Nixon, Obama, and How We Lost Trust in the U.S. Government by Stuart Stevens Oct 31, 2013 4:45 AM EDT

After Nixon’s obfuscation on Vietnam, the press viewed those in power with a skepticism verging on cynicism. That changed with Obama—though his Obamacare untruths are worse.

  • The Vietnam War dominated the presidential campaign of 1968. The North Vietnamese Tet Offensive was launched on January 30, in the middle of the primary battle. A month later, shortly before the war forced President Johnson out of the race, a UPI reporter interviewed Nixon and wrote: “Former Vice President Richard M. Nixon vowed Tuesday that if elected president, he would ‘end the war’ in Vietnam. He did not spell out how.”

The Daily Beast/Elena Scotti

Despite Nixon explicitly saying a few weeks later that he had “no gimmicks or secret plans” for the war, soon there was talk of Nixon’s “secret plan” to end the war. As Walter Wells later wrote in the International Herald Tribune: “Even though Richard Nixon didn’t have one, the notion that he had a secret plan to end the Vietnam war helped him win the presidency in 1968.”

Fast forward to 2009. President Obama is trying to sell his health-care plan. He knows the majority of Americans who have health insurance are satisfied with their coverage and that the new plan could be seen as threatening. Unlike Social Security and Medicare, which were new programs, Obamacare would be supplementing and replacing current systems.

So to answer that concern, the president could not have been clearer. On June 5, 2009, he told the American Medical Association: “And if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it. No one will be able to take that away from you. It hasn’t happened yet. It won’t happen in the future.”

He went on to repeat his promise many times. “The president’s pledge that ‘if you like your insurance, you will keep it’ is one of the most memorable of his presidency,” wrote Glenn KesslerThe Washington Post’s fact checker, on Wednesday.

The problem was, the promise wasn’t true, and within a few days of the first pledge, the Associated Press challenged its credibility. In that story, officials sought to walk back the president’s remarks: “White House officials suggest the president’s rhetoric shouldn’t be taken literally: What Obama really means is that government isn’t about to barge in and force people to change insurance.”

OK, that’s reasonable. And had the president changed his rhetoric accordingly, all would be well. But he didn’t. Instead, despite his own White House admitting it wasn’t accurate, Obama kept repeating the same promise, and as late as this week, Valerie Jarrett, his closest adviser, was tweeting, “Nothing in #Obamacare forces people out of their health plans.”

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