Morning Report, September 11th: The Towers Fell, Remembering Hell, Can Obama Lie?, ACORN Explodes, CNN Explodes, Castor Needs Prayer, and Evangelicals and the Environment

Morning Report, September 11th: The Towers Fell, Remembering Hell, Can Obama Lie?, ACORN Explodes, CNN Explodes, Castor Needs Prayer, and Evangelicals and the Environment September 11, 2009


Always remember the people who died that day, and who died in responding to this act of war.

Always remember the people who died that day, and who died in responding to the most deadly act of war ever perpetrated against the United States homeland.

2.  INHERITING HELL.  Speaking of 9/11, Fouad Ajami has a thought-provoking piece in the Wall Street Journal on the war in Afghanistan and the choices Obama faces.  He’s surely right that Obama, like LBJ, inherited a war he has no desire to fight, and yet feels compelled to carry it on lest we suffer defeat.  Also like LBJ, Obama refuses to choose between guns and butter.  In spite of complaints that Bush never required a collective sacrifice from Americans (the immortal “go shopping” advice comes to mind), Obama insists that we can carry on our engagement in Afghanistan, and even ramp up the troop levels, all while pursuing an unprecedented expansion of government services.

You have to feel for Obama, in some ways.  All Presidents inherit problems.  America always faces challenges, so every President will face problems that arose before his inauguration.  But Obama sure has inherited a mess–some not by anyone’s fault, but some because of mistakes in the Bush administration.  Going into Afghanistan was not a mistake.  But anything we can reasonably celebrate as “victory” in Afghanistan is almost impossible to envision now.  Obama cannot proclaim “victory” in Iraq, even though such a claim would now be justified, because it would infuriate his base.  So he has to soldier on in Afghanistan, where he will never be able to claim victory, and yet he cannot allow a defeat to go on his record.

3.  PRO-DEATH MEETS PRO-LIFE.  Pro-Life activist murdered.  Violence goes both ways in the abortion debate–or, rather, many ways, violence against pro-life activists, violence against abortion doctors, and violence against the unborn.  Oddly enough, MSNBC tried to blame it on Joe Wilson’s “liar” outburst, though it has come to light that the murder (which was part of a spree of sorts) was indeed because of is pro-life message.

4.  OBAMA IS JUST A MAN.  I have taken some grief (from very friendly and respected quarters) for setting in parallel Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” outburst with those who called George W. Bush a “liar.”  So let me clarify.

First, the point I was making is that the groundswell of indignation coming from the Left is opportunistic and not principled.  Witness, if you can stomach it, the resplendent outrage of Keith Olbermann.  The most comical thing Olbermann says is that George W. Bush, even George W. Bush, “even when the lies came down so think the nation needed a hat, he was still the President and if he did not earn any respect, the office he held demanded respect.”  Presumably this is why President Bush was routinely mocked and derided on the Left by Olbermann and his ilk, why he was routinely likened to Hitler (“Bushitler” became so common on the Left that it was added to the Urban Dictionary; it was welcomed on Daily Kos as the “perfect name for this monster”), and why all sorts of books, art, movies and radio hosts openly lusted for Bush’s assassination.  And it’s not merely the hoi polloi or the crazy artists and filmmakers.  People like Reid, Pelosi and Ted Kennedy called Bush a liar, a fraud, a phony, a loser, and so on.  I don’t know whether it’s possible to be more thoroughly slandered than George Bush was, while President, so it’s pretty rich to see the same people who slandered Bush objecting to Joe Wilson’s outburst.  Olbermann claims: “Not once did an elected official shout out during one of George W. Bush’s speeches and call him a liar.”  It’s true that we know of no single individual shouting out precisely that.  But that may be because so many elected Democrats heckled at once — as, for instance, in the 2005 State of the Union address.  Bush was booed and hissed at in a way that has not yet happened to Obama.

My point is not that the Left is uniquely misled on this point, or that the Right shows more respect (although I do think there is in general a higher sense of respect on the right for American institutions and authorities such as the Presidency).  My point for the moment is that the Right mocks Obama and the Left is outraged, and the Left mocks Bush and the Right is outraged.  The Left is outraged in this case not because they are so overwhelmed with respect for the office of the Presidency but because Obama is their man, a man in whom they have invested their hopes and their identity.  Witness all of those who were ready to sanctify the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at Bush, rather than responding that is my President too, and the President of the United States should not be mockedIndeed it was partly the intensity of Bush-hatred that made the arrival of Obama seem like such an epochal event.  The devil would finally be defeated by the savior.  Two sides of the same coin.  The depth of liberal hatred of Bush corresponded to the height of delirium over the anti-Bush.

This is not a partisan point.  The Right is no better when it comes to this.  This is an anti-partisan point.  We have gotten so extraordinarily partisan that we are happy to see the President of the other party mocked and etc., but we feign outrage when a President of our own party suffers the same fate.  Admit it.  It’s wrong.

However, my friends have argued, the condemnation of Bush and the condemnation of Obama as “liars” is not the same.  Why?  There are several possibilities.  Perhaps (1) Bush really is a liar while Obama is not.  Or perhaps (2) Bush has lied repeatedly, while Obama has not.  Or perhaps (3) Bush has lied about more consequential matters than Obama, whose lies are generally of the ‘white’ variety.

I don’t find any of these reasons persuasive.  First, Obama is lying.  Whatever our political persuasions, we should be able to acknowledge that.  When he says that his programs will be deficit neutral, he is lying.  The Congressional Budget Office has refuted that claim several times.  When he says that no illegal immigrants will be covered, he is lying.  The Congressional Research Service has refuted that claim (absent enforcement mechanisms, prohibitions are meaningless).  When he says that no abortions will be paid for with federal money, he is lying., among others, has refuted that claim.  I know I am starting to sound like a fierce partisan here — and partisanship is not the point of this blog.  But being non-partisan or trans-partisan or something, or striving to be, is not to be non-critical.  The very notion that criticism is partisan is a part of the problem.  Either one is critical and therefore partisan, or one is non-critical?  Is that really what we want?  There has to be a space for fair, non-partisan criticism.  It is a gravely important matter when the President of the United States is lying to the American people, and people of good will have to object.

I bring this up because Jim Wallis has argued that persons of faith must bring truth into the health-care debate.  Liberal commentators such as Joe Klein make the same claim.  But they are only willing to call out the lies on one side.  We have to call out the lies on both sides.

So, let us grant that Obama is lying.  Yet (2) perhaps Bush lied more frequently than Obama?  I don’t see any good reason to believe this.  Obama hasn’t even been President for a year, and yet it seems that he’s told a fair amount of whoppers.  Bush lied, and he should be held accountable for those lies.  So does Obama.  And both of them, like most politicians, lied serially.

Finally, (3) is it possible that Bush has “lied” about matters more important matters than Obama has?  First of all, when Harry Reid called Bush a “liar” it was in reference to Yucca mountain, not the Iraq war (though others made the claim there); and when Congressional Democrats heckled in the midst of the SOTU address, it was over Bush’s claim that Social Security would go bankrupt in 2042.  But let’s deal with the issue of Iraq, since that’s the real objection.  We have to make a distinction between a “lie” and a “false statement,” a distinction Keith Olbermann fails to make.  When Obama said that he had visited 57 states in his tour of the United States, was he lying?  No, of course not.  He misspoke.  When he said the United States invented the automobile, was he lying?  No, he was merely wrong on the facts.  Presumably he believed what he was saying.  If he believed (falsely) that his grandfather liberated Auschwitz (the Soviets liberated Auschwitz), or when he made false claims about World War 2 and Winston Churchill, was he lying?  I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s simply mis-remembering or misinformed.  Now, if I had a clean-bill checkup a week ago and someone asks me whether I have cancer, and I answer no, am I “lying,” if I subsequently discover that cancer has developed in the intervening week?  No, because I had a justified belief that I had no cancer, and I was not intentionally misleading someone.

If it is true that Bush lied in order to get us to go to war with Iraq, that is a terrible, terrible thing.  About the worst thing a President could do, and he would be deserving of absolute calumny forever.  Yet I think any objective observer has to conclude that Bush genuinely believed what he was claiming, and his belief was not unjustified.  I don’t want to go into this in great detail.  Saddam Hussein had the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction at a moment’s notice.  The fact that he didn’t have any current stockpiles (if true) is really not all that relevant to the calculus of war and peace.  However, it is relevant if Bush knew that there were no stockpiles and yet claimed that there were.  But every indication I’ve seen suggests that Bush genuinely believed that there were WMD’s.  If he had known there were not, he would not have made WMD’s such an important part of his justification, since he would have known that we would not find WMD’s and he would be credited with a monumental blunder.  It will haunt Bush and his legacy forever that he claimed there were WMD’s when there weren’t.  He was wrong (assuming that WMD’s were not sent to Syria, which is always possible).  Did he lie?  Not really.  What about the “cherry-picking” of intelligence?  My impression, having investigated the matter as thoroughly as I am able as an ordinary citizen, is that Bush administration officials were quite certain that Saddam had stockpiles of WMD’s, and they used the intelligence that they thought would convince the American people of this ‘truth.’

Did he lie when he and his associates made connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam?  No.  Reports indicated that there were connections between them, but some reports specified that there were not operational relationships, meaning that they were not presently engaged in any joint missions.  It is not false to say that there were relationships, and even cooperation, between Saddam and al-Qaeda.  To the extent that any Bush administration official implied that there were ongoing operational relationships, knowing (if he did) that it was false, that person lied.  But Bush actually steered relatively clear of that issue.

It’s worth remembering that many factors were noted, not just WMD’s, in the congressional resolution authorizing force against Iraq.  And it’s worth remembeirng that stockpiles mean little if one can replenish a stockpile in a matter of days.  Yet Bush and his administration were wrong on the claim that there were stockpiles of WMD, and they deserve to be held accountable for being wrong.  But I do not believe they “lied” in order to get us into war.

Finally, if Obama is indeed serially lying in order to convince Americans to support his health-care plan, that is no small matter either.  Those who favor this legislation may believe it’s a necessary white lie that serves the greater good.  I don’t view it that way.  Obama promised us something more.  So please understand: I am not disappointed in the Wednesday speech because I am being partisan.  I am disappointed because I am holding Obama to the standards that he set out in his campaign.  I wanted to see a new kind of politics.  I wanted to see someone rise above partisanship in a genuine way, and bring together the best ideas from both parties.  That’s not what I saw.  I saw someone who wanted the veneer of bipartisanship, but who in fact was not willing to give an inch, and is merely creating the political justification (this article from The Hill agrees with the contention I made yesterday) for ramming health care reform through without a single Republican vote.  Obama did not take objections seriously; instead he painted everyone else as liars, bickerers, game-players.

I’m sorry if that sounds overly partisan.  My view is: it’s just critical.  The Republicans are in a sorry state as well; there are Joe Wilsons and Mike Duvalls and Jack Abramoffs on the Republican side, just as there are Rod Blagojeviches and John Edwardses and William Jeffersons on the Democrat side.  And unfortunately, I think Rich Lowry is all too correct when he talks about all the evasions and deceptions in Obama’s speeches.

If you think all the significant lies and shenanigans are on one side of the aisle, you’re fooling yourself.

4.  ACORN EXPLODES.  Even as ACORN operatives in Florida are indicted for election fraud, two enterprising conservative journalists enter ACORN offices and induce two ACORN workers (the video is entertaining) to give advice on how a prostitute can bring underage girls from South America for child prostitution and avoid paying taxes or being punished by the government.  I’d rather reserve judgment for a little while and see whether other information comes to light.  But it would seem unjust, to me, to indict an organization for the actions of two low-level workers, especially if those journalists had failed to get other ACORN workers to do the same (as ACORN claims).  Those who made the video may be prosecuted by the state of Maryland.  The Census Bureau finally decides to cut ties to the organization.  And now a second, similar video surfaces from the Washington D.C. office.

5.  THE DISINTEGRATION OF CNN.  CNN confuses a Coast Guard training exercise with a security emergency, largely because they failed to check with anyone before they rushed in front of the cameras to report breathlessly on “shots fired on the Potomac.”  Gibbsy gets to lecture CNN, which is priceless.  Turns out no shots were fired at all.

6.  COOL SUMMER.  Yes, it’s been a cool summer indeed.  The average temperature for this summer is 0.4 degrees beneath the average for the 20th century, and 1 degree (F) beneath the average temperature last summer.  Does that mean there is no global warming problem?  No.  Temporary trends can run the opposite of long-term trends.  But we better make darn sure we understand what’s going on with this planet before we commit ourselves to measures that will throw hundreds of millions of people back into poverty around the world.

7.  UNINSURED UPDATED.  Some updated and accurate information on the uninsured in the United States.  Good to have the numbers right.

8.  AGAINST GENDER BINARIES.  Earlier we noted the controversy over Castor Semenya.  The results of the tests are apparently (though this could be false) leaking out that she is a hermaphrodite, with male sexual organs inside her body, producing the testosterone that gave her a masculine appearance and strength.  This poor woman needs prayer.  It seems that there was no intentional deception here, and to discover this about oneself in so public a way must be devastating.

9.  EVANGELICALS AND ENVIRONMENTAL APOCALYPSE.  Soon we will be talking about faith and the environment at Patheos, and I’m interested in the fact that evangelicals seem less concerned about pending climate disaster than others do.  Why do you think that is?  I’d love to hear people’s suggestions.

10.  Evangelical colleges are seeing their fortunes turn downward in this economy.  How some are reinventing themselves.

11.  SPRINTING WITHOUT A DESTINATION.  The final sprint for health care reform has begun.  Will the church be the one place where honest discussion can be found, and where dishonesty is called out on both sides?

12.  TODAY’S TWO-SIDES.  First, because he’s our President, Barack Obama, on how we are all New Yorkers on 9/11.  An admirable sentiment.  Does he honor and remember 9/11 rightly?  Victor Davis Hanson thinks that many are trying to make us forget, or at least draw the wrong lessons, from 9/11’s memory.  And Lawrence Wright, whose Looming Tower remains the best book written about the lead-up to 9/11, says that the threat of al-Qaeda remains significant.

13.  Finally, COLUMN OF THE DAY, because it agrees with the point I was making above, is that of Matt Welch at Reason.  A selection:

On Wednesday night a broad chunk of the American left, and an overlapping circle of media commentators, got what they’d been aching for since the beginning of August: A presidential bitch-slap of the lying liars who’ve been, in the words of stereotypical L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten, “crowding out nearly all substantive and realistic discussion of the critical issues surrounding healthcare reform.”

“But know this,” President Barack Obama said in one of several such satisfying passages in his health care speech last night. “I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out.”

Salon Editor in Chief Joan Walsh could barely contain herself at this nearly Snoop Doggesque display. “‘We will call you out’ on lies,” she Tweeted. “love it!”

It is telling that so many people who claim to be speaking on the side of Truth, Justice, and the American Way of Journalism have consistently focused their outrage-o-meters at individual townhall attendees, political broadcast entertainers, and the lesser lights of a lame (if resurgent-by-default) opposition party, while letting walk nearly fact-check-free the non-irrelevant occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. If calling out lies and misrepresentations about a significant policy proposal is such pressing journalistic business—and it should be!—you’d think the watchdogs might start with the guy doing the proposing.

Agreed.  Let’s call out lies wherever we see them, in whichever party.  The party to which a person belongs is not important.  What is important to renew our political discourse.  If Obama is going to do that, he’s going to have to change course.  In all sincerity, I pray he will.

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  • ndsmith

    I sharply disagree with you on this issue of lying. I hold position 1, that Obama is not lying, while Bush in fact did demonstrably lie. I take ‘lying’ to mean intentionally uttering a false statement as if it were a true statement. On this definition, the person uttering the lie is in a psychologically indefensible position: they simultaneously believe what they are saying is true and not true.

    In every case of “lying” that you mention, there is a defensible interpretation of the facts that perfectly agrees with what Obama says. So, 1) Obama says “I will not sign a bill” that is not budget neutral. This is a claim about a future bill. You may think it implausible, but his claim cannot be known to be false, so he can’t know it to be false, so he’s not lying.

    2) The illegal immigrant claim is a dispute about the “direct” and “indirect” effects of the bill. The house bill states that it does not insure illegal immigrants, but it has no way of verifying and enforcing punishment on false claims. So it may indirectly result in insuring illegal immigrants that misrepresent themselves as citizens, but it does not directly insure illegals. (And there is dispute about how large the populations of illegals would, in fact, misrepresent themselves. Especially since they would likely be deported if caught.)

    3) The federal government will not “fund” abortions anymore under Obama’s plain than it does now. Currently, the fed subsidizes all employer purchased insurance through tax breaks. Most insurance plans that people have help pay for abortions. The only difference is that a public option (if it ever exists) would include funding for abortions (which is really just in keeping with the average market plan). But to call the insurance offered by the public option “federally funded” is to misrepresent the public option. Though there is seed money to start the program up (roughly 2 bill. in HR3200), there is no money conceded for operations of the plan. That would be paid, just like all other plans, by premiums.

    On the other hand, it is known (remember the other Joe Wilson–and Valerie Plame) that the Bush administration was aware that the “Iraq sought to purchase yellow cake uranium from Niger” claim (used in the State of the Union address in 2003 to justify war) was false several months before the speech. Thus the administration knew or should have known that the statement made by Bush was false, thus it was a lie.

    But here’s the partisanship in all this: the disputes that Repubs are having with Obama are classic partisan disputes. They are bringing up the specters of abortion, euthanasia, and illegal immigration to scare people aware from Obama’s health care plan. He called them out on it. Whether you agree with him or not, you can’t call him a liar for that. And to think that this is even in the same ballpark as the whole hoopla leading up to the Iraq war (weapons of mass destruction anyone?) is just not being even-handed.

  • tddalrymple

    Thank you for this excellent response. It may not be until Monday that I have the chance to respond. But I appreciate the time it took and the respect with which it is written.