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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Chicago Tribune Columnist On Obama’s Health Care Promise: He Lied

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HH: So pleased to welcome now Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune. Clarence Page had the great, good sense to be born in God’s country in the great state of Ohio. Hi, Clarence, welcome to the program.

CP: Thank you so much, Hugh. I’m honored to be here.

HH: Well, I’m so sorry, though, that you went to Ohio University as a fan of the Miami Redhawks. I understand that Ohio University has become a degree granting institution, but I’m not sure it was when I grew up in Ohio.

CP: I lived about 15 minutes from Miami, so it was much too close to home for me to go there.

HH: Well, it’s great to have you here. Now you and Chris Matthews…

CP: By the way, P.J. O’Rourke was at Miami the same time I was at Ohio U.

HH: Well, I hope they beat you four years running. I’m a big Redhawks fan. Now Clarence, you and A.B. Stoddard were ragging on my interview with Dick Cheney with Chris Matthews on Friday night, particularly, Chris actually was. You were doing pretty well.

CP: Yeah, not on your interview style, though. It was very good.

HH: Thank you. But I have a question. Let’s start just fair to Secretary of State Clinton. What did she achieve as secretary of State?

CP: Oh, what did she achieve? Well, if I’m going to be the chairman of the Clinton campaign committee, I guess I could say a lot of things. But it was, I don’t know that she actually had any distinction as far as shifting foreign policy. It was mostly a reactive administration in my view.

HH: If she runs for president and it comes time to talk about her tenure at State, I mean, what’s she going to underline as being a good one?

CP: I doubt that it’s going to come down to that.

HH: Well, it might not, but if someone asks her a question, tell us what your achievements were, what do you think she’ll say?

CP: Oh, I’m sure she’ll be able to defend herself very well. She usually does. But frankly, foreign policy, let’s say we have another 9/11 between now and then, you know, that can shift things to where the public will care more about foreign policy. But we’ve been a pretty isolationist country here in recent years. Quite frankly, that was how Barack Obama got elected on the ticket of getting us out of two wars. And every time he sent troops to get us into a new one, it has not reacted well with the public. I think that’s why he’s so reluctant to get into Syria or Iran right now.

HH: Sure, but I’m going back to Hillary, because that’s what you and Matthews and Stoddard were talking about. And I just want to be fair to her, because I’m always a fair guy. And you’re known as a center-left guy, so obviously you must have the talking points passed around from Clinton Central. But what did she do…

CP: I don’t use talking points. I use Page Points.

HH: Okay. What did she…

CP: And because I’ll be very frank with you. She is not a John Foster Dulles. She has not been a secretary of State who has advanced a great, sweeping worldview. It has been more reactive, which is why she has been traveling so much. She certainly ranks among the most traveled secretaries of State, because there have been so many different crises and issues percolating all at once. But you know, advancing the reset policy with the Russians, for example, is one of the few cases where you’ve got a really clear policy.

HH: Was that a good thing? Was her reset a good thing?

CP: There’s no question we need to have a resent, a different policy than we had during the Cold War. But dealing with Vladimir Putin is fascinating. I call him the Dos Equis Man, He wants to be the most interesting man in the world.

HH: But did she get anything done with Russia?

CP: Well, we have right now with Syria, certainly we have gotten, we have avoided having an invasion. But you know, as far as Russia is concerned, like I say, Putin is always a cipher.

HH: Did she get anything done with the Middle East?

CP: Well, did Bush get anything done with the Middle East?

HH: No, but she’s the one who’s going to run.

CP: Well, which part of the Middle East you want to talk about?

HH: I don’t know, you give me, pick any country.

CP: In Israel, we haven’t advanced at all with Israel, but we hadn’t advanced, that’s why Israel and the Palestinians, but we hadn’t advanced in the Bush years, either.

HH: Did she do a good job with Egypt, Clarence Page?

CP: With which?

HH: With Egypt?

CP: Well, I think she did about as well as anybody could do with Egypt, since the collapse of that government and the Arab Spring and all hit everybody by surprise, much like the collapse of the Soviet Union. But that’s what I mean about a reactive policy. It’s been one of reaction to events that have been going on, and trying not to do any harm. But what do you think of the Egyptian government?

HH: Oh, I think it’s at least stabilized now, but I go back, because here’s what was…

CP: I’ll tell you what I think about the Egyptian government, it really hasn’t changed from the military regime that’s been running it since the early 80s. It’s just changed players.

HH: But Clarence, I really want to talk to you about Hillary. I really, I’m at a loss to come up with why everyone thinks she’s a frontrunner, because her tenure at State Department was so forgettable. And I asked Maggie Haberman about this last hour, and she couldn’t come up with anything, either. And I don’t hear you coming up with anything. She didn’t do anything, did she?

CP: Well, if you want me to persuade you to be a fan of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy, you’ve got the wrong guy.

HH: No, no. I don’t want you to persuade me. I just want to know what it was.

CP: And I’m not going to persuade you. I think Hillary Clinton right now is the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination, and for the presidency among the known possible contenders, precisely because people know her so well already, and they’ve already made up their minds.

HH: That’s absolutely true. I think…but if called upon, what will her defenders say was the signal mark of her tenure at State?

CP: Well, again, I think it will be a period of saying that she kept us out of any new Iraqs or Afghanistans. But we still had Libya to deal with, and others. We mostly fought a war against terrorism with some advances and some setbacks.

HH: Did she do a good job with Benghazi?

CP: I think as well as could be expected. And of course, you know again, Benghazi is one of those issues everybody’s made up their mind already. Either it was a good job or a terrible job. The critics of the Obama administration of course, their view is well known, and the defenders will say well, they didn’t have the resources to guard the State Department facilities there because of all the Congressional cutbacks. So that, I don’t see much of a change there, a lot of the critics of the Benghazi situation and the administration have gotten excited about the 60 Minutes report from last Sunday, but to me, it was mainly a visual recap of what we’ve already found out from the investigations that have gone on already, including the State Department’s own Accountability Review Board. So I don’t see Benghazi as being a game changer right now. Again, people have made up their mind.

HH: So Clarence, she called Gregory Hicks at 2:00 AM that morning, and the Ambassador was missing, and the embassy was under siege in Tripoli, and they were breaking the computers. In Benghazi, they’d been attacked. And she talked to him at 2:00AM, Gregory Hicks, and then she never called back. Are you surprised she never called back Gregory Hicks?

CP: Well, there were a lot of calls she was making that night, weren’t there?

HH: Actually, she vanished after that one. I don’t know where she went. Do you?

CP: It was a pretty chaotic night. We do know that much.

HH: But do you know where she went?

CP: There were reports she was all over the place.

HH: I honestly, I have no idea. I think she was the vanishing secretary of State.

CP: No, I’m not an expert on the tick tock on that night. So I can’t tell you exactly, but I’m sure she wasn’t asleep.

HH: I don’t know. She might have been.

CP: Well, that’s the easy speculation, but the fact is, there was a crisis going on, and it was, they were getting all kinds of information from all sorts of sources. I have said for years, I’ve been in journalism over 30 years, and I’ve often said that the first casualty of any major news story is the truth, because you’ve got so much, so many chaotic facts and so much streaming in from different sources.

— – – – –

HH: And since we’re talking about the State Department, Clarence, I have to ask my obligatory. I always ask MSNBC contributors this. Do you think Alger Hiss was a communist spy?

CP: I think that’s pretty well established, isn’t it?

HH: Thank you. Good. That’s it. Karen Finney wouldn’t go that far with me, so I’m glad to hear that. Clarence, earlier today…

CP: I believe in history.

HH: Amen. You’ve got to spread that around MSNBC a little bit.

CP: Well, history is to be argued. I’ve also argued with Rand Paul about whether or not the Civil Rights Act was good for us or not.

HH: Well, I’m with you on that one. I’m all with you on that one.

CP: Thank you.

HH: But I just want you to do, if you go down the hall to see Karen Finney, you might let her know that Hiss was a communist. Now here’s what the President said in 2009.

BO: Here’s a guarantee that I’ve made. If you have insurance that you like, then you will be able to keep that insurance. If you’ve got a doctor that you like, you will be able to keep your doctor.

HH: Now Clarence, you have written a few columns defending Obamacare, but you can’t defend that as other than an utter untruth, can you?

CP: Oh, Obamacare is like the proverbial camel being a horse designed by committee, right? It’s gone through so many changes and all, that the original dream has been largely corrupted. And there’s no guarantee, I knew even, and Obama knew even at the time he said it, there was no guarantee everybody was going to keep their insurance, because people couldn’t keep their insurance under the old system.

HH: So he knew he was lying when he lied?

CP: I’m sorry?

HH: He knew he was lying?

CP: Probably. Probably. But that’s one of those political lies, you know.

HH: Well, don’t you think a lot of people…

CP: It’s one of those, you know, in the abstract, it’s correct, but the fact is…

HH: Is it forgivable? Are you allowed to lie to get a bigger good? Is that it?

CP: Well, the question is, most people will be able to keep their own insurance policies. And that was the point he was trying to make. He was just being too grandiose and saying, and guaranteeing that everybody was going to keep their insurance.

HH: Well, I agree with you. He knew what he was doing when he did that.

CP: Sure.

HH: And is that acceptable for people to just out and out mislead the low information voters out there?

CP: He said it repeatedly in a political campaign that he won, so that’s what a political lie is all about, right?

HH: But when he said this, it was after he was already in the White House.

CP: Well, he said it on the campaign trail repeatedly.

HH: I know, but after he won, he then said it. Was that okay?

CP: Right, right. Well, what’s the difference?

HH: Well, the difference is you’re the president of the United States.

CP: He made a promise to the public either way.

HH: So it doesn’t bother you that he lied to us?

CP: Well, a lot of things bother me. You act like all lies are equal, right?

HH: Well, no, I just…

CP: Is that what you’re saying?

HH: Does it bother you that this, on this occasion…

BO: Here’s a guarantee that I’ve made. If you have insurance that you like, then you will be able to keep that insurance. If you’ve got a doctor that you like, you will be able to keep your doctor.

HH: Now you just said he lied, and I agree with you he lied. But does it bother you that he did?

CP: Well, a lot of things bother me more than that, but not because of overselling his program. Every president oversells their programs. But just the fact that the whole process of putting Obamacare together disturbed me that he gave up too much early on, in my view.

HH: Do you think he’s telling us the truth, or is he lying again about not knowing that Merkel’s calls were being tapped?

CP: Now there’s a lie, if I was the president and I did know Merkel’s calls were being tapped, I might just lie myself and say I didn’t.

HH: But do you think he did today, because you know, the White House said today…

CP: I don’t know. I don’t know. There are a lot of times you’ve got to say, well, I don’t know if that guy or that woman lied, but either they lied, or they were too ignorant. They should have known, one way or another. And in this case, as far as the NSA is concerned, there is enough plausible deniability in the bureaucracy that we may never know the whole truth on that.

HH: So Clarence Page, I’ve only got a minute left, and I hope you come back. You’re a great guest.

CP: Thanks for having me.

HH: But here’s my question for you. How do you know when he’s not lying if he lies about Obamacare and he lies about Merkel?

CP: Well again, all lies are not equal. You’re talking about in one case over-salesmanship versus a flat-out lie about something he did or knew about personally. That’s, to me, it’s more serious to deny something that you have done than to make a promise that you probably can’t keep. That’s where I put the Obamacare fib.

HH: But the Obamacare fib is pretty bad, but don’t you think it’s out and out lying about Merkel? I mean, honestly, Clarence…

CP: I think people could judge for themselves whether or not the Obamacare as it was offered was something worth voting for or not.

HH: Well, true, but on Merkel…

CP: But the fact of the matter is he was, for the first time, I mean, you know, Teddy Roosevelt wanted to get national health care. We spent a hundred years trying to get off the dime on that issue.

HH: But on Merkel, Clarence…

CP: And one side presented an imperfect plan, the other side nothing but no.

HH: But ten seconds, we only have ten seconds left. Is he telling the truth about Merkel?

CP: I told you, I don’t know.

HH: All right. Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, come back. I know. He ain’t doing it. but you come back, Clarence.

End of interview.


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