In the past there have been all sorts of presidential fibbing. Some chief executives make promises that they know they probably cannot or will not keep. Before his reelection for his third term in the midst of a world war, Franklin Roosevelt swore that he would never send American boys to fight in a foreign war. In just a little over a year, he did just that. Lyndon Johnson likewise before the 1964 election said he would not send troops to Vietnam. But once reelected, he sent nearly 200,000 troops to fight the North Vietnamese; by the time he left office, over a half-million Americans were deployed in Vietnam.
In 1988 presidential candidate George H. W. Bush pledged that he would not raise taxes and did so emphatically: “Read my lips — no new taxes!” But in 1990 he flipped and agreed to tax hikes.
Barack Obama has offered all sorts of similar empty pledges, like promising to close the federal detention center at Guantanamo Bay within a year of taking office. It is still open. Obama also promised to halve the deficit by the end of his first term. Instead he doubled it. Ditto Obama’s promises on the good things to follow Cash for Clunkers, on the shovel-ready jobs that would follow the stimulus, and on the summer of recovery to be spawned by massive borrowing. At your own job, if you promise the boss that you will do something and then don’t, you’re likely to get fired; when presidents do the same, it’s called politics.
Sometimes presidents fib about their behavior — usually to hide embarrassing information or to exaggerate past accomplishments. Bill Clinton, for example, claimed that he never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. That was about as true as his assertion that although he had smoked marijuana, he never inhaled the drug. Obama too has fudged on lots of things about his past, notably his relationships with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and the famously unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers. Obama suggested that he scarcely knew either shady character, but he somehow named his book The Audacity of Hope from a slogan of the former, and he had a campaign fundraiser in the house of the latter.
Most recently, his yarn that he had never met his paternal uncle, Omar Obama — an illegal immigrant who has been charged with almost hitting a police car while driving intoxicated — proved absolutely false. Obama had actually stayed at Omar’s home for three weeks while he was preparing to attend Harvard Law School and had spoken with him after that. Many of the details that Obama has related about his parents, his former girlfriends, his life in college, and his legal and legislative career are not just inexact but cannot be true.
IN THEORY, IT COULD BE TRUE
Then there is presidential wishful thinking that turns out to be untrue. George W. Bush reiterated that intelligence proved Saddam Hussein had stocks of WMD even though they soon proved nonexistent. Barack Obama swore over 20 times that Obamacare would not result in canceled insurance coverage or mean losing your doctor, but it would save the average family $2,500 a year in premiums. All those fantasy guarantees proved not just false, but beyond the realm of logic. Similarly, Obama, along with other members of his administration, alleged that an Internet video had incited rioters to storm American facilities in Benghazi, resulting in the death of our ambassador and three other Americans. That yarn also was demonstrably untrue. Yet the president has never renounced it or explained why the producer of the video was summarily jailed for a minor parole violation.
Deliberate distortion is a sort of lying as well. Richard Nixon had so many explanations for Watergate and the subsequent cover-up that the public never knew which was operative at any given time. Clinton will be forever remembered for unabashedly offering of his escapades with Monica, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”