We now know that no definitive statement can be definitive enough for this president. If “you can keep your insurance if you like it” means “millions of people will lose existing insurance plans,” then what else should be qualified?
“It is unacceptable for Iran to get a nuclear weapon” can become “Unless the United States is required to do something about it, it is unacceptable for Iran to get a nuclear weapon.”
“We have Israel’s back” can become “Unless the United Nations agrees, we have Israel’s back.”
“I won’t raise taxes on the middle class” can become “Unless I need to make a proposal on payroll taxes for entitlement reform, I won’t raise middle-class taxes.”
Some of these transformations have already occurred:
“You can keep your doctor” now means “Unless the doctor on the insurance plan you can no longer have doesn’t participate in one of the exchange plans you are allowed to have.”
“I won’t raise taxes on the middle class” actually became something like “Excluding all those Obamacare taxes that fall on the middle class, I won’t raise taxes on the middle class.”
“Bashar al-Assad must go” turned out to be “And if you ask somebody, if you ask Michelle, ‘Do we do we want to be involved in another war?’ The answer is no.”
Obama’s “red line” in Syria became, “It’s not my red line. It’s the world’s red line.”
Obama’s sequester hype (“Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings”) became, well, a joke.
The president’s statements and promises, we have learned, have no real meaning and, in some cases, were known to be false at the time they were made. This poses more than a political problem for his own polling and for fellow Democrats; it makes international and domestic deal-making impossible. Internationally, there is no agreement with Iran at this point that Israel could conclude removes its existential threat, for the United States can’t be counted on to take action in the event of an Iranian violation (and the Iranians know it). Whatever slight chance there is for immigration reform is further reduced because skepticism about the administration’s willingness to enforce new border security measures is rampant. Any deal that requires future action, implementation or restraint from the administration is largely worthless.
When nothing the president says is incapable of modification or outright reversal, his ability to govern and to forge agreements is undermined. This is among the main reasons that the next 3 years is likely to be entirely unproductive.