But the actual number of instances in which the Supreme Court struck down the president’s executive orders is zero. The RNC’s communications director said it was 13, but he was off by 13.
It’s apparently too late to end this “Telephone” game, but in case reality still matters to anyone, there’s one case – literally, just one – in which the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the administration in a dispute over executive action. It had to do with recess appointments.
In other words, the right has an example of the Supreme Court pushing back against Obama for pushing the executive envelope too far. One example. Uno. That’s it.