Attention is rightly focused on the Big Lie right now, the one the president told over and over again during the campaign for the Affordable Care Act and campaigning in general: If you like your health care plan, you can keep it. I won’t even bother to link to an actual example. He said it so many times that a quick Google of the phrase brings up plenty of hits (and did so even before the current controversy). As of yesterday, it was still on the White House website.
There’s a second component to that lie that’s not getting as much attention, though, but it should because in it are lessons for the future. The second part of the lie is where the president defamed his and the ACA’s critics. Here’s one example, from a stop in South Carolina, July 2009 (emphasis added):
“Nobody is talking about some government takeover of health care,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve been as clear as I can be, under the reform I’ve proposed, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. These folks need to stop scaring everybody.”
“These folks” would be critics of the ACA, mostly Republicans, Tea Party members, conservatives in general.
Now we know that they weren’t scaring people, in the sense of alarming them unnecessarily. They were alerting them to a painful truth–you would not be able to keep your health plan if you liked it.
The president and his surrogates portrayed “these folks” as scaremongers. The Tea party, in particular, was portrayed as extremists, racists, even, whose opposition to the president’s signature legislative accomplishment was motivated by the hatred of African-Americans and not the substance of the law itself.
During the recent government shutdown, when Republicans tried to link opening the government to delays in the ACA, they were labeled as everything from terrorists to blackmailers to kidnappers to saboteurs, either implicitly or explicitly. Lefties outraged by the shutdown even posted a petition at Moveon.org to have Republican House leaders arrested on sedition charges.
But now we see these “seditious” Republicans were right to want to delay. The ACA wasn’t anywhere near ready to be rolled out, and now the country is confronting a huge mess, with millions required to get health insurance they simply can’t access through the ACA sources–website, phone, mail, whatever (semaphores, perhaps, should be the next communication suggestion).
Critics were right, too, to suggest that you wouldn’t be able to keep your health plan. Yet, over and over and over again, the president portrayed them as unreasonable naysayers, frightening people away from his promises, which turned out to be false.
Defamation is defined as “making untrue statements about another which damages his/her reputation.”
It should be clearer than ever that the president and his supporters engaged in this type of behavior. They lied about the ACA’s promises. And they lied about its critics when these critics were telling the truth.
This should be no surprise. This is a White House, after all, that is so sensitive to criticism that it wanted to bump Fox News from round-robin interviews and eventually ended up snooping on one of its reporters, naming him as a “co-conspirator” in a leak investigation. Now, we’re learning that the White House is putting pressure on insurance companies to shut up about the ACA’s woes.
This White House is extraordinarily prickly about anyone who dares to criticize or rebut them. As the ACA’s problems continue, will the White House double down on its efforts to demonize critics…or worse?
Time marches on, and the ACA’s difficulties will likely become clearer. The second part of the Big Lie illuminates a caution: beware. Say too much, be too critical, and you’ll be defamed, too.