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Snake Oil Salesman In Chief


“Pay no attention to what he says, rather watch what he does.”

This guidance about President Barack Obama has been attributed to Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer in a private speech he gave in June 2009 to the Center for the American Experiment. 

A detailed summary of the speech was distributed via chain e-mail and Internet by a member of the audience.  Mystery surrounds the summary.  Krauthammer, a trained psychiatrist with an M.D. from Harvard, issued a statement distancing himself from it and referring readers to his published columns on Obama.  But he stopped short of denying the sentence quoted above.

Whoever said it, it is the single most cogent piece of advice given to date for understanding Obama.  The man’s word simply cannot be trusted. 

In virtually every statement or speech he makes there are half-truths and outright distortions.  He’s also an expert at argument by straw man.  Although to my knowledge Obama has not yet been caught cheating on his scorecard in golf, if he and Bill Clinton play a match, they better bring along a couple marshals from the U.S.G.A.

The Internet has thousands of web sites exposing Obama’s deceptions, some providing video.  Many of them, however, operate by means of flimsy proof.  One that seeks to apply higher standards is run by the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. 

The Times, owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies and competing with the nearby Tampa Tribune, endorsed Obama twice, in the 2008 Democratic primary and the general election.  Nonetheless, the Times’ keeps an extensive “Obama Scorecard” on his campaign promises. 

Of the more than 500 promises the Times says he made, it currently records 17 as broken and 35 as compromised.  The fact that Obama made over 500 promises is the first clue that he always intended to deal from the bottom of the deck.  Moreover, the unmistakable pattern, now years in actual operation, is that the man will say anything at a given point in time and worry about the consequences later.

Here are two examples from the Times’ Scorecard:

Promise No. 234, five days of public comment before bill signing:  To reduce bills rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them, Obama “will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.”  (This commitment has been repeatedly violated, including with the landmark health care legislation, misleadingly titled the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”)

Promise No. 518, create a public option health plan for the new national health insurance exchange:  “The exchange will require that all the plans offered are at least as generous as the new public plan and meet the same standards for quality and efficiency.”  (The violation of this commitment has helped fire up even left-wingers against Obama.)

Apart from campaign promises, new deceptions put forward by Obama in his first 14 months in office are piling up.  Perhaps the most pernicious was the recent one on abortion funding. 

In order to get the votes necessary to pass national health care, Obama issued an executive order purporting to apply longstanding Hyde amendment restrictions to the legislation.  But an executive order cannot by definition override a law.  According to syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker and others, there is nothing to stop the community health centers created under Obama-care from providing abortions as part of the law’s definitions of standard obstetrical services.

The public is thus given a head fake with the words while the ball goes in a different direction.  And that’s the point.  Obama’s misrepresentations serve a strategic purpose to advance concrete policy objectives.

Snake oil salesmen come in infinite variety.  Usually we can ignore them.  But when one comes as president of the United States we have no choice but to pay attention because history is being made.  Obama is scheduled to be in Charlotte this Friday (April 2, 2010).  In his case we have had ample warning:  pay attention, not to his words, but to his deeds. 


Tom Ashcraft, a Charlotte native, is  a lawyer and former Reagan-appointed U.S. Attorney .  Write him at

Special to ©2010 Tom Ashcraft. Used by permission.

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