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 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.”

Publisher's Note October 7, 2016, 4:53 pm

Despair

A luncheon with the Republican establishment

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2017

Blood and Soil

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Grim Fairy Tale

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Trump: A Resister’s Guide

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Little Things

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Patient War

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Remainers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Discussed in this essay: Age of Anger: A History of the Present, by Pankaj Mishra. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 416 pages. $27. I am writing from Germany, the world’s last major stronghold of liberal democracy. The United Kingdom fell to Brexit in June; the United States fell, with the election of Donald Trump, in November. We can dispute whatever “the West” was for as much time as humanity has left, but that it collapsed on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, seems to me beyond question. Perhaps Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is the heart still beating faintly within its brain-dead body, but …
Photograph (detail) by Philip Montgomery
Post
Illustration (detail) by Steve Brodner
Article
The Patient War·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Discussed in this essay: Age of Anger: A History of the Present, by Pankaj Mishra. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 416 pages. $27. I am writing from Germany, the world’s last major stronghold of liberal democracy. The United Kingdom fell to Brexit in June; the United States fell, with the election of Donald Trump, in November. We can dispute whatever “the West” was for as much time as humanity has left, but that it collapsed on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, seems to me beyond question. Perhaps Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is the heart still beating faintly within its brain-dead body, but …
Photograph (detail) © Andrew Quilty/Oculi/Redux
Article
Little Things·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Discussed in this essay: Age of Anger: A History of the Present, by Pankaj Mishra. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 416 pages. $27. I am writing from Germany, the world’s last major stronghold of liberal democracy. The United Kingdom fell to Brexit in June; the United States fell, with the election of Donald Trump, in November. We can dispute whatever “the West” was for as much time as humanity has left, but that it collapsed on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, seems to me beyond question. Perhaps Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is the heart still beating faintly within its brain-dead body, but …
Photograph (detail) of miniatures by Lori DeBacker by Thomas Allen
Article
Blood and Soil·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Discussed in this essay: Age of Anger: A History of the Present, by Pankaj Mishra. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 416 pages. $27. I am writing from Germany, the world’s last major stronghold of liberal democracy. The United Kingdom fell to Brexit in June; the United States fell, with the election of Donald Trump, in November. We can dispute whatever “the West” was for as much time as humanity has left, but that it collapsed on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, seems to me beyond question. Perhaps Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is the heart still beating faintly within its brain-dead body, but …
Illustration (detail) by Nate Kitch

Minutes after a tornado hit Shiloh, Illinois, in April that the town’s warning siren sounded:

30

A bowl of 4,000-year-old noodles was found in northwestern China; and a spokesman for the Chinese Academy of Sciences said that “this is the earliest empirical evidence of noodles ever found.”

Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, announced that he has ordered the country’s navy and coast guard to bomb the ships of kidnappers even if civilian hostages are on board.

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