Betsy McCaughey: President must tell citizens the truth

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In his famous novel 1984, George Orwell warned that it doesn’t take a military boot against your neck to oppress you. Government can do it by using talking points — what Orwell called “newspeak” — to hide truth, distort language and keep the public in the dark.

Orwell cautioned that this manipulation poses the biggest threat to freedom, whether the government doing the manipulating is right wing or left wing.

President Obama seems to be taking a page from 1984. The novel’s main character is a young bureaucrat living in a fictional totalitarian country and working in its Ministry of Truth — a bureaucracy that produces the opposite of truth. It creates “newspeak” to obscure the true state of things. The Obama administration has a comparable operation.

Manipulating the truth is precisely what the Obama administration did in the hours after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. Draft talking points were shuttled among several intelligence agencies, including the FBI and CIA, as agency bureaucrats concocted a story blaming the attack on a video.

These talking points were given to Congress and used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on Sunday talk shows to deceive the public.

People on all sides of political issues want the truth. Comedy Central’s Daily Show host Jon Stewart recently grilled Rice on the talking points.

Rice indignantly dismissed the question: “We’ve spent all these months trying to figure out the origin of these talking points, which were cleared at the highest levels of the intelligence community, and not enough time doing the service that we owe to our fallen colleagues.”

The studio audience erupted with applause, but Stewart wasn’t bamboozled. He zeroed in on how the talking points were “passed up and down the chain of command to determine what should be said.”

Why, asked Stewart, “is there a bureaucratic system in place that is so tenacious with the explanation, but yet seemingly abdicates responsibility for the initial situation?”

In other words, why did the Obama administration give so much more attention to deceiving the country than defending it? We need to know.

Orwellian signs of danger also pervaded the president’s State of the Union message on Feb. 12. It was crafted to conceal the state of the union and lull the public with mind numbing humbug. The address never once mentioned the biggest issue facing the nation, its $16.5 trillion debt. You could have been listening to Orwell’s psycho-manipulator Big Brother.

The president pledged to the nation that in the future, his administration will be “even more transparent about its counterterrorism efforts.”

Orwell warned that government bureaucracies will use words to mean their opposite. In the novel’s oppressive state, war is peace. Freedom is slavery. In the Obama administration, transparent means secret.

The Obama administration is battling to keep its drone program secret and has actually gone to court to resist the American Civil Liberties Union’s demand for drone documents.

The president’s nominee for CIA director, John Brennan, refused to answer California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s question recently, whether the administration could conduct drone strikes inside the U.S., saying only “it did not intend to do so.”

No matter what your position on drones, the nation deserves a straight answer, not these weasel words.

Most of Obama’s State of the Union was a catalogue of new spending projects — $50 billion to fix bridges and roads, $15 billion to refurbish vacant city properties, $1 billion for manufacturing hubs, as well as new solar, wind and geothermal energy projects without price tags. Then in a statement that Big Brother could have uttered, Obama announced, “nothing I am proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.”

Orwell shocked the world with his warnings that government would distort language and hide truth. But he was not a prophet of doom. In 1984, he suggested that the destruction of free political discourse would be gradual. And it doesn’t have to happen at all if brave people persist in demanding the truth. That’s what we want, Mr. Obama. The truth.

BETSY MCCAUGHEY is a former lieutenant governor of New York and author of the new book, “Beating Obamacare.” This column is distributed by Creators Syndicate Inc.


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