How Serious Are Obama’s Untruths?

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It is now tolerably clear that the president of the United States knowingly misled the public about the effects of the health care law when he was promoting it.  He repeatedly assured voters that they would be able to keep plans that they liked, and it is now plain that this is not true.

It is depressing that a president would do this.  It is more depressing that the opposition party shows little understanding of the seriousness of this matter.  Here is a video put out by the House Speaker’s office that makes fun of Obama for lying.  But is this an adequate response?  Doesn’t he deserve a serious condemnation instead?

More thoughtful and more sobering responses are provided by conservative scholars and commentators like Angelo Codevilla and Andy McCarthy.

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Codevilla, a political scientist, observes that what was once treated as an impeachable offense–lying to the public–is now defended by a large part of our society.  It’s not just that we have a corrupt president, but we have a corrupt political culture, one in which politics is no longer about persuasion but about manipulation:

The deadly problem is that Barack Obama is not just an individual, nor even the head of the US government’s executive branch. He is the head of the party to which most government officials belong, the party of the media, of the educational establishment, of big corporations – in short of the ruling class. That class, it seems, has so taken ownership of Obama’s lies that it pretends that those who are suffering from the “Affordable Care Act” don’t really know what is good for them, or that they are perversely refusing to suffer for the greater good.

This class, in short, has placed itself as far beyond persuasion as Obama himself. Democracy by persuasion having become impossible, we are left with democracy as war.

McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, contends that a corporate CEO who had misled the public in the manner Obama has done would be facing prosecution by the Department of Justice for fraud:

“If you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan. Period.” How serious was this lie, repeated by Barack Obama with such beguiling regularity? Well, how would the Justice Department be dealing with it if it had been uttered by, say, the president of an insurance company rather than the president of the United States?

Fraud is a serious federal felony, usually punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment — with every repetition of a fraudulent communication chargeable as a separate crime. In computing sentences, federal sentencing guidelines factor in such considerations as the dollar value of the fraud, the number of victims, and the degree to which the offender’s treachery breaches any special fiduciary duties he owes. Cases of multi-million-dollar corporate frauds — to say nothing of multi-billion-dollar, Bernie Madoff–level scams that nevertheless pale beside Obamacare’s dimensions — often result in terms amounting to decades in the slammer.

Justice Department guidelines, set forth in the U.S. Attorneys Manual, recommend prosecution for fraud in situations involving “any scheme which in its nature is directed to defrauding a class of persons, or the general public, with a substantial pattern of conduct.” So, for example, if a schemer were intentionally to deceive all Americans, or a class of Americans (e.g., people who had health insurance purchased on the individual market), by repeating numerous times — over the airwaves, in mailings, and in electronic announcements — an assertion the schemer knew to be false and misleading, that would constitute an actionable fraud — particularly if the statements induced the victims to take action to their detriment, or lulled the victims into a false sense of security.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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