Say you’re planning a vacation trip to visit the castles of England. You’re thinking maybe you’ll see a castle a day, with lots of time for leisurely drives and exploration in between. Your spouse, meanwhile, has drawn up a rigid schedule that will get you to twenty sites in seven days. In the course of trying, gently, to point out how impractical this is, you ask: “But how can we possibly make it from Harlech to Alnwick in under two hours?”. Your spouse, fed up with this discussion, replies: “We’ll take a rocket ship, okay?”
Actually, of course, your spouse knows perfectly well that you won’t be taking a rocket ship. So: Have you just been lied to? It seems to me that you clearly haven’t been. A lie requires an intent to deceive. You have, perhaps, been treated with contempt, and that can be just as unpleasant as a lie. But it’s not a lie. In order to lie, you’ve got to have some chance of being believed.
When President Obama said that he could provide health care to millions without taking any health care away from people who have already got it, he had no chance of being believed. The statement was absurd on its face. This is a law of arithmetic: If you invite a bunch of friends to share your lunch, there’s going to be less lunch for you. Everybody understands that.
Unless, of course, you make the lunch bigger. But there was never any plausible story about how the advent of Obamacare would suddenly increase the available quantity of medical resources such as hospital beds and doctors’ time. In the short run, there’s a fixed number of doctors, and nothing about Obamacare is going to change that. If those doctors start seeing new patients, they’ll have less time for their old ones. Not all the old patients will be able to have the same access they had before, so not all the old patients will be able to have insurance plans that guarantee them the same access as before.
Nobody over the age of six can have failed to notice that. So when the President said he could expand the availability of medical care while allowing everyone else to keep the care they’ve got, it was like saying he’d take us for a tour of England in his rocket ship. It had absolutely no chance of being believed, and therefore, it seems to me, does not count as a lie.
It counts instead as an expression of contempt for the many entirely reasonable people who tried to point out that it is not within a President’s power to suspend the laws of arithmetic.
That expression of contempt was arguably pretty contemptible, and arguably as contemptible as a lie. And of course he’s compounding it by trying to tell you with a straight face that everyone who has to switch health plans will end up with “better” plans that allow them to consume even more medical care. I could give you some pretty striking counterexamples among people I’m personally close to, but there’s no need for that, since anyone who grasps basic arithmetic can see that the president’s words cannot be true. But speaking untruths is not enough to make him a liar. For that, he’d have to speak plausible untruths, and he has too little respect for the American people to bother coming up with any.