Thursday, September 10, 2009

"you lie"

Well a new low in civility at Obama's speech last night. It never looks good to call the President a liar, even worse when your neighbors are Blackberry-ing (personal? professional? video games?) during the same speech. Putting it in the present ("you lie") rather than the present progressive ("you're lying") tense, which might at least imply that he sometimes told the truth, makes it all the rawer.

Lost in the understandable condemnation of this outburst is the fact that the President, if not intentionally lying, said a lot of things that, well, strained credbility in his speech. Leading in this category is the repeated assertion that we will allow everyone to keep or improve their existing health benefits, extend the same benefits to numerous others, and it's won't cost us anything; or at least not so much as to add a single nickel to the Federal deficit over the next few decades. It's hard to believe that anyone believes this, especially since Obama has been continually vague about funding sources, and most of the ones he has supported have gone nowhere in Congress.

There was also some, um, very clever phrasing in the President's speech. For example, he said (in rough paraphrase) that "no Federal money" would fund abortions under his reform plan. But of course, most of the plan consists of incentives and/or requirements for private plans to cover additional people: even the so-called public option could be set up in such a way that, technically speaking, it was spending "private" rather than "public" funds. Much of this additional insurance likely would cover abortions, of which Obama is the staunchest defender ever to occupy the White House: hardly a great comfort to abortion opponents.

And Cong. Wilson wasn't the only person to call someone a liar, either. Obama effectively called all the Republicans the same thing, for raising "death panels" and other issues in the debate. But the death panels argument, as I've noted before, is simply an inelegant way of dramatizing the threat that health care reform will be paid for by reductions in senior coverage--hardly an aberrant idea, especially since Administration spokesman have been hinting at exactly that for as long as anyone can remember. That Obama wants to reduce only "wasteful" spending is hardly a comfort if you are part of the waste.

Perhaps Wilson should take some time to watch the House of Commons on C-Span during the next off-season. When Obama makes dubious claims, he can try disparaging hand motions or wait for question time, at which he can state that the President "lives in a fantasy world in which this member prefers not to enter," or words to that effect. Or if he is really peeved he can say what Prime Minister Begin once said, in English, in the Israeli Knesset: "The gentleman is a liar; the gentleman is a liar." As the British know, it's all in how you say it.


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