9 Other (Bipartisan) Times When U.S. Presidents Told Big Whoppers

We the People should be getting used to this by now.

Official White House photographs via Wikimedia Commons

Official White House photographs via Wikimedia Commons

Okay, okay: It’s disconcerting when the president of the United States lies, even if, like Donald Trump with his yuge inauguration crowds, he may just be delusional. Hey, the guy is used to looking at things and thinking they’re bigger than they are. But in these fraught times, it’s more important than ever to, um, keep a sense of perspective. Here are nine other (bipartisan) occasions on which presidents lied to the American people, all without ending the Republic as we know it. Which isn’t to say the truth doesn’t matter — or that history doesn’t have a way of seeing it come out.

  1. Richard Nixon: “I’m not a crook.”

In the same speech, Nixon swore, “In all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice.” Turns out he was a crook — he ordered the Watergate break-in — and he also obstructed justice, by sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks leading up to the 1968 election. All those lies cost America was four more years of war and 22,000 dead soldiers.

2. Ronald Reagan: “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.”

This one’s particularly winsome in light of President Trump’s global-warming denials. What was Reagan thinking when he declared this? Probably about how much fun it was to chop wood. Trees don’t “cause” pollution, though they do, under certain circumstances, emit volatile chemicals that react with car exhaust in the presence of strong sunlight. Without the cars? No ozone problem.

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”

Roosevelt made this promise in a speech in Boston in 1940 even as he was gearing up for World War II, as part of his strategy to defeat his isolationist campaign rival, Wendell Wilkie. His speechwriter, Sam Rosenham, was surprised when Roosevelt didn’t add his usual disclaimer: “except in case of attack.” When Rosenham asked about the omission, FDR told him: “If we’re attacked, it’s no longer a foreign war.”

4. Ronald Reagan: “We did not — repeat — did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages.”

Reagan made this promise to the nation in 1986, in an attempt to debunk rumors that the U.S. had traded arms to Iran to secure the release of hostages held in Lebanon — which, of course, it had. When the truth of the Iran-Contra affair came to light — remember Oliver North? — the President delivered an explanation that Sean Spicer might want to bone up on: “My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”

5. Gerald Ford: “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”

You really have to watch the tape to let this bold assertion Ford made during the 1976 presidential campaign sink in. Journalist Max Frankel gives the President every opportunity to walk it back, and Ford just doubles down. It’s eerily akin to the moment in which Trump insisted to George Stephanopoulos that Putin wasn’t going to go into Ukraine — after Putin had already seized Crimea, which is part of Ukraine. That was the same interview in which Trump said Hillary Clinton hadn’t beaten Bernie Sanders in the primary.

6. Barack Obama: “If you like your health plan, you’ll be able to keep your health plan.”

That’s the promise Obama made in promoting Obamacare — made, as Politifact points out, over and over again. It wasn’t true, as he later clarified — after the ACA passed and policyholders began getting cancellation notices.

7. Bill Clinton: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

Actually, he did.

8. George W. Bush: “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.”

President Bush justified the invasion of Iraq by telling the American people that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and had tried to buy “yellow cake” uranium in Niger. He didn’t, and he hadn’t.

9. John F. Kennedy: “I have previously stated, and I repeat now, that the United States plans no military intervention in Cuba.”

It was 1961. He was planning an invasion of Cuba.