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President Obama Wins Politifact’s “Lie Of The Year” Award

obama-sad

In a decision that is sure to set off a political firestorm where your reaction depending on which side of the political aisle you happen to come from, President Obama has won Politifact’s “Lie Of The Year” Award for his statement regarding the ability of average Americans to keep their health insurance under the Affordable Care Act:

It was a catchy political pitch and a chance to calm nerves about his dramatic and complicated plan to bring historic change to America’s health insurance system.

“If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” President Barack Obama said — many times — of his landmark new law.

But the promise was impossible to keep.

So this fall, as cancellation letters were going out to approximately 4 million Americans, the public realized Obama’s breezy assurances were wrong.

Boiling down the complicated health care law to a soundbite proved treacherous, even for its promoter-in-chief.  Obama and his team made matters worse, suggesting they had been misunderstood all along. The stunning political uproar led to this: a rare presidential apology.

For all of these reasons, PolitiFact has named “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” the Lie of the Year for 2013. Readers in a separate online poll overwhelmingly agreed with the choice.

This is the fifth time that Politifact has award a “Lie Of The Year” designation, and the fourth time in those five years that the award has concerned some element off the Affordable Care Act or the health care debate in general. (A list of previous “winner” can be found here.) In the case of this specific statement, supporters of the PPACA and President Obama will no doubt object to the fact that the lie concerns actions by third parties that, arguably, the President has no control over. However, the people at Politifact argue that their decision to pin the award on the President is correct both because of the statement itself and the botched manner in which the Administration tried to explain away the statement when confronted this year by millions of people who saw their policies being canceled:

Initially, Obama and his team didn’t budge.

First, they tried to shift blame to insurers. “FACT: Nothing in #Obamacare forces people out of their health plans,” said Valerie Jarrett, a top adviser to Obama, on Oct. 28.

PolitiFact rated her statement False. The restrictions on grandfathering were part of the law, and they were driving cancellations.

Then, they tried to change the subject. “It’s important to remember both before the ACA was ever even a gleam in anybody’s eye, let alone passed into law, that insurance companies were doing this all the time, especially in the individual market because it was lightly regulated and the incentives were so skewed,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

But what really set everyone off was when Obama tried to rewrite his slogan, telling political supporters on Nov. 4, “Now, if you have or had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law, and you really liked that plan, what we said was you can keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law passed.”

Pants on Fire! PolitiFact counted 37 times when he’d included no caveats, such as a high-profilespeech to the American Medical Association in 2009: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

Even Obama’s staunchest allies cried foul.

On Nov. 6, columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the public “was entitled to hear the unvarnished truth, not spin, from their president about what they were about to face. I don’t feel good about calling out Obama’s whopper, because I support most of his policies and programs. But in this instance, he would have to be delusional to think he was telling the truth.”

The next day, Obama apologized during a lengthy interview with NBC News’ Chuck Todd.

“We weren’t as clear as we needed to be in terms of the changes that were taking place, and I want to do everything we can to make sure that people are finding themselves in a good position, a better position than they were before this law happened. And I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me,” he said.

As we’ve already discussed here several times, the President has taken a fairly serious hit in the polls as a result of the faulty roll out of the PPACA. More importantly, though, these polls have shown that he’s taken a fairly serious hit in the polls regarding his trustworthiness and honesty, which is one area where he had remained fairly solidly high even when other parts of his job approval and favorability were suffering. Based on follow-up interview by many of these pollsters, it quickly became apparent that the factor driving the drop in the trust that the public has in the President could be traced primarily to his previous statements about people being able to keep their insurance plans and the fact that the evidence over the past months has been quite to the contrary. Additionally, reports over the past two months have indicated that the Administration knew in the run up to the implementation of the law that there would be a significant portion of the people in the individual insurance market who would indeed lose their plans due primarily to the fact that those plans did not comply with the regulatory requirements of the PPACA and did not qualify under the “grandfathering” provisions that the PPACA supposedly provided for individual health insurance plans.

Looking back, it’s rather obvious that the whole “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” mantra was a campaign slogan designed to ally fears that had been expressed that passage of the law would force people into the health care exchanges where they’d end up with radically different health care plans, and where they’d face the possibility that they would not be able to continue seeing their regular physician because he or she would no longer be in their health insurance network. The problem with simplistic political slogans, though, is that people tend to take them for statements of fact and, when they’re proven wrong, the person who spoke those words ends up getting in trouble. In this particular case, it was indeed President Obama who most prominently used the phrase but his words were repeated numerous times by Democratic candidates for the House and the Senate, and by surrogates on the campaign trail for the Democratic Party, in their effort to sell the PPACA and to campaign for reelection in 2012.

The arguments over whether or not this statement constitutes a “lie” and whether the award is deserved will, of course, depend upon which side of the political aisle one sits. Republicans will see it as an affirmation of claims they’ve been making about ObamaCare from the very beginning, while Democrats will likely object that Politifact is being far too literal in judging the Presidents words. Viewed about as objectively as I can, it seems fairly clear in hindsight that the Presidents words did not prove to be true. Millions of people who had individual health insurance plans that they liked, and which they had chosen as best suiting their needs, have discovered that they could not keep those plans. Other people are, according to reports, discovering that while they can find insurance on the exchanges it ends up being more expensive thanks to higher deductibles and/or it results in them not being able to keep seeing their regular physician without paying higher out-of-network fees for regular health care visits. As noted, these are things that the Administration was apparently aware would likely happen long before the October 1, 2013 implementation date for the Act. More importantly, they clearly would strike any normal person to conclude that a statement like “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” was, when it was made, completely untrue. At the very least, then, the Administration came up with a catchy slogan but withheld crucial information that would qualify the words themselves. In that since, it would be as much a sin of omission as a sin of commission. But, to the average American, it just sounds like a lie.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    It was a lie. But lie of the year? I don’t know about that. That’s some pretty stiff competition.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

  2. al-Ameda says:

    A politician wins the “lie of the year” award? Unbelievable.

    By the way, did “guns don’t kill people, people do” come in second? I know, it’s hard to attribute that to any one person, isn’t it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  3. C. Clavin says:

    What I see no mention of in your post is the fact that Politifacts readers named it Lie of the Year…it was a f’ing online readers poll you numbskull. There is no word on how many times JKB…who doesn’t understand how insurance works…voted.
    Besides that….isn’t Politifact the outfit that decided eliminating Medicare was not really eliminating Medicare because even though it would be totally unrecognizable from existing Medicare in every way…it was still called Medicare?
    Loads of credibility there.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 22 Thumb down 10

  4. David M says:

    At worst it’s only “mostly true”, so how it becomes lie of the year is beyond me. With a rudimentary understanding of the English language and the private insurance market, it’s an arguably true statement.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 4

  5. Mikey says:

    @David M: Unfortunately he didn’t say “most of you will be able to keep your insurance.” He made an absolute and unequivocal statement, without caveats or qualifiers, and that statement was not true.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  6. David M says:

    @Mikey:

    Except he did not say that insurance companies would be required to continue offering policies forever and were forbidden from ever ending them. That’s how this statement is being interpreted, which is fairly ridiculous.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  7. rudderpedals says:

    @C. Clavin:
    online readers poll

    That goes a long way towards explaining why every one of Politifact’s lie of the year awards are connected to Obamacare.

    Politifact should have pointed to any Kessler column, and Kessler can plant a field full of Politifact pinnochios, the better to unleash the final vortex of phact checker suckage and rid the world of their plague.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  8. gVOR08 says:

    @David M:

    At worst it’s only “mostly true”, so how it becomes lie of the year is beyond me.

    Because PolitiFact is deeper into “both sides do it” than Doug.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 4

  9. C. Clavin says:

    @rudderpedals:
    I think the most important thing here is that we now know that Doug wants to shape public policy by the results of readers polls.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  10. rudderpedals says:

    @C. Clavin: I didn’t notice it was a reader poll either until you pointed it out, maybe Doug didn’t see it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  11. Mikey says:

    @David M: No, he didn’t say that, but in the context of his speeches he was saying the PPACA would not end policies and in fact it did (as the Politifact article states, the grandfathering requirements are part of the PPACA and they drove cancellations).

    It’s really unfortunate the President couldn’t have been more straightforward, but telling the American people honestly that some would have to get new plans would have been the death of the PPACA.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  12. C. Clavin says:

    @rudderpedals:
    ODS can be debilitating.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. David M says:

    @Mikey:

    The grandfather clause allow the policies to continue even if they don’t meet the all the new Obamacare requirements. The insurance companies had to make a choice to end them, if they did nothing then the policies could continue.

    One key to remember is the fact that insurance companies are still allowed to end policies, the government is not requiring them to offer the same policies forever. This seems like pretty basic information, but people keep ignoring the insurance companies role in the ending of these policies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  14. Tillman says:

    In 2009 and again in 2012, PolitiFact rated Obama’s statement Half True, which means the statement is partially correct and partially wrong. We noted that while the law took pains to leave some parts of the insurance market alone, people were not guaranteed to keep insurance through thick and thin. It was likely that some private insurers would continue to force people to switch plans, and that trend might even accelerate.

    They appear to have been rather consistent, and are now calling it the Lie of the Year because the slogan has born fruit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  15. Mikey says:

    @David M: All true, yet entirely irrelevant. When the President made his statement, there was nothing about “grandfather clauses” or policy requirements. He began with “You will” and ended with “Period.” At that point, he became responsible for any discrepancy, and in this case the discrepancy is pretty huge.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  16. David M says:

    @Mikey:

    Did he say that insurance companies were required to continue the policies? That’s what you’re interpreting the statement to mean.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. Tillman says:

    @C. Clavin: @rudderpedals: You guys do realize PolitiFact picks a Lie of the Year, and there’s also a reader poll, right? This time, they lined up. Last year, they didn’t.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  18. Mikey says:

    @David M: Dude, I know exactly what you’re saying, but that nuance is completely beside the point now. It doesn’t matter whether or not the PPACA would require insurers to maintain policies. It doesn’t matter about grandfathering. None of that stuff matters because 99% of the American people are going to hear the President say the PPACA won’t change their situation and then see that it does, and they are going to deal with that discrepancy by calling the President a liar.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  19. Tillman says:

    @David M: That really isn’t the sort of thing the Average Joe considers to himself when he hears the statement, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” It’s the sort of duplicitous nuance anyone could catch given enough time, but no one has that time in the middle of a work week unless they comment on political blogs for fun.

    The fact that a twisted-into-knots explanation can exonerate the President of lying doesn’t change the need for the explanation in the first place, and if the President was oversimplifying the mechanics of insurance exchanges and regulation, maybe all you’re taking umbrage with is that someone’s calling it a lie.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  20. David M says:

    @Mikey:

    None of that stuff matters because 99% of the American people are going to hear the President say the PPACA won’t change their situation and then see that it does, and they are going to deal with that discrepancy by calling the President a liar.

    You might want to rethink that example, it’s the numbers affected/unaffected are completely backwards.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  21. Mikey says:

    @David M: The percentages actually affected are just as irrelevant. Even the people whose plans aren’t going to change will see the discrepancy and many of them will have the same response.

    This is no longer a nuance-able issue. That’s the problem with absolute statements–people tend to hold you to them, and all the more so when you’re the President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  22. JohnMcC says:

    The entire purpose of the PPACA, like the purpose of RomneyCare and the Heritage Foundation plan that preceded it, was to substantially change the way that private & employer-based health insurance worked. Everyone with a functioning brain knew this. Everyone with a functioning brain knew that the pre-ACA healthcare funding/insurance system was working badly and was growing worse and worse as time went on.

    As noted, ‘if you like your plan, you can keep it’ was a campaign slogan. It was aspirational; no one wanted to destroy any given health insurance arrangement that was working well. Inevitably, a lot of changes would occur and needed to occur. Then when they did occur — QUELLE HORREUR!

    Compare that to Saddam Hussein’s role in 9/11 and his nukes. Or the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Meh!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  23. edmondo says:

    He should have won in 2008 when his campaign slogan was “Change”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  24. Mikey says:

    @JohnMcC:

    As noted, ‘if you like your plan, you can keep it’ was a campaign slogan. It was aspirational; no one wanted to destroy any given health insurance arrangement that was working well. Inevitably, a lot of changes would occur and needed to occur. Then when they did occur — QUELLE HORREUR!

    You’re stuck on the same irrelevant nuance as David M. Surely you must understand when the President says something it is taken differently than when someone else says it. When the President says “if you like your plan, you can keep it,” it is not going to be heard as a campaign slogan.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  25. Grewgills says:

    @Mikey:

    It doesn’t matter about grandfathering. None of that stuff matters because 99% of the American people are going to hear the President say the PPACA won’t change their situation and then see that it does, and they are going to deal with that discrepancy by calling the President a liar.

    No. They will see that it could hurt to some varying degree about 5% of people and, while it doesn’t hurt them specifically or even helps them, they still see that his statement was a lie.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Grewgills says:

    @Mikey:

    When the President says “if you like your plan, you can keep it,” it is not going to be heard as a campaign slogan.

    Repeating a pithy phrase to describe your plan on the campaign trail, why on earth would anyone take that as a campaign slogan? It boggles the mind.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. beth says:

    @Mikey: So if I lose my job and my employer stops paying for my insurance coverage and even cancels it, does that give me leave to whine about the President because he said I could keep my plan if I like it and darn it, I liked my plan. If not, then why is it different if the insurance company decides not to offer the policy anymore? And how does it work going forward? Insurance companies WILL have policies they no longer offer in the future based on business conditions. How many years forward does this count?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  28. Tillman says:

    @beth: Because no one in their right mind would support you ascribing blame to the President’s assertions in that case?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  29. Pinky says:

    This is where ideologues and non-ideologues part ways. Of course Mandela wasn’t a communist. He governed for years, and didn’t govern as a communist. Any righty who can’t admit that is a hack. Of course Obama lied. It was a huge, public, oft-repeated falsehood that he knew was false and didn’t care. Any lefty who can’t admit that is a hack. Normal people hate cartoon character type politicos who are incapable of recognizing flaws on their team. They’re the reason that half the population isn’t registered to vote, half of the ones who are registered are independents, and half of those who are registered don’t bother to vote.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  30. bill says:

    @al-Ameda: yeah, i thought “forks make people fat” might be in there too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Old Rule: All of Obama’s promises come with expiration dates.

    New Rule: All of Obama’s promises come with expiration dates, asterisks, or both.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  32. Mikey says:

    @Grewgills:

    Repeating a pithy phrase to describe your plan on the campaign trail, why on earth would anyone take that as a campaign slogan? It boggles the mind.

    It wasn’t “repeating a pithy phrase,” it was a clear and declarative statement in the context of assuaging people’s concerns about what could happen to their health care coverage after the passage of the PPACA.

    Seriously, people, I support the PPACA and I don’t think the President intended to mislead anyone, but you have to understand how other people received his statements and why they are losing trust in him. Nuance is out the window at this point.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  33. Mikey says:

    @beth: Like I told David M, I know exactly what you’re saying. And I agree with you, not with the people who say the President lied. But at the same time it’s entirely irrelevant when we’re talking about why people are losing trust in the President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Grewgills says:

    @Mikey:
    It was pithy and oft repeated on the campaign trail, so yes it was a campaign slogan. To claim otherwise is to ignore fact.

    It also turned out to be false for a number of people. It appears he knew this at the time he was campaigning, so it was also a lie and is costing him and will likely continue to cost him.

    “Read my lips, no new taxes” was also a pithy phrase oft repeated on the campaign trail that ended up being false (the elder Bush likely knew this when he said it) and it cost him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  35. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    Old Rule: Jenos will troll.

    New Rule: Jenos will troll.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  36. Mikey says:

    @Grewgills:

    It was pithy and oft repeated on the campaign trail, so yes it was a campaign slogan.

    My point is, that doesn’t matter–many (if not most) Americans did not consider it a mere slogan, they considered it a promise, which is why it is proving so costly.

    When things didn’t change all that much after “Change We Can Believe In,” it didn’t really matter, because that slogan was nebulous and non-specific. “If you like your plan, you can keep it, period.” is neither.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  37. Grewgills says:

    @Mikey:
    Did you read past the first paragraph of my comment?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. An Interested Party says:

    It’s so amusing that so many Republicans/conservatives are horrified at this “lie” and yet, their deity, Reagan, promised never to negotiate with terrorists and then turned around and sold arms to Iran (!), funny that….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  39. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @An Interested Party: It’s almost as funny as Obama supporters defending his actions by saying “he’s acting just like a Republican!”

    I thought he promised “hope and change,” and “the most transparent administration,” and new standards of integrity and whatnot. If he’s going to act just like a Republican, why didn’t we just elect a Republican?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  40. An Interested Party says:

    If he’s going to act just like a Republican, why didn’t we just elect a Republican?

    That’s the point…the whole political spectrum has shifted so far rightward that now we have a Democratic president on par with the first Bush and many Republicans on par with the John Birch Society…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  41. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @An Interested Party: That’s the point…the whole political spectrum has shifted so far rightward that now we have a Democratic president on par with the first Bush and many Republicans on par with the John Birch Society…

    That would make a modicum of sense if your side used the Republican comparisons when condemning Obama’s actions, instead of selling them. You push them as a positive, or to try to shut up criticisms. Instead, it’s just more BS. Try a new scam; that one’s worn out.

    we have a Democratic president on par with the first Bush and many Republicans on par with the John Birch Society…

    I don’t recall the first Bush didn’t push for such radical societal changes as gay marriage and nationalizing health care. The first Bush was the guy who gave us Willie Horton and lost re-election largely because he raised taxes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  42. dazedandconfused says:

    It looks to me they gave it a half-true when he said it a couple years ago, and their headline is misleading. They gave the “pants on fire” to the recent attempt to amend it, and yeah, technically, that’s a whopper.

    It’s also a fact that there were a lot of people out there who had never used their cheap, loophole filled policy’s. THe small percentage who needed them badly found out the hard way they had crap. A very significant percentage of the medical-bill bankruptcy’s happened to people who had “coverage”, and it takes a lawyer with experience in the field to vet them properly. Therefore, some folks are outraged they aren’t getting ripped off anymore, and considering how many other “lies” they have been told and are continuing to be told on this subject, rating Obama’s as the worst is just plain silly. His was among the least malicious of the lot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  43. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @dazedandconfused: It looks to me they gave it a half-true when he said it a couple years ago, and their headline is misleading. They gave the “pants on fire” to the recent attempt to amend it, and yeah, technically, that’s a whopper…. His was among the least malicious of the lot.

    Like his opposition to gay marriage and single-payer?

    “Malicious” is a very subjective term. A counter argument is that a lie whose main effect is to convince a certain percentage that a falsehood is true for the liar’s personal advancement (as in, Obama “had to say” certain things in order to get elected, even though a large number of people knew it was a lie) is pretty malicious.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  44. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    “Malicious” is a very subjective term. A counter argument is that a lie whose main effect is to convince a certain percentage that a falsehood is true for the liar’s personal advancement (as in, Obama “had to say” certain things in order to get elected, even though a large number of people knew it was a lie) is pretty malicious.

    By your argument all politics and all politicians are ‘malicious’. Your formulation strips the word of all meaning.
    Back in the world that includes dictionaries malicious indicates an intent to cause harm to another person or people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  45. dazedandconfused says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Twain could see a difference between lies and damn lies. I’m sure you can too.

    How about the people who claim Obama’s attempt to deal with the issue of our messed-up system is just for personal gain? Why isn’t that in the running for LOTY? If that isn’t a malicious (“damn”) lie, what is?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0