Obama and Aides Did Not Want To Clutter Message with the Truth

Photo Credit: APThe Wall Street Journal broke the news this weekend that, even as President Obama was telling the American people they could keep their health plans, “some White House policy advisors objected to the breadth of Mr. Obama’s ‘keep your plan’ promise. They were overruled by political aides.”

Overruled by political aides? This is simply damning.

It’s not easy to get a lie into a presidential speech. Every draft address is circulated to the White House senior staff and key Cabinet officials in something called the “staffing process.” Every line is reviewed by dozens of senior officials, who offer comments and factual corrections. During this process, it turns out, some of Obama’s policy advisers objected to the “you can keep your plan” pledge, pointing out that it was untrue. But it stayed in the speech. That does not happen by accident. It requires a willful intent to deceive.

In the Bush White House, we speechwriters would often come up with what we thought were great turns of phrase to help the president explain his policies. But we also had a strict fact-checking process, where every iteration of every proposed presidential utterance was scrubbed to ensure it was both accurate and defensible. If the fact-checkers told us a line was inaccurate, we would either kill it or find another way to make the point accurately. I cannot imagine a scenario in which the fact-checkers or White House policy advisers would tell us that something in a draft speech was factually incorrect and that guidance would be ignored or overruled by the president’s political advisers.

This whole episode is a window into a fundamentally dishonest presidency. And the story gets worse. After Obama began telling Americans they could keep their plans, White House aides discussed using media interviews “to explain the nuances of the succinct line in his stump speeches.” But they decided not to do so, because “officials worried . . . that delving into details such as the small number of people who might lose insurance could be confusing and would clutter the president’s message.”

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