Evaluating Lies About Obamacare

Brian Beutler sparked some controversy today when he penned a rant about the lies surrounding Obamacare. In particular, he compared Obama’s lie that”if you like your plan, you can keep it” with the many conservative falsities over the past couple of years, including death panels, an uptick in part-time workers and that Obamacare is socialized medicine. Here’s Beutler:

Noble lies have in many ways defined the debate over the Affordable Care Act, but the vast majority of them have been lies conservatives told in a failed effort to nix reform. Death panels are the most famous such lie. Another is that Obamacare is destroying the economy, creating a part-time labor pandemic and a major obstacle to recovery from the great recession. A third is that it will blow up the debt.

This raises an interesting philosophical question about the moral differences between lies told in the service of creating something, lies told in the service of trying (but failing) to prevent it, and lies told in support of alternatives that will never come to pass.

But as far as political credibility is concerned the distinction is moot. These are all just lies, even if each is rooted in the fact that people have different and contentious views of the greater good.

Lying is bad. People shouldn’t lie. But on this score, just ask yourself whose descriptions of Obamacare were closer to reality: Obama’s or the Republican Party’s? It’s not even a close call.

Ok, there’s a lot to pick apart here. Conservatives reacted angrily to this post, claiming that Beutler was offering a justification for Obama’s lie. That’s not what he’s doing. Instead, he’s placing that lie in context of other ones that conservatives have used to mobilize their base against Obamacare. There are a couple of important points here.

First, if you believe that Obama’s lie is a noble one, then you must also believe that about conservative lies as well. President Obama told Americans they could keep their health care plan if they wanted it, because he believed that the lie was necessary for the greater good. On the other hand, Republicans have lied, because they believe it was necessary to stop Obamacare, which they deem is a huge danger to the American people. You can’t argue that one is a noble lie and the other is not. Both were intended to deceive the American people for their benefit. They are on the same level.

Second, Obama’s lie has received widespread attention, because it was pivotal in getting Obamacare passed. The conservative lies have simply been talking points to rally the base. Without the president’s deceit, Obamacare doesn’t pass. That rightly makes that lie orders of magnitude more infuriating for the American people.

Third, there has to be a distinction between politicians and journalists here. As much as I would like Obama to come clean, he’s not going to. He will stick by his phrase and add an “if” to it so that he never has to admit he lied. The same is true of Sarah Palin and death panels. She isn’t backing down either. This is the nature of politicians. But we have greater expectations for reporters. No reporter should allow a congressman to say that Obamacare is socialized medicine or that it will wreck the economy. These aren’t contentious points where two reasonable people could disagree. They are clearly false. The same is true of any Democrat who tries to defend Obama’s lie. Americans cannot all keep their health care plans as the president promise. He lied and anyone who says otherwise is wrong. Journalists shouldn’t allow any of these myths to persist.

The question then, is have they? This is where Beutler’s final comment comes in. The idea that Obamacare creates death panels or is a form of socialized medicine has been a meme in conservative media for years. This lie should have been extinguished long ago. Certainly, many smart conservative writers have debunked these claims, but a large part of the media refuses to do so. A quick google search of Fox News or The Wall Street Journal comes up with numerous recent results from that perpetuate this falsehood. The same thing does not exist in the liberal media. MSNBC and The New York Times has not covered up for Obama or tried to paper over his deceit. I would like them to use stronger language, but at the very least, they both admit that Obama misled the American people.

Finally, it was only revealed recently that Obama lied, when millions of Americans received notices that their health plans had been cancelled. On the other hand, the myth that Obamacare is socialized medicine has been around for years now and continues to show up in major conservative media sources.

Whether Obama’s or the conservative lies are worse is up for debate. Undoubtedly, saying Americans can keep their health plans if they like them is a closer description of the Affordable Care Act than socialism is. But Obama’s lie was much more powerful as it was a condition to get Obamacare passed. That cannot be overlooked. Therefore, it’s impossible to evaluate which lies are worse.

What we can evaluate is the fact that the liberal media has been much better a calling out this deceit than the conservative media has. When Obama lied, liberals jumped on him immediately. Across the aisle, conservative lies have lingered in their media for years now. The fact that conservative journalists are now piling on Obama is ironic given that they have not done the same to correct the lies on their side. This is the crux of Beutler’s piece. If conservatives want to admonish Obama for lying, they should also turn to their own ideological media sources and admonish them as well. In fact, they should have done that long ago.


It Doesn’t Matter If Virginia Was A Referendum On Obamacare

My post earlier focused on the fact that there were so many unique factors affecting Virginia’s gubernatorial contest that it was impossible to use the results as any indication of the national political sentiment. One area in particular that reporters have settled on is whether the election was a referendum on Obamacare, and if so, what it means. Michael Barone and James Hohmann think it was and that Obamacare almost cost McAuliffe the governorship. Ezra Klein and Greg Sargent disagree. Igor Volsky thinks Obamacare was the biggest winner from last night’s election.

Here’s my question: who cares?

I have yet to see anyone give a legitimate explanation for why it matters whether or not last night’s election was a referendum on Obamacare. It matters even less if Obamacare was a winner or a loser. Virginians elected a Democratic governor in an off-year election, but exit polls suggest that voters opposed Obamacare 53 to 45 percent. Those are the facts. Did Ken Cuccinelli’s last-minute decision to make Obamacare a focal point of his campaign increase his vote share? Maybe. I don’t know. There are no exit polls on it for us to find out.

But in the end, this doesn’t matter at all. Whether or not Virginians approve of Obamacare right now isn’t important, because the earliest Obamacare is on the ballot again will be November 2013, after the law’s been implemented, the insurance market has settled and millions more people have coverage. Maybe Americans will find they are paying more, have fewer choices of doctors and are paying for benefits they don’t need. Maybe they will love the subsidies, the increased security and the cheaper options. No one knows for sure how Obamacare is going to play out, but how it does will determine what people think of the law.

President Obama and Senate Democrats are not going to back down. After a Supreme Court challenge, the 2012 election and a government shutdown, we are just a few short months away from finding out if Obamacare works. We’re past the politics of it. It may have affected the Virginia election, but even if it did, does it matter? Opinions are going to change depending on whether the law fails or succeeds.

Neither party should look at last night’s election as evidence that they should use Obamacare in the 2014 election. Instead, they need to monitor public opinion over the next nine months. If people are happy with the law, Republicans are in trouble. If not, Democrats will be. Last night’s election has no bearing on that. The only exception to this, as Alex MacGillis points out, is that McAuliffe’s victory increases the odds that Virginia will expand Medicaid. That would certainly be a huge victory for Obamacare and for the 400,000 uninsured Virginians who fall into the doughnut hole. But nevertheless, that’s a policy outcome of the election. It’s not a political one. Obamacare is now the law of the land and how it works will determine its favorability. Whether or not Virginians voted on it last night means absolutely nothing going forward. Let’s stop pretending it does.

We Don’t Know What McAuliffe’s Victory Means

A number of political prognosticators are recapping Terry McAuliffe’s closer-than-expected victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial election over Republican firebrand Ken Cuccinelli to mean a number of different things. Some believe that Cuccinelli’s radical views, particularly on abortion and contraception, demonstrate the Tea Party’s increasing unpopularity with the majority of Americans. Some see Cuccinelli’s lack of support from the Republican Party and his limited campaign donations as indicative that he could have won with a bit more backing. Others see the unexpected tightness of the race to mean that Republicans haven’t lost Virginia as badly as it may seem. Many conservatives think Republicans won a referendum on Obamacare. Liberals think they didSome think libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis cost Cuccinelli the governorship (it didn’t). Yet others think it was Cuccinelli’s connections to current Governor Bob McDonnell’s scandal and the government shutdown that gave McAuliffe the victory.

There are plenty of views to go around. Guess what? All of them are pointless. This a time when the best thing to say is: I don’t know.

Virginia’s gubernatorial race was unique in that it pitted two candidates against each other who were both disliked by voters. Near the end of the race, Republicans foolishly shut down the government, something that they were blamed for and affected Virginia more than any other state thanks to its significant ties to federal agencies. Cuccinelli was painted as a radical social conservative, specifically on abortion, and did not harp Obamacare, as many Republican politicians have, until late in the race. McAuliffe brought in Democratic heavyweights including the Clintons and President Obama to campaign for him.

All of these things make it impossible to deduce national implications from this election. It’s almost impossible to deduce any implications for Virginia next year even.

Here are a few questions to think about:

  • Would Cuccinelli’s Tea Party views have been rejected even more with a better Democratic candidate?
  • Would a stronger, moderate Republican candidate have defeated McAuliffe and kept Virginia red?
  • Would Cuccinelli have won, and thus demonstrated the Tea Party’s continued power, if he had more money and national support?
  • Would a victory in that scenario have been a referendum on the Tea Party or just a result of a weak Democratic nominee?

There is almost nothing you can take from this race that has any meaning politically. It simply has too many outside factors that impacted it in ways that are impossible to take into account. A tweet from Jonathan Chait summed it up best:

chait tweetBingo.

Anyone trying to tell you what the Virginia gubernatorial election means for the Democrat or Republican Party is taking a guess. The truth is that there is no way to take a larger meaning from this race. Sometimes it’s best for political commentators to admit that they don’t know what the main takeaway is from a certain election. This is one of those occasions.