The President spoke unethically, even lied, at his news conference

President Obama came out swinging at his news conference on Wednesday. Opinion is divided as to whether or not it was good tactics to attack the Republicans and to compare their sense of responsibility unfavorably to 13-year old Malia and 10-year old Sasha. In my opinion it violated a fundamental rule of political ethics, the dictum of Reinhold Niebuhr:

“The temper of and integrity with which the political fight is waged is more important for the health of our society than the outcome of any issue or campaign.”

But beyond the temper of the fight, there’s no question that the President crossed another, simpler, ethical line: tell the truth. gave him a “Pants on Fire” rating for claiming his regulatory review is unprecedented, when in fact it’s a faint copy of the 1993 review that was a major part of the effort to reinvent government. (Full disclosure: I personally guided the preparation of President Clinton’s executive order and led the effort to slash 16,000 pages from the Federal Register and change the way government interacted with business.)

I think PolitiFact was unfair to the President. He certainly spoke an untruth, but it was only “pants on fire” if he knew he was speaking untruthfully. My guess is he didn’t.

However, he really deserved—and still deserves—“pants on fire” for the way he’s constantly mis-characterizing his tax proposal. For example in his prepared remarks at the press conference he stated:

“The tax cuts I’m proposing we get rid of are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires; tax breaks for oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners.”

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker estimated that the revenue increase from oil companies, hedge funds, and corporate jets would amount to about $60 billion, while eliminating tax breaks would raise $300 billion (all figures are ten-year totals).

But—and here’s where the pants on fire comes in—the tax breaks that would be eliminated don’t just apply to “millionaires and billionaires”—they apply to all couples making more than $250,000, and to individuals making more than $200,00o.

Why is Obama distorting his plan so? Maybe he thinks it makes a good sound bite—it does—but it’s a lie. Pants on fire!


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2 Responses to “The President spoke unethically, even lied, at his news conference”

  1. Ed Stern Says:

    Bob, you quoted the President as saying, “The tax cuts I’m proposing we get rid of are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires…” And you complain that the tax breaks that would be eliminated don’t just apply to “millionaires and billionaires”—they apply to all couples making more than $250,000… A million dollars was worth a lot more 20 or 30 years ago, but a person with a net worth of $1M is still a millionaire. And it doesn’t take too long to build a net worth of $1M when a couple is earning $250,000 per year. Many, if not most, would be “millionaires” in 10 to 15 years. So, the President is not lying, unless you define a millionaire to be one who earns a million dollars a year–which is not what he said.

  2. Ethics Bob Says:

    Ed, your comment reminds me of the famous Clinton statement, “It depends what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”

    Look, Obama was trying to deceive. He was saying that the increased revenue would come from the super rich, when 80% of the revenues would come from people earning well under a million a year. If I were on trial for perjury I’d want you to defend me, but, c’mon, our President (who I admire deeply) was–and is–out to deceive.

    Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive!

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