Publisher's Note — June 17, 2009, 9:17 am

Obama a Very Smooth Liar

A version of this column originally ran in the Providence Journal on June 17, 2009.

It isn’t quite fair to call Barack Obama a liar. During the campaign he carefully avoided committing to much of anything important that he might have to take back later. For now, I won’t quibble with the St. Petersburg Times’s Obamameter, which so far has the president keeping 30 promises and breaking only six.

And yet, broadly speaking, Obama has been lying on a pretty impressive scale. You just have to get past his grandiloquent rhetoric— usually empty of substance— to get a handle on it. I offer a short, incomplete list, which I’m sure others could easily enlarge.

  • Obama portrayed himself as the peace candidate, or at least the anti-war candidate. He is not a peace president, nor is he stopping any wars. True, he promised military escalation in Afghanistan (to blunt John McCain’s accusations of wimpishness), but well-meaning folks believed their new hero would genuinely move to end the occupation of Iraq and seriously try to negotiate with the Taliban. Instead, he has not only increased the number of troops and attacks against the Afghan insurgency, he has also expanded on George Bush’s cross-border raids into Pakistan, which have killed many civilians. The way things are going, Pakistan could become the new Cambodia and Obama the new Nixon.

    In Iraq, Obama has promised to withdraw all the troops . . . unless, which means that we’re not leaving. Whether it’s 50,000 troops remaining at the “invitation” of the so-called government of Iraq, or just enough to man the 14 permanent military bases, or some combination of U.S. military personnel and private mercenaries that exceeds 50,000 soldiers, our army will almost certainly stay in Iraq past the stated deadline of Jan. 1, 2012.

  • Obama said he wanted to reform Washington and “fix” its “broken” system of corrupt lobbying. But Obama is neither a reformer nor a skilled legislative mechanic. Hatched from the Daley Machine in one-party Chicago, Obama wouldn’t be president today if he rocked boats. Witness the appointment of Roland Burris by the corrupt former Governor Rod Blagojevich to fill Obama’s Senate seat: not a word of public protest from the new administration because Burris is a made man in the Chicago Democratic organization. So what if “Tombstone Roland” can be heard on the U.S. attorney’s wiretaps of Blagojevich, dancing around the delicate question of how to raise money for Blago without appearing to be buying his seat.

    As for pork-barrel politics, Obama named one of its greatest champions, Chicago’s own Rahm Emanuel, as his chief of staff, and the new budget (as well as the “stimulus” package) is loaded with pork. Meanwhile, have you heard anything serious about campaign-finance reform from Obama? Not very likely from someone who refused public financing and still has about $10 million left over from record receipts of $745.7 million. It’s just a detail, I know, but Obama’s naming of former Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn III as deputy secretary of defense seems to be at odds with the president’s alleged crusade against special interests and the “revolving door” between private business and government. He has also “sold” ambassadorships to campaign donors. The biggest plum, London, is slated for Lou Susman, a Chicagoan and former Citigroup executive who bundled $239,000. Paris has been reserved for Charles Rivkin, who raised about $500,000 for Obama.

  • Obama, with his Arabic middle name and his big Cairo speech, wants people to think that he is the Muslim world’s new best friend. Well, the photograph of a cheery Obama with Saudi King Abdullah and a smiling Emanuel with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, proves the contrary. The Saudi royal family hates the idea of representative government for ordinary Muslims and is cruelly indifferent to the fate of the Palestinians. A democratic, independent, partly secular Palestine could only make the Saudi oligarchy look bad. Thus, the House of Saud is perfectly happy with the status quo, and so, evidently, is Obama.

    Without Saudi pressure, there will be no resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since Saudi oil is the only lever that would cause America to press Israel into making real concessions. Indeed, the president doesn’t mean for one minute to force Israel into anything more than symbolic withdrawals of its illegal settlements on the West Bank. Meanwhile, the Saudi elite continues to play its double game, paying protection money to extremist Islam and granting pensions to the relatives of suicide bombers. It’s just politics, say Barack and Rahm, grinning ear-to-ear with their sleazy new friends from Riyahd. Just keep the oil pumping around election time and all will be well.

  • Obama makes like he’s a friend of organized labor, at least he did during the Ohio primary when he needed to beat Hillary Clinton. At the time, he put out a flier headlined “Only Barack Obama fought NAFTA and other bad trade deals” and charged that “a little more than a year ago, Hillary Clinton thought NAFTA was a ‘boon’ to the economy.” In a debate with Clinton on Feb. 26, 2008, he said, “I will make sure that we renegotiate [NAFTA] in the same way that Senator Clinton talked about” and “use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage” to get “labor and environmental standards that are enforced.”

    But two months ago, U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk said such a blunt instrument was no longer necessary and that the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico were now “of the mind that we should be looking for opportunities to strengthen [the North American Free Trade Agreement].” And, of course, there is no discussion at all about renegotiating Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, a “bad trade deal” that has done even greater harm to American workers and unions than has NAFTA.

Meanwhile, as I noted in my April 15 column, “Wall Street sharks circle the UAW,” Obama and his banker friend Steven Rattner are liquidating the United Auto Workers even as they liquidate the American auto industry. Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s pseudo-secretary of labor, said as much. “The only practical purpose I can imagine for the bailout is to slow the decline of GM to create enough time for its workers, suppliers, dealers and communities to adjust to its eventual demise,” he wrote last month in the Financial Times— no surprise, considering that Obama’s chief economic adviser remains Lawrence Summers, a champion of deregulation and “free-market” economics in the Clinton administration and very much the enemy of labor unions.

Yes, of course it’s nice to have a president who speaks in complete sentences. But that they’re coherent doesn’t make them honest.

Share
Single Page

More from John R. MacArthur:

Publisher's Note February 8, 2017, 1:19 pm

Trump the Maleficent

The vocational training of American real estate tycoons is strict and pitiless.

Publisher's Note December 9, 2016, 1:53 pm

Trump and Consequences

“In a certain way, the Democrats lost to Trump not through stupidity but through cupidity.”

Publisher's Note November 17, 2016, 10:58 am

Mitterand’s Centenary

“Mitterand remains an emblematic figure for President François Hollande, who is trying to attach himself to his predecessor as he tanks in the polls.”

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2017

City of Gilt

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tyranny of the Minority

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Texas is the Future

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Family Values

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Itchy Nose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Black Like Who?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Texas is the Future·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Illustration (detail) by John Ritter
Post
The Forty-Fifth President·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Photograph (detail) by Philip Montgomery
Article
Itchy Nose·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Artwork (detail) © The Kazuto Tatsuta/Kodansha Ltd
Article
A Matter of Life·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Photograph (detail) by Edwin Tse
Article
Black Like Who?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Photograph © Jon Lowenstein/NOOR

Ratio of the average cost of a gallon of gas in Britain last September to that of a gallon of Starbucks coffee:

1:4

The faculty of embarrassment was located in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex by neurologists who made brain-damaged subjects sing along to “My Girl” and then listen to their own singing played back without musical accompaniment.

Greece evacuated 72,000 people from the town of Thessaloniki while an undetonated World War II–era bomb was excavated from beneath a gas station.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today