Author Topic: A Noble Lie? Why ObamaCare is worse than just a case of pathological altruism.  (Read 221 times)

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A Noble Lie?
Why ObamaCare is worse than just a case of pathological altruism.
James Taranto
November 13, 2013

This column has been following with amusement the various equivocations and rationalizations supporters of ObamaCare have offered to avoid acknowledging plainly that Barack Obama's central premise--"If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it"--was an out-and-out fraud. "Mr. Obama clearly misspoke when he said that" is how a New York Times editorial put it last week. The Times's news side seems to have settled on "incorrect promise."

But if the Times editors are in the market for talent, they ought to find out who wrote Sunday's editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. This thing is a masterpiece:

    First of all, this is a problem of the president's own making. He did repeatedly say that if you like your insurance plan, you can keep it. He was three words short of the truth. All he had to add was "in most cases."

    It's unlikely that this extra frankness would have hurt the political effort to sell the legislation. People understand that not everybody can be left unaffected by such a sweeping change, and Mr. Obama should have been careful not to embellish the assurance.

    Was it a lie? He should have known the facts. By definition, a lie is a deliberate misstating of the truth; it is not simply something that was wrongly stated with good intentions, in this case perhaps, to make the complicated simple for public consumption. Those who believe the worst of this president will conclude that he lied; those who do not will be more charitable.

This is savory for multiple reasons. For one, adding a weaselly phrase like "in most cases" does not constitute "extra frankness." Quite the opposite: It turns a shining promise into a foggy assurance with no clear meaning. Imagine if Obama tried that with his wedding vows:

Jeremiah Wright: Will you, Barack, take Michelle to be your wife, to love, honor and cherish, forsaking all others, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?

Obama: Yeah, most likely.

The Post-Gazette's claim that "it is unlikely" such equivocation "would have hurt the political effort to sell the legislation" is supportable only if one assumes the enactment of ObamaCare was not the close-run thing it seemed at the time--in other words, that Harry Reid would have been able to command 60 votes and Nancy Pelosi 218 even without whatever political cover the fraudulent promise provided the Democratic members of their respective chambers. If that is true, however, then the entire "political effort to sell the legislation" was a sham: The fix was in, and Congress was prepared to act with complete disregard for public opinion.

Now for the best part: "By definition, a lie is a deliberate misstating of the truth; it is not simply something that was wrongly stated with good intentions, in this case perhaps, to make the complicated simple for public consumption."

This is a bit of a head-scratcher. The Wall Street Journal established a week earlier that the pledge was the result of careful deliberation between "White House policy advisers" concerned about accuracy and "political aides," who prevailed because, as the Journal paraphrased a comment from an unnamed former official, "in the midst of a hard-fought political debate 'if you like your plan, you can probably keep it' isn't a salable point."

So this was a deliberate misstating of the truth. By raising the possibility of "good intentions," the Post-Gazette editorialists seem to be suggesting that it was a sort of noble lie. "The furor of the supposed great lie is an embarrassment to Mr. Obama," they concede in conclusion, "but it obscures the larger and more important truth that the Affordable Care Act remains good policy."

Associated Press

That evaluation seems increasingly delusional with every passing hour, but let's stipulate for the sake of argument that ObamaCare was a well-intended policy: that Obama pushed for it out of a sincere desire to help people. That would make its failure an example of what the scholar Barbara Oakley calls pathological altruism.

That seems to us, however, to give Obama too much credit. For one thing, it takes more than altruistic motives to justify lying. Suppose one could establish that Bernie Madoff sincerely wanted to make his clients wealthier. Would that mitigate his guilt for defrauding them?

Further, good intentions are not the same as pure intentions. People often have altruistic and selfish motives for the same action. Even if we assume Obama honestly wanted to help people and made his fraudulent promise in pursuit of that goal, it would be silly to deny he also made it in pursuit of his own aggrandizement--of the approbation that comes with a "legacy" of substantial "achievement."

Of course, that's not working out so well for him now. Whether or not this is a case of pathological altruism, it definitely is pathological narcissism.

A Simple Plan
" 'Why can't we call people who know how to do these things, who do it for corporate America, and say, "We have a website, fix it," ' said Rep. José E. Serrano, D-N.Y. 'Maybe I'm being simplistic, but can't we call Bill Gates up and say, "Take care of this?" Or go to a college dorm and say, "You guys, you invented Yahoo, can you take care of this?" . . .' ", Nov. 13

A Racist, or Just an Oik?
"Richard Cohen has a knack for making venom-spewing enemies out of people who should be his allies," observes the Washington Post's Paul Farhi, leading in to a piece about a very strange kerfuffle involving Cohen, a longtime Post columnist. At issue is this highly infelicitous passage, which appeared in Cohen's column yesterday:

    Today's GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled--about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York--a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts--but not all--of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn't look like their country at all.

The line about the "gag reflex" raised particular objections. As Farhi reports: "The baying for Cohen's head on the Internet quickly ensued--primarily from liberals who might otherwise consider Cohen, who has been a left-of-center presence on the newspaper's op-ed page for a generation, one of their own":

    The Huffington Post [sic] slapped a big photo of Cohen, 72, on its media page and roared, "Dear Washington Post: Please Fire This Man." columnist Charles Pierce fumed, "If Newspaper Stupid had a top 40, Richard Cohen would be the Beatles in 1965."

    There was more critical coverage, from, among others, the Atlantic, Salon, Gawker, Slate, and even The Post's Wonkblog, which helpfully pointed out that 87 percent of Americans in a Gallup survey this year approved of interracial marriage. As such,'s columnist, Alex Pareene, suggested that Cohen's notion that "conventional" people "gag" at the sight of the de Blasios "reveal a man very much out of touch with this era and deeply discomfited by it. (They also reveal a man who is terrified of black people.)"

We'd agree with Pareene that Cohen is out of touch, but it seems to us that the lefties are bizarrely misreading that passage. In referring to "people with conventional views," he clearly did not mean to include himself. (Does any newspaper columnist think of himself as a representative of "conventional views"?)

The prejudice he was expressing wasn't racial but cultural and ideological: He assumes baselessly that "people with conventional views"--ordinary Americans--are racist, and viscerally so. That's not racism, it's oikophobia.

Although to be fair, that isn't a blanket assumption, as he makes clear in an interview with the Puffington Host:

    He insisted that he was expressing the views of some people within the Tea Party and not his own.

    "I didn't write one line, I wrote a column," Cohen said. "The column is about Tea Party extremism and I was not expressing my views, I was expressing the views of what I think some people in the Tea Party held."

    And those views are not held by the entire Tea Party. "I don't think everybody in the Tea Party is like that, because I know there are blacks in the Tea Party," he said. "So they're not all racist, unless I'm going to start doing mind reading about why those black people are there."

So wait a minute, he can't read the minds of black people but he can read the minds of white people? Maybe the lefties accusing him of racial prejudice are on to something after all.

Fox Butterfield, Is That You?
"Pumpkin-flavored products are on pace to have their best sales year yet. But the industry's biggest secret about these products is that there is often little or no pumpkin in them."--video description, New York Times website, Nov. 12

Out on a Limb

    "Conscientious People More Likely to Provide Good Customer Service"--headline, Rice University press release, Nov. 12
    "Editorial: Prognosis for Obamacare Isn't Improving"--headline, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 13

We Blame George W. Bush

    "Why Did Obama Promise People Could Keep Their Health Insurance? Blame Bill Clinton."--headline, Washington Post website, Nov. 12
    "Blame for Health Care Law Failure Lies With Cohen"--headline,, Nov. 11
    "I've Got Whooping Cough. Thanks a Lot, Jenny McCarthy."--headline, The New Republic website, Nov. 11

That Day Will Never Come
"Asked by the House oversight committee whether it would be fully operational before a November 31 deadline set by Obama for fixing the problems, [chief technology officer Todd] Park and David Powner, the government's IT director, both declined to answer."--Guardian website (London), Nov. 13

Start at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
"DHS Nominee Would Focus on Leadership Vacancies"--headline, Associated Press, Nov. 13

"Obamacare Is More Exclusive Than Harvard"--video title,, Nov. 13

That Sounds Fishy
"Democrat Mark Herring Gets a Leg Up in Va. Attorney General's Race in Late Ballot Count"--headline, Washington Post, Nov. 13

What Would Jesus Brew?
"Texas Church Attracts New Followers With Beer"--headline,, Nov. 12

So Much for the War on Drugs
"Judge Deals Blow to Artists, as Struggle to Save Building Dims"--headline, (Long Island City, N.Y.), Nov. 12

Hey, Kids! What Time Is It?
"Time to Start Considering Obamacare's Worst Case Scenarios"--headline,, Nov. 11

Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking
"George Clooney Thinks Hillary Clinton Will Be 'Very Tough to Beat' in 2016"--headline,, Nov. 12

Question and Answer

    "Why Furniture Should Require Designs That Relax People"--headline, Financial Post (Canada), May 15, 1976
    " 'Domestic Incident' Turns Out to Be Couple Struggling With Ikea Furniture"--headline,, Nov. 12, 2013

Breaking News From 1860
"HURT: It's the Democrats, Not the GOP, Facing a Looming Civil War"--headline, Washington Times, Nov. 12

Bottom Stories of the Day

    "Waxman Seeks Climate Hearing in Wake of Typhoon"--headline,, Nov. 12
    "U.N. Elects Human-Rights Violators to Human Rights Council"--headline, National Review Online, Nov. 13

A Mighty Wind
The Washington Post has a columnist named Matt Miller, whose sole purpose in life seems to be to make the New York Times's Charles Blow look thoughtful. Get a load of this ridiculous argument: "If you feel it's urgent to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, then deep in your heart you also support Obamacare":

    Disasters like Haiyan bring into sharp relief our moral instincts when faced with the paramount role that luck plays in life. When human beings are left vulnerable and desperate by events beyond their control, we want to help. Empathy for human frailty and powerlessness in such a tragedy evokes compassion. We say such victims "deserve" help because they are suffering through no fault of their own.

    So of course we're sending money and Marines to Manila.

    A typhoon is obviously beyond anyone's control. But so is a preexisting condition.

Miller begs the question by assuming that ObamaCare embodies an altruistic "moral instinct." Then he commits another logical fallacy, known as the package deal, by insisting that if you accept one application of that "moral instinct," you have to accept them all--an argument that, as we noted in 2005, was also advanced by a guy at the Ayn Rand Institute.
“It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.” —Voltaire

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