President Barack Obama bluntly criticized his political opponents Wednesday after the Senate failed to expand background checks for gun purchases. The relevant amendment fell 54-46, six votes short of the 60 needed for it to be added to gun legislation that Obama has pushed for in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Speaking from the White House Rose Garden, Obama said:
"... T[T]he gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill. They claimed that it would create some sort of "big brother" gun registry, even though the bill did the opposite. This legislation, in fact, outlawed any registry. Plain and simple, right there in the text. But that didn'’t matter. And unfortunately, this pattern of spreading untruths about this legislation served a purpose, because those lies upset an intense minority of gun owners, and that in turn intimidated a lot of senators."
The President seems to be arguing that what the gun lobby must have willfully lied, because there's no real alternative explanation for saying something so obviously, demonstrably false.
Does the same standard apply to President Obama? Here are some examples:
1. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) "says that he is willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq":
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Obama said this early in 2008, as the presidential campaign was underway. But what McCain supported was a peacetime deployment in Iraq akin to the decades we've spent in Japan and South Korea, where Americans are "not being injured, or harmed, or wounded, or killed." That's what McCain said, plain and simple, right there in the video.
2. Anecdotes Obama cited when arguing for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare):
Image Credit: White House
While arguing for the passage of Obamacare, President Obama cited examples of people who had been left in the lurch by their health insurer. But many of these anecdotes proved to be false. Otto Raddatz did not die after his insurer rescinded coverage, and insurers did not cancel Robin Lynn Beaton's policy for failing to declare a case of acne.
But the hardest anecdote to explain concerns Ann Dunham — Obama's mother — who Obama said was fighting insurers even as she spent her final months fighting cancer. Dunham's dispute was not about health insurance, but disability insurance, which was not a significant component of Obamacare. Dunham even told the insurer that they should discuss the matter with "my son and attorney Barack Obama," so it's hard to see how he could have been mistaken about this.
3. "Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich all say they would cut foreign aid to Israel — and every other country — to zero.":
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Obama made this statement in early 2012 against an array of potential GOP presidential candidates. But it's false. During a GOP debate, Romney & Co. said that they wouldn't use a previous year's spending on foreign aid as a baseline — i.e., a minimum — for what would be spent the next year. Any country that received aid from the U.S. last year would still need to justify why we should continue giving them aid. That's pretty clear from the debate transcript.
4. "I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign."
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
This is a pledge broken so quickly and with such audacity that you have to wonder if it was, well, just a lie. Obama made the pledge on June 30, 2008, during a major speech about patriotism, rebuking those who had questioned the patriotism of people who opposed the Iraq War (and rightly so).
Mere days later, on July 3, Obama lambasted the administration of President George W. Bush for adding $4 trillion to the national debt, saying, "That's irresponsible. It's unpatriotic."
Obama himself has since added several trillion dollars to our debt, but to date has given no speeches accusing himself of being unpatriotic.
President Obama was visibly angry with what he saw as dishonesty from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun rights advocates. We should all be opposed to dishonesty and misrepresentation in politics. But, if the outrage at political distortions is going to be selective — i.e., I'll shout from the Rose Garden when my opponents lie or caricature me, but give myself a free pass for doing the same to them — then these displays of righteous indignation are likely to prompt cynicism and eye-rolling more than honesty and reconciliation.
They probably do more harm than good.