The Lying King
At a dinner not long ago someone described the wonders of a new product which uploaded your vital signs to the Cloud, a process that was so much more accurate than having to take it yourself and write it down on a piece of paper. It's a great idea and there are an increasing number of such services which plan to offer that feature such as this, which proclaims "doctors can now establish online CarePods™ to assemble extended care teams, share medical records, collect and analyze real-time clinical information, and coordinate treatment plans with patients, their families and health providers."
One thing that may give a customer pause, however, are headlines like this: "IRS Official in Charge During Tea Party Targeting Now Runs Health Care Office."
The Internal Revenue Service official in charge of the tax-exempt organizations at the time when the unit targeted tea party groups now runs the IRS office responsible for the health care legislation.
Sarah Hall Ingram served as commissioner of the office responsible for tax-exempt organizations between 2009 and 2012. But Ingram has since left that part of the IRS and is now the director of the IRS’ Affordable Care Act office, the IRS confirmed to ABC News today.
The American economy increasingly runs on information. That also means that it increasingly runs on trust. Peggy Noonan, writing about the IRS scandal, says: "As always it comes down to trust." She is right, but doesn't go far enough. The level of trust that Noonan talks about is simply whether the president can be trusted in the ordinary political sense:
Do you trust the president's answers when he's pressed on an uncomfortable story? ... The president, as usual, acts as if all of this is totally unconnected to him. He's shocked, it's unacceptable, he'll get to the bottom of it. He read about it in the papers, just like you. But he is not unconnected, he is not a bystander. This is his administration. Those are his executive agencies. He runs the IRS and the Justice.
The assertion that Obama knew nothing of his underlings' actions seems almost an obvious lie. But do lies still matter? Kimberley Strassel, writing in the Wall Street Journal, asks the same question as Noonan but with a different slant. The way Strassel puts it: "What did the president say?" Can we determine the content of the administration's policy from what the president says, or do we have to decrypt it by breaking into a "second channel" where the real signal is sent?
Was the White House involved in the IRS's targeting of conservatives? No investigation needed to answer that one. Of course it was.
President Obama and Co. are in full deniability mode, noting that the IRS is an "independent" agency and that they knew nothing about its abuse. The media and Congress are sleuthing for some hint that Mr. Obama picked up the phone and sicced the tax dogs on his enemies.
But that's not how things work in post-Watergate Washington. Mr. Obama didn't need to pick up the phone. All he needed to do was exactly what he did do, in full view, for three years: Publicly suggest that conservative political groups were engaged in nefarious deeds; publicly call out by name political opponents whom he'd like to see harassed; and publicly have his party pressure the IRS to take action.
Mr. Obama now professes shock and outrage that bureaucrats at the IRS did exactly what the president of the United States said was the right and honorable thing to do. "He put a target on our backs, and he's now going to blame the people who are shooting at us?" asks Idaho businessman and longtime Republican donor Frank VanderSloot.
Listen to the "dog whistle," Strassel seems to say, don't listen to the fancy, eloquent speeches. That's just for show. The real goodies are inside the wrapper.
Lee Smith raises the exact same question not in regards to the IRS, but in respect to the president's nuclear containment policy. If you were a foreign president, what should you believe when the president talks? Smith raises the possibility that the Iran policy was doubletalk all along. Smith cites the case of a think tank which, after years of tirelessly assuring the public that Obama would never let Iran get the bomb, now argues that we should start thinking about what to do when it does:
On Monday, the Center for New American Security published an 84-page report, called “If All Else Fails: The Challenges of Containing a Nuclear-Armed Iran.” The subject matter is particularly noteworthy given the report’s provenance. CNAS is a think tank close to the Obama administration that, among other things, advised the White House early in its first term on Afghanistan policy. Several of its scholars joined the administration, including CNAS founder Michelle Flournoy who served as undersecretary of defense for policy from 2009-2012; and Colin Kahl, formerly the Obama administration’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, who is lead author of this latest CNAS report.
Kahl’s CNAS report asserts that prevention is still the policy. Obama, the paper argues, has “made clear that, on matters of war and peace, ‘I don’t bluff.’ There are good reasons to believe Obama means what he says.”
Sure, Obama believes it, but what if he can’t make his belief a reality? What happens, asks the CNAS paper, if the administration has to move to containment? “This is not because the United States wants to find itself in a situation in which containment becomes necessary,” the report says. “But rather because prevention – up to and including the use of force – could fail, leaving Washington with little choice but to manage and mitigate the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran.”
The Obama administration may be the first since World War Two to attempt a new and innovative policy best described as "trust me to lie to you." If you were astute, then you wouldn't believe us. If you were sophisticated you would make the default assumption that the Iran policy was for public consumption, since only rubes and simpletons could have possibly believed that the Obama administration was telling the truth.
Smith wonders how this will work with allies:
If the White House’s containment policy is a consequence of the failures of the American intelligence community and the U.S. armed forces, why would regional partners, as the report recommends, make "commitments not to pursue independent nuclear capabilities" in exchange for protection under a "U.S. nuclear umbrella"? What kind of "U.S. nuclear guarantee" would convince Israel that the administration really intended to keep its word this time around? In short, why would allies entrust their national security to a president whose policy represents an accommodation with failure?
There is no good reason one can think of. The president may not realize the cost of reducing the trust content of his actions. Perhaps they teach that lying has no cost in Chicago, but in reality trust's absence exacts a very definite price.
The first thing to remember is that trust exists for very good reason, even among gangsters. In ordinary commerce its value is obvious. Many products rely on trust: the security of our communications and data storage; the integrity of accounting; the impartiality of the public institutions. Whether we are using Office 360, email, or Google Drive, a medical storage device that stores our sugar levels and blood pressure numbers or files an income tax return, the presumption is that the information we generate is reasonably private. Once that expectation is destroyed, once we are certain that a political hack whose principal qualification is snooping has been appointed to head Obamacare, then an economic cost is inevitably incurred.
Lying isn't free.
One of the reasons that the United States has remained the last refuge for money fleeing instability abroad is that those investors trust its institutions. They believed -- reasonably until now -- that in America the rule of law reigned supreme. They thought -- until the administration cast the question into serious doubt -- that America was not the banana republic that the possessors of those fortunes sought to flee. That's why the money comes to America and not, let us say, to the Congo.
Similarly, as Lee Smith points out, the word of an American president was trusted enough in the past to make the actual use of arms unnecessary. All that was necessary was for the United States to send a signal and that message would have the effect of armies.
But what happens when an administration makes dishonesty and untrustworthiness a feature? What occurs when the president conditions us to subliminally think -- perhaps in spite of ourselves -- that in God we Trust but of Obama we can expect nothing but lies? What then?
Well, we're about to find out.
Or perhaps, more accurately, the administration is about to find out. To a large extent the multiple crises engulfing the Obama administration are economic and informational -- it's a rebellion against the cost of lying. The sheer mendacity of key institutions has jacked up the risk premium on everything, and people instinctively know this.
A friend asked whether "the IRS scandal makes it necessary to consider the call not to pay taxes, or not to file returns, or participate in the all-cash economy. People are thinking these things." Of course they would be thinking of those things. It would be unnatural if they didn't.
If you destroy trust in the institutions, then people do business outside the institutions.
The president has made it hard to do business -- even for the Left. Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in the administration's decision to spy on the Associated Press. That essentially cheapened the meaning of "political friend." For if the administration could do that to its water-carriers, then what was the point of being his friend? Liberals, like anyone else, feel the pain of being stabbed in the back. It has the same effect as Obama's assurance to allies than Iran will never get the bomb. Right, sure. Of course.
The emotional impact of Benghazi was probably this: if he could do this to Stevens and to SEALs, then he could do it to anybody.
A lying president debases his own words and undermines his own ability to hold a coalition together. Nobody completely trusts reassurances from a double-crosser. Only a fool would accept a kiss from Judas. The day comes when not even the liberals can fail to notice.
A nation as large as the United States works only if trust in its institutions is maintained. Destroy that and it's pay as you go and as-is-where-is. Once everything comes down to the caprice of one man, to basing contracts on the secret will of cabals, then it's all over. It's bad for business -- whatever business you happen to be in.