“Read my lips: no new taxes,” George H. W. Bush told Republicans at the 1988 GOP convention. That broken pledge cost Bush a second term.
Bill Clinton vowed, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Thanks to a blue dress we later discovered something different about the nation’s 42nd president and a 22-year-old intern.
“Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised,” George W. Bush told Americans in justifying an invasion of Iraq. Those weapons of mass destruction were never found.
And in selling his health-care reform law, Barack Obama repeatedly said, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”
We don’t yet know if Obama’s sloppy and deceptive sales pitch will join the ranks of other infamous misstatements by our most recent presidents. The odds seem likely that this comment has earned a spot in the hall of shame.
This week, the president amended his promise to the more cumbersome, “Now, if you had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really liked that plan, what we said was you can keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law passed.”
Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?
The president employed the simpler and less-nuanced version because Team Obama understood that complexity is a turnoff in our fast-paced, 30-second sound bite political world.
So, what are the lessons for Americans? The first is that the words of all politicians should be scrutinized carefully. Doesn’t matter if it’s your favorite politician or the one you can’t stand, they must be held to account.
At the same time, we can’t let cynicism get the best of us, writing off the entire political system as the domain of the deceptive.
We get the sort of politics we’ll put up with. If Americans don’t like dumbed-down campaigns with more flash than substance, then it’s within their power to demand changes.