No one really believes a politician when he makes vague promises like “I’m going to clean up government.” But when you get specific with the voters, when the promises are clear-cut and unmistakable, well, then you’re likely to pay a price if it turns out you didn’t really mean it.
Just ask George Bush the Elder. More than anything else, six little words uttered at the Republican National Convention in 1988 brought him down: “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Voters believed him and elected him president that year. But just two years into his presidency, he broke his promise. And two years after that, in 1992, the voters said, Sorry, but words and promises matter. They tossed President Bush over the side and put Bill Clinton in the White House.
Fast forward. When President Obama was running for president he made all sorts of promises as candidates always do. But the one that sticks out was his George H. W. Bush tax moment, when he promised he would not raise taxes on anyone making less than $200,000 a year or any family making less than $250,000 a year. No, Obama never said, “Read my lips …” but he came pretty close when he promised that “you will not see any of your taxes increase one single dime.”
That’s pretty clear. And so is this, from a speech Obama made in Dover, New Hamphsire on September 12, 2008: “I can make a firm pledge: Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”
Except he didn’t really mean absolutely, positively no new taxes, because just a year after he took office his “firm pledge” went up in smoke: He raised federal taxes on a pack of cigarettes from 39 cents to $1.01 per pack – an increase of about 160 percent. And since lots of smokers make less than $200,000 a year, the president broke his tax promise. But just about nobody cared, since just about nobody likes cigarette smokers anyway.
Fast forward again, this time to the health care debate. President Obama and Democrats in Congress said every American would have to buy medical insurance — or pay a penalty. But the penalty, they insisted, was not a tax.
In fact, President Obama told George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program “This Week” week that, “For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. … I absolutely reject that notion.” Again, he didn’t literally say, “Read my lips,” but, come on, he said it!
But guess what? Now the Obama Administration has gone to court defending the requirement to purchase medical insurance by saying – ready for this? — the government has “power to lay and collect taxes.” Translation: Forget what we said before about how this wasn’t a tax. Now we say it is. Get over it.
More than 20 states are challenging the legality of that part of the law that requires Americans to buy health insurance. And because the Obama people fear they may not win the case strictly by arguing that the federal government can regulate interstate commerce, they went to what they see as a stronger constitutional argument: the government has the right to collect taxes.
So first it’s not a tax and now it is a tax. You get the point. This president will say whatever he has to win. His word means nothing. He told us he was a new politician, which, in Obama Speak, meant, he’s an old politician. He told us he was going to change the way business is conducted in Washington, which was just one more lie.
Words matter. Promises matter. So, Mr. President, read my lips: You and your party will pay for your deceit.