In a list of 10 big government lies, published by Moyers & company last June, Barack Obama heads the list with his infamous 2009 statement about the proposed Affordable Care Act:
If you like the [health care] plan you have, you can keep it.
Of all the government lies I can think of, this one seems ill-suited for the most notable list, as it was actually true for 95% of people1, hardly in the same league with Nixon denying that the White House was involved in the Watergate break-in, or George W. Bush announcing that we had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
But quibbles aside, the government does lie sometimes, and birtherism holds the premise that the Obama administration lies about everything, along with the State of Hawaii when it comes to birth records.
I think that it is beyond the resources of most people to verify everything the government says to them. This leaves the individual to decide who to trust. I take the “innocent until proven guilty” stance towards government pronouncements and leave it to investigative journalists to set the record straight when necessary. While I think my approach is practical and usually works, it is not without chance of error. What is the alternative? For those who lack confidence in both the press and the government, they can choose to believe whatever matches their personal preference and is in line with their prejudices. Police violence would seem to be one topic where facts are taking second place to prejudice on both sides (this is a “reserve judgment” issue for me).
The book that prompted the Moyers & company story is 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity by Chuck Lewis. Lewis makes the point that facts become irrelevant in a democracy when most people don’t believe them. His example for this is weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I would cite Republicans and birtherism, or conservatives and climate change. We are in a sad state when facts become matters of opinion.
I’m reading the book.
1It was PolitiFact’s 2013 Lie of the Year.