You can only lie about policy in Washington, DC

Brendan Buck is Chief Communications Advisor to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Last week – Was it only last week? – Buck got in hot water because he falsely denied that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had said that Donald Trump and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher were being paid by Russia. When initially confronted, Buck flatly stated: “That never happened.” Confronted with the existence of a tape, Buck shifted gears to say that Rep. McCarthy was merely joking.

I’m glad Buck was called out for his lie. In fairness, this wasn’t entirely a lie. McCarthy was sort of joking. Of course, Buck’s comment wasn’t entirely truthful, either. The joke – to the extent it was a joke – rested on the accurate premise that President Trump and Rep. Rohrabacher are weirdly close to Vladimir Putin in a way that demands further scrutiny.

But here’s the real irony. Buck was humiliated over a lie that was far less significant – and really less of a lie – than many policy statements emerging from his own office that receive far less attention.


If you tell a verified lie about some political scandal, you are in trouble in Washington. You can’t say “I did not have sex with that woman,” or “I did not have communications with the Russians” without consequence. But if you lie about policy – for example to say that having Medicaid is no better than being uninsured, or that you are expanding access while leaving 23 million people without health insurance – you’ll usually get a pass. The disparate response to political lies and policy lies is one cause and symptom of our broken politics.

More here on policy lies in AHCA….

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

3 thoughts on “You can only lie about policy in Washington, DC”

  1. What's doing almost all the heavy lifting in Ryan's remarks is the word "access." "Access" is a code word here for "there will be a policy that you can buy." So just as I have "access" to a round-the-world cruise on the Queen Mary 2 ($25,000 per person plus taxes, fees and port expenses), I could have "access" to a health care plan that does not cover my pre-existing conditions and has a premium equal to about 60% of my income. It's a way to tell a lie while speaking the literal truth.

  2. I think it's an anti-intellectualism thing. All the proofs that someone is lying about policy rely on pointy-headed thinking and logical reasoning. Recordings are harder to deny.

    Albeit if you go over to the Far Side, you'll find bubbles where people do ignore them.

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