Americans are getting used to the idea that they shouldn't trust anything politicians say. But if it's possible to raise (or lower) the bar for dishonesty, recent claims about President Obama's healthcare reform law are doing it.
People on both sides of this issue are obviously passionate about it, and those passions have been fanned to full combustion by the Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Facts, however, are going up in smoke. Here are some of the whoppers that the fact-checking site Politifact have deemed to be completely false:
"Obamacare puts the federal government between you and your doctor." – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (This is a reprise of Politifact's 2010 "Lie of the Year.")
"Up to 20 million Americans … will lose the insurance they currently have, the insurance that they like and they want to keep." - Mitt Romney
"Obamacare is . . . the largest tax increase in the history of the world." – Radio host Rush Limbaugh
"75 percent of the Obamacare tax falls on the middle class." – Tea Party Patriots, in a widely circulated Facebook post
Obamacare is "a government takeover of healthcare." – Virginia Gov. George Allen, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and many others
"Everybody will have lower rates, better quality care and better access." – Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Politifact has thoroughly explained why each of these claims is bogus, and devoted 37 pages on its Web site (so far) to confirming or debunking dozens of other claims about the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, it's also worth exploring why there are so many distortions about this sweeping legislation in the first place.
First, the Affordable Care Act is enormously complicated, which means hardly any Americans understand what it will actually do or how it will work. This was arguably a big mistake by Obama and Congressional Democrats who crafted the law. People don't trust what they don't understand, and the vast system of levers and pulleys required to make Obamacare work requires a suspension of disbelief, even among supporters.
Second, most of the law hasn't gone into effect yet, so people have no tangible sense of how it will affect them. My bet is that once the law begins to take effect in 2014, public discomfort with it will go way down, because not much will change for people who already have insurance, and many of the scariest predictions about Obamacare won't materialize. That may explain why opponents of the law are in such a frenzy now: They can make outrageous claims about Obamacare because it's still in the future, and ordinary people don't intuitively recognize the falsehoods.
Third, people believe what they want to believe. Psychologists call it "confirmation bias," which is a tendency to selectively seek information that confirms your own point of view, while disregarding information that conflicts with your preconceived ideas. So if you're opposed to big government in general, you're likely to find government-sponsored healthcare reform intrusive and offensive, even if it might potentially help you. And if you believe in big government, you're likely to expect more from Obamacare than it's likely to deliver (as Nancy Pelosi seems to).
The truth about Obamacare is that nobody is really sure what will happen when it goes into effect. The 2,700-page law tries to anticipate how consumers, businesses and policymakers will react to various elements of the law, and there are numerous third-party analyses that attempt to fill in any blanks. But there are bound to be unintended consequences that few people foresee now, possibly vast and unsettling ones.
If voters and policymakers react with equanimity to inevitable problems with the law, and fix what doesn't work, the Affordable Care Act could end up a huge success. But if supporters and opponents maintain hard battle lines and fight indefinitely over every aspect of the law, it could be a disaster. The only thing that's certain today is that anybody who says he's sure about how it will turn out is lying.
Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.