The Hill, December 18, 2017
by James Bovard
Donald Trump has been flogging the truth and twisting facts since the day he arrived in the Oval Office. But anyone who expected more candor from him as president than on the campaign trail was criminally naive. The real mystery nowadays is why the media seeks to expunge the falsehoods of prior presidents.
“Trump’s Lies versus Obama’s” was the headline in a Sunday Review New York Times piece aiming to drive a final coffin nail into Trump’s credibility. The Times claimed Trump has already “told nearly six times as many falsehoods as Obama did during his entire (8-year) presidency.” The columnists seem so distraught that it is surprising the article is not in all caps.
But the Times’ list of falsehoods is itself a charade with gaping Montana-sized holes.
Has the Times forgotten about Edward Snowden? Obama responded to Snowden’s stunning revelations of the National Security Agency’s vacuuming up millions of Americans’ personal data by going on the Jay Leno Show and proclaiming: “There is no spying on Americans.” But NSA’s definition of “terrorist suspect” was so ludicrously broad that it includes anyone “searching the web for suspicious stuff” (maybe including presidential lies). Obama’s verbal defenses of NSA spying collapsed like a row of houses of cards.
In early 2009, Obama visited Mexico and, in a spiel calling for the renewal of the assault weapon ban, asserted that “more than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States.” This vastly overstated the actual problem, since that statistic measured only firearms that Mexican authorities sent to the U.S. for tracing.
His administration then acted as if 90 percent was a goal, not a lie, launching a secret Fast and Furious gunwalking operation masterminded by the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency, deluging Mexican drug gangs with high-powered weapons. At least 150 Mexicans were killed by guns illegally sent south of the border with Obama administration approval.
Obama’s animosity to the Second Amendment spurred some of his most farcical whoppers. In July 2016, Obama asserted: “We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book.” Glocks are the Lexus of handguns, and a person could buy hundreds of volumes of used books via Amazon for the price of a Glock.
A year earlier, Obama bewailed “neighborhoods where it’s easier for you to buy a handgun and clips than it is for you to buy a fresh vegetable.” Obama never offered a single example of a locale where carrots are rarer than .38 Specials. But his false claim helped frighten clueless suburbanites to support Obama’s anti-gun agenda.
The Times column lists only one Obama falsehood on the Affordable Care Act: “If you like your doctor, you’ll be able to keep your doctor; if you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan.” Obama’s dozens of variations and recitals of this lie were disregarded. The Times also ignored the fact that the ObamaCare legislation was carefully crafted to con Congress and the public. As its intellectual godfather, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, explained:
“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically, that was really, really critical to get this thing to pass.”
To revile Trump, the column also struggles mightily to resurrect George W. Bush’s credibility. The Times concedes that Bush sought to justify attacking Iraq “by talking about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, which did not exist.” This vastly understates the role of official deceit in hustling that war.
In early 2003, Bush’s speeches continually warned, “If war is forced upon us….” There was never any truth to war being “forced upon us” (except by the White House) but that phrase helped Bush panic audiences still jittery after 9/11. The Center for Public Integrity, which has won two Pulitzer Prizes, compiled a list of 935 lies by Bush and his top appointees on Iraq. Perhaps to preserve the column’s lofty tone, the Times omitted any mention of Bush’s four years of brazenly false denials of authorizing a worldwide torture regime.
The Times’ comparison of Trump and other presidents implies that all lies are equally damnable. The Times ignored all the Obama false promises used to justify his troop surge in Afghanistan (which resulted in more than a thousand dead American troops with nothing to show for the sacrifice) and bombing Libya (which now has slave markets). But killing vast numbers of human beings should require more due diligence than assertions on federal spending for peanut subsidies.
The Times asserts that Trump is seeking to “to make truth irrelevant,” which “is extremely damaging to democracy.” But democracy has also been subverted by the media’s long history of ignoring or absolving presidential lies. For more than a century, the press has groveled the worst when presidents dragged the nation into the biggest perils.
Trump’s lies deserve to be exposed and condemned. But Bush’s and Obama’s lies help explain why only 20 percent of Americans trusted the federal government at the end of Obama’s reign. Pretending America recently had a Golden Age of honest politicians encourages the delusion that toppling Trump is all that is necessary to make the federal government great again.
James Bovard is a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Playboy, Washington Post, and many other publications. He is the author of 10 books, including “Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty” (St. Martin’s Press, 1994). Follow him on Twitter @JimBovard.