Lies, Damned Lies, and Goddamned Lies
Campaigning in Iowa, October 24, 2012, President Barack Obama said, in front of God and everybody, that he's no flip-flopper: "There's no more serious issue on a presidential campaign than trust. Trust matters. ... You know that I say what I mean and I mean what I say. ... And you can take a videotape of things I said ten years ago, twelve years ago, and you can say, 'Man, that's the same guy.'"
How about four years ago...or five years ago?
The tendentiously recreant hacks in the fourth estate aren't going to risk their standing with the port-listing elites to accept Obama's videotape challenge. But that is why we are all journalists now. (Calling him "President Flip Flop" in April, The Right Sphere provided what amounts to a dozen pages of topically sorted, fact-checked examples of Obama flip-flops.)
From among the many Obama tergiversations and reversals that could be provided on subjects great and small, one "evolution" in particular begs scrutiny. This example is sort of a twofer, because embedded in the videos that reveal this unusually venal flip-flop is an especially vile prevarication -- a lie which illustrates that the campaign for president by the first-term senator from Illinois was far more about the audacity of Obama than the audacity of hope.
Lies like snow...
A flip-flop does not have to be a lie. And lies come in as many variations as does snow to Eskimos: from the fibs meant to save someone pain (no, dear, you don't look fat) to the dodge meant to avoid pain (the dog ate my homework) to self-aggrandizing whoppers (I invented the internet) to fables meant to advance social-cultural musings (a "composite" girlfriend in Dreams from My Father) to the worst sort of calumnious ravings against an individual or group (or party) that inspire or fertilize racial and class animosity. That last, worst category describes Obama's June 6, 2007 remarks regarding the aftermath of hurricane Katrina videotaped before a mostly black audience at Hampton University in Virginia:
Down in New Orleans, where they still have not rebuilt twenty months later there's a law, federal law -- when you get reconstruction money from the federal government -- called the Stafford Act. And basically it says, when you get federal money, you gotta give a ten percent match. [Actually, it guarantees that the Fed will shoulder no less than 75 percent of a state's qualifying disaster tab.] The local government's gotta come up with ten percent. Every ten dollars the federal government comes up with, local government's gotta give a dollar.
Now here's the thing, when 9-11 happened in New York City, they waived the Stafford Act -- said, "This is too serious a problem. We can't expect New York City to rebuild on its own. Forget that dollar you gotta put in. Well, here's ten dollars." And that was the right thing to do. When Hurricane Andrew struck in Florida, people said, "Look at this devastation. We don't expect you to come up with y'own money, here. Here's the money to rebuild. We're not gonna wait for you to scratch it together -- because you're part of the American family."
Obama insisted that New Orleans was treated differently. "What's happening down in New Orleans? Where's your dollar? Where's your Stafford Act money?" Obama continued in faux fury. "Makes no sense! ... Tells me that somehow, the people down in New Orleans, they don't care about as much!"
But now, to mime Obama, "here's the thing": six months before his divisive Hampton demagoguery, the federal government already had spent at least $110 billion on areas devastated by Katrina (New York received $20 billion after 9/11).
As Obama might have put it in his Hampton University voice, "Stay wid me now; stay wid me": two months earlier (March 29, 2007), the Senate had passed H.R. 1591, which appropriated $4.6 million in supplemental relief for the Katrina disaster and waived the Stafford Act matching fund requirement -- a bill for which Obama voted "Yea."
But it gets worse:
Just two weeks before Obama's race resentment-raising speech, the United States Senate had voted 80-14 to send an additional $6.9 billion to New Orleans and waive the very Stafford Act requirement that Obama was claiming two weeks later as evidence of racial discrimination against "the people down in New Orleans they don't care about as much."
As a United States senator, Obama had to know this when he lashed out at the Bush administration, because he was one of 14 senators who voted against the legislation that waived the Stafford Act for New Orleans (see page S6823 of the Congressional Record for May 24, 2007).
Obama did want to waive the Stafford act, but its waiver was in a bill that funded the war in Iraq without specifying a departure date. When Obama said, "Where's your [New Orleans] dollar? Where's your Stafford Act money?," he knew the Stafford Act had been waived for Katrina victims in two different 2007 legislation items, in one case despite his "Nay" vote.
Flip-flop with a stench
There is no need to reach back any farther than 2007 and 2008 for videotapes that demonstrate an Obama flip-flop that is simultaneously a cock-crowing example of perfidious prevarication. And given the subject matter of the flip, the lie, and the betrayal, a crowing rooster is the apt metaphor.
But to anchor the flip even farther before the flop, a 1995 statement by Obama discussing his first book, Dreams from My Father, is reinforcing. "My pastor and a wonderful man [Jeremiah Wright] ... represents the best that the black church has to offer."
Twelve years later (2007), Obama is a United States senator, still a fan of the Wright reverend, and sports a stereotypical black preacher delivery at that previously quoted June 6 Hampton University event:
Special shout out to my pastor, the guy who puts up with me counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me. He's a friend and a great leader, not just in Chicago, but all across the country. ... It was also there -- at Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago -- that I met Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who took me on another journey and introduced me to a man named Jesus Christ. It was the best education I ever had.
Obama knew Wright intimately, as a political backer from around 1987 and as a spiritual adviser and friend. A ccording to Wright, Obama was "used to coming to my home"; he'd been there "countless times." But now that he was running for president, he did not want the rest of the country to know his pastor's theology or politics.
Obama was indebted to Wright on many levels. The title of Obama's 2006 memoir, The Audacity of Hope, was inspired by one of Wright's sermons, as were important themes in Obama's 2004 keynote address to the Democratic National Convention -- an address that earned him the political cachet with the Democrat party that made possible his presidential bid.
In spite of all that, on February 9, 2007, just to be safe, Obama rescinded the invitation to have Wright give the invocation at the announcement of the first-term senator's run for the presidency. According to Wright, Obama explained, "You can get kind of rough in the sermons, so what we've decided is that it's best for you not to be out there in public." Oprah Winfrey had found Wright's sermons too radical and left his congregation in the mid-1990s.
Nevertheless, at the end of 2007, Wright was included with scores of other black pastors as a member of the Obama campaign's African American Religious Leadership Committee.
Four months later, when video recordings of some of Wright's incendiary sermon content became public, Obama felt the need to clarify their relationship, which included removing the minister from the Religious Leadership Committee, his only connection to the campaign. Obama told then MSNBC host Keith Olbermann on March 14, 2008, "I would not repudiate the man. This is somebody I have known for seventeen years, [somebody who] helped bring me to Jesus and helped bring me to church[.] ... He's like an uncle who has talked to me -- not about political things and not about social views as much as about faith and God and family."
And on March 18, Obama told the press, "I can no more disown him [Rev. Wright] than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother."
But six weeks later (April 29, 2008), Obama utterly repudiated Wright as he took questions from the press (right at 20:05): "He was never my, quote unquote, spiritual adviser; he was never my spiritual mentor. He was my pastor. To some extent, how the press characterized in the past that relationship, I think, wasn't accurate. But he was somebody who was my pastor, and married Michelle and I [sic], and baptized my children, and prayed with us at -- when we announced this race."
No matter what we think of Wright, this was a faithless dealing with a friend. However badly Obama needed to distance himself from Wright's views or expression of them, it was deeply dishonest, the way he flip-flopped on what he knew to be true of their past relationship.
The bottom line, of course, is that Obama was extorted by his own irresistible desire to win. He would fabricate his past, dissemble at will, slime any opponent, deny any friend in order to assure himself the White House.
Some lies are worse than others, and Reverend Wright might appreciate the hierarchical taxonomy for lies, damned lies, and (as he might put it) goddamned lies.
Some flip-flops are worse than others.
"I have spent my entire adult life trying to bridge the gap between different kinds of people. That's in my DNA, trying to promote mutual understanding to insist that we all share common hopes and common dreams as Americans and as human beings. That's who I am, that's what I believe, and that's what this campaign has been about," Obama said on April 29, 2008, as he denounced the "spectacle" of Wright's April 2009 speaking tour. "I now see why all of you think he's nutty."
But that claim reminds us of Obama's most discouraging flip-flop: his reverse tide over the past four years -- when all Americans needed him to be who he claimed to be -- from uniter to divider.
Reverend Wright does well to be angry. But so do we all.