"Mendacity is a system that we live in."
- Brick, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"
In the weird world that is Washington, men and women say things daily, hourly, even minutely, that they know deep down are simply not true. Inside the Beltway, we all call those utterances "rhetoric."
But across the rest of the country, plain ol' folk call 'em lies. Bald-faced (even bold-faced) lies. Those folks have a tried-and-true way of determining a lie: If you know what you're saying is patently false, then it's a lie. Simple.
And lately, the president has been lying so much that his pants could burst into flames at any moment.
His late-evening news conference Friday was a tour de force of flat-out, unadulterated mendacity — and we've gotten a first-hand insider's view of the president's long list of lies.
"I wanted to give you an update on the current situation around the debt ceiling," Mr. Obama said at 6:06 p.m. OK, that wasn't a lie — but just about everything he said after it was, and he knows it.
"I just got a call about a half-hour ago from Speaker [John A.] Boehner, who indicated that he was going to be walking away from the negotiations," he said.
Not so: "The White House made offers during the negotiations," said our insider, a person intimately involved in the negotiations, "and then backtracked on those offers after they got heat from Democrats on Capitol Hill. The White House, and its steadfast refusal to follow through on its rhetoric in terms of cutting spending and addressing entitlements, is the real reason that debt talks broke down."
Mr. Boehner was more blunt in his own news conference: "The discussions we've had with the White House have broken down for two reasons. First, they insisted on raising taxes. ... Secondly, they refused to get serious about cutting spending and making the tough choices that are facing our country on entitlement reform."
But back to the lying liar and the lies he told Friday. "You had a bipartisan group of senators, including Republicans who are in leadership in the Senate, calling for what effectively was about $2 trillion above the Republican baseline that they've been working off of. What we said was give us $1.2 trillion in additional revenues," Mr. Obama said.
That, too, was a lie. "The White House had already agreed to a lower revenue number — to be generated through economic growth and a more efficient tax code — and then it tried to change the terms of the deal after taking heat from Democrats on Capitol Hill," our insider said.
The negotiations just before breakdown called for $800 billion in new "revenues" (henceforth, we'll call those "taxes"), but after the supposedly bipartisan plan came out — and bowing to the powerful liberal bloc on Capitol Hill — Mr. Obama demanded another $400 billion in new taxes: a 50 percent increase.
Mr. Boehner was blunt: "The White House moved the goalpost. There was an agreement, some additional revenues, until yesterday, when the president demanded $400 billion more, which was going to be nothing more than a tax increase on the American people."
But Mr. Obama, with a straight face, continued. "We then offered an additional $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security."
The truth: "Actually, the White House was walking back its commitments on entitlement reforms, too. They kept saying they wanted to 'go big.' But their actions never matched their rhetoric," the insider said.
Now, Mr. Boehner and the real leaders in Congress have taken back the process. He'll write the bill and pass it along to the president, with this directive, which he reportedly said to Mr. Obama's face in a short White House meeting Saturday: "Congress writes the laws and you get to decide what you want to sign."
Watching the one-third-of-a-term-senator-turned-president negotiate brings to mind a child spinning yarns about just how the living room lamp got broken. Now, though, the grown-ups are in charge; the kids have been put to bed. Ten days ago, the president warned the speaker: "Don't call my bluff."
Well, Mr. Boehner has. He's holding all the cards — and he's not bluffing.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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