Politics of fraud catches up with Obama

Bob Herbert:

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Mr. Obama may be personally very appealing, but he has positioned himself all over the political map: the anti-Iraq war candidate who escalated the war in Afghanistan; the opponent of health insurance mandates who made a mandate to buy insurance the centerpiece of his plan; the president who stocked his administration with Wall Street insiders and went to the mat for the banks and big corporations, but who is now trying to present himself as a born-again populist.

Mr. Obama is in danger of being perceived as someone whose rhetoric, however skillful, cannot always be trusted. He is creating a credibility gap for himself, and if it widens much more he won’t be able to close it.

Mr. Obama’s campaign mantra was “change” and most of his supporters took that to mean that he would change the way business was done in Washington and that he would reverse the disastrous economic policies that favored mega-corporations and the very wealthy at the expense of the middle class and the poor.

“Tonight, more Americans are out of work, and more are working harder for less,” said Mr. Obama in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. “More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can’t afford to drive, credit card bills you can’t afford to pay, and tuition that’s beyond your reach.”

Voters watching the straight-arrow candidate delivering that speech, in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, would not logically have thought that an obsessive focus on health insurance would trump job creation as the top domestic priority of an Obama administration.

But that’s what happened. Moreover, questions were raised about Mr. Obama’s candor when he spoke about health care. In his acceptance speech, for example, candidate Obama took a verbal shot at John McCain, sharply criticizing him for offering “a health care plan that would actually tax people’s benefits.”

Now Mr. Obama favors a plan that would tax at least some people’s benefits. Mr. Obama also repeatedly said that policyholders who were pleased with their plans and happy with their doctors would be able to keep both under his reform proposals.

Well, that wasn’t necessarily so, as the president eventually acknowledged. There would undoubtedly be changes in some people’s coverage as a result of “reform,” and some of those changes would be substantial. At a forum sponsored by ABC News last summer, Mr. Obama backed off of his frequent promise that no changes would occur, saying only that “if you are happy with your plan, and if you are happy with your doctor, we don’t want you to have to change.”

These less-than-candid instances are emblematic of much bigger problems. Mr. Obama promised during the campaign that he would be a different kind of president, one who would preside over a more open, more high-minded administration that would be far more in touch with the economic needs of ordinary working Americans. But no sooner was he elected than he put together an economic team that would protect, above all, the interests of Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the health insurance companies, and so on.

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Then there was the promise to put negotiations of the health care plan on C-SPAN. Saying things to get elected is apparently easier than living up to those commitments.

Now the President is pivoting from health care to a nonsensical bank tax. He claims "We want our money back," but the banks who will be paying the tax already have paid it back with interest while the biggest problem children, Fannie, Freddie and Government Motors have not and probably will not be able to repay.

The President's "freeze" on certain spending follows a budget where earmarks went through the roof. Is he going to pledge to veto all bills with earmarks?

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