Monday, September 14, 2009

Joe Wilson’s War - continued

This post responds to Irwin’s last comment. It turns out that comments are limited to 4096 characters.


Irwin -

You say my dislike of BHO is showing. Am I obliged to like the President? Or are you saying that once I decide that I don't like him, I am somehow disqualified from commenting on the things about him that I don't like? Who are we to expect to criticize the President if not the people who don't like him? His acolytes? I am not saying "trust me, the President is lying"; I am saying "LOOK - Here are the President's lies." I don’t see whether the status of those statements as lies turns on my like or dislike of the man making them.

Your reference to Jefferson is ironically apt. You have read Founding Brothers. Ask John Adams if Thomas Jefferson was a liar. But otherwise, the analogy doesn't hold. The Declaration of Independence was not intended to mislead anyone regarding the issue of equality. BHO's pronouncements are intended to mislead real Americans about things they really care about. That's lying.

Your reference to finding "lies" in the Gettysburg Address suggests that my standard has something to with naked accuracy. I'm not complaining that BHO's statements are inaccurate like Jefferson's claim about all men being created equal. BHO's statements are all accurate. But they are nevertheless intended to mislead. Bill Clinton said that he did not "have sex" with that woman. That was accurate, too, but it was hardly true. That's why I call BHO's statements on Healthcare Clintonesque.

I doubt that I used the word "liar" to describe the President. I said he is lying and that he lies to advance his political agenda. But I am not uncomfortable with political lies, and if you'll notice, I have not really condemned BHO for telling his. I have simply said that he is behaving like other politicians: that he does not represent a "new" politics, that when he speaks, he should be taken no more seriously than his less articulate predecessor. And that we can learn something about the possible effects of his proposed legislation by looking at the things he chooses to lie about.

This may sound like parsing, but I draw a very sharp distinction between "he is lying" (or even "he lies") and "he's a liar." Liars lie to pretty much anyone whenever it suits them. But everyone lies sometimes ("No, you don't look fat in that dress, dear"), and politicians lie because politics is the art of the possible, and sometimes lying is the only way to get things done. It’s no big deal ethically, but it’s a datum not to be ignored.

The sensitivity you feel about the term "liar" is well-founded. But if you search this page for the word, you will find it only in your comments (until right now). I do think Bill Clinton is a liar. But not BHO. He's only a politician whose lies happen to follow Clinton's model. Which leads me to say that my first paragraph was offered arguendo. In fact, I don't dislike BHO. I just don't think he's as special as you and he say he is.

You say "only the most tortured interpretations of what is (in fact) in the House bill would find concern in whether or not illegal aliens could 'sneak' into the health care system." But then you say "I trust that you are not suggesting that it would be wise and cost efficient to set up an elaborate verification system for people who come into use hospital or MD services to make sure that they are illegal. That is simply not a workable solution." So, why are we to eschew an elaborate verification system? Because the House bill "covers the issue," or because the verification system would be unworkable?

Why do you doubt that people would lie to get health insurance? As I have said, I don't care if they get it; I just don't want the President to pretend that they won't get it just because the law says they can't. The law says they can't be here, and yet here they are. Why would a legal provision denying them health insurance be any more effective than the ones denying them entry?

With regard to the public option:

1. Did you try pasting the link into your browser? It isn't a real link. You can't click on it. You have to copy it to the browser's address window. But here it is as a link (I hope).

2. I don't see the inconsistency in my position. The public option is still up for debate, and its form will be relevant to its implications. More important, its implications will probably be too hard for me to fathom even when I know what the law is. I have no idea how the actual carrots and sticks will play out - the system is too complex. But if you tell me that a bill denies a thing to illegal aliens, but does not require that those who seek that thing prove they are not illegal aliens, I'm pretty comfortable with the expectation that illegal aliens will get that thing. One question is hard, the other is easy. I can't answer the hard one. I can answer the easy one. What's the problem?

3. I don't know or care whether the public option issue is "dead." I care about whether the President is lying about it. That's the subject of my posts - the President's credibility. If he were lying about the price of tea in China, in which I have no interest at all, I would still find it noteworthy that he was doing so.

4. I have not said that the pending bills will "force" anyone to do anything. I have said that whether the language "forces" anyone to do anything is irrelevant, because only the effects of the law matter. Thus, for the President to say that the law will not "force" anyone to change their plans, as if that meant that they would not, in fact, end up with changed plans - which is, after all, what they care about - is disingenuous. That's why taunts about finding language that will do X or Y are misdirected. It is precisely the irrelevance of the President's accurate claims that I find telling about his political methods.

5. Of course, BHO knows the difference between overhead and profit, but he saw fit to cite profit as part of the "overhead" that a public option will obviate. If he knows profit isn't overhead, and he lists profit as part of the overhead that makes private insurance bad, what word are we to use for his doing so? "Spin"? "Puffery"? "Sizzle?" I think "lie" is the word we'd be looking for. Don't you?

How can I engage in debate about "Obama's Health Plan." First, he has not spelled it out, so how can I debate it? Second, it provides universal coverage, will not reduce anyone's benefits, and won't raise the deficit. Except for the higher taxes I will pay, which I'd be OK with if he can put a unicorn in every stable, what's not to like? It's a great plan.

I'm dead serious when I say that I don't know what effect the plan actually adopted will have. It's too hard. Like the guys in Plato's cave, I can only look at the shadows on the wall. In this case, those shadows take the form of the President's rhetoric, and I know enough about political rhetoric to know that he is promising things that don't matter. He says I won't be "forced" to change my plan and that illegal aliens "won't" be covered, which means to me that I may find my plan changed as a result of the law, and illegal aliens may very well get coverage by deceitful means (making the deficit claim unreliable). That's precisely why I have been posting about the rhetoric. The substance is too complex for us mere mortals to get. But the lies are pretty easy to spot.

As for your inference that Joe Wilson would not have said what he said to a white man, what would agreeing to that claim change? Would BHO's statements be rendered no longer misleading? Would the public option become more or less a dead issue? Would more or fewer illegals lie to get coverage? Your post started with an ad hominem argument (that my alleged dislike for BHO somehow taints the facts or deductions I have offered), and it ends with one (that alleged racial bias in Joe Wilson's effrontery makes his claim less true). But ad hominem arguments are just a form of genetic fallacy; they have no persuasive force on the merits of the issue. Why would I comment on an irrelevance in discussing a post that protests irrelevance?


  1. Larry- I am happy to defer our discussion on the merits of any proposed health care reform until we have a real bill to discuss.

    As to the earlier part of the blog, I do have the following comments;

    1. there is an enormous difference between political comment, misleading comment and out right lying.

    2. You may find a difference between lying and being caslled a liar, but I fear that the dictionary will not support that view. They define a "liar" as one who tells lies. So i guess that by any fair reading, you called him a a liar, and that is what I object to.

    3. BHO politics are not new politics, it is his policies which are new and different. He is not the second coming, but he is right on the vast majority of the issues.

  2. Irwin -

    Then we are all liars. I said the man tells political lies. That' not "calling" him anything. I have no opinion on whether he's any more a liar than the salesman who says "what a lovely home you have" or some such. I can't make him not have lied. But I can say unequivocally that I don't think of him as a liar, just as a politician. Any affront you feel obliged to take on his behalf is up to you.

    He ran on a new politics, not "new" policies. The policies he ran on are different from the Republicans', but they are not "new"; they are old Democratic nostrums. They may be good policies. They are the policies that the people have voted for, not just by electing BHO but by electing a Democrat Congress. But they are not new. What's new is all the "listen to all sides" nonsense, the "I'm a uniter not a divider" on stilts. For anyone who believed that silliness, I have two words: Rahm Emmanuel.

    You say he's not the second coming, but I have only accused him of being an ordinary (i.e., lying) politician, and you seem to find that characterization scurrilous. Why so?


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