A political fable: The governor who cried wolf

Published Jan. 13, 2013

There once was a governor who watched faithfully over his flock of citizens. One day, from atop his mansion, he began to cry out, "Bankrupt! We're going Bankrupt!'' The citizens grew concerned and hurried over to see. When they realized he was not telling the truth, they went grumbling back to their homes. A short time later, the governor spoke up again. "Bankrupt,'' he cried. "We're going bankrupt!'' Once again, the citizens panicked. And once again, they realized they had been duped. Later, when the governor wanted to talk about all the good things he had accomplished for his flock of citizens, he couldn't understand why no one wanted to listen.

We get it.

Gov. Rick Scott does not like the Affordable Care Act.

Didn't like it when he was running for governor. Didn't like it when it was being argued in front of the Supreme Court. Doesn't like it now that it has become the law of the land.

To be honest, this doesn't make the governor unique — there are plenty of people skeptical of Obamacare.

Nor does this mean Gov. Scott's concerns are necessarily misplaced — the impact of massive health care reform cannot be guaranteed.

But today's worry is not about details. It is about honesty. Trust. Fair play.

A number of times in recent months, Scott has tossed around incorrect facts and highly dubious numbers while railing against the Affordable Care Act.

Frankly, it's hard to say which is worse:

That a sitting governor does not know simple truths about this important legislation, or that he does know the truth and chooses to ignore it.

Scott once went on CNN and talked about a small-business owner who told him he could not afford to pay for health care for 20 employees, and thus would have to go out of business.

It sounded drastic, poignant and sad. Except it was utterly wrong. The ACA does not require businesses to provide health care unless they have 50 or more employees.

It is one of the most basic components of a plan Scott has supposedly studied, and yet the governor brazenly passed on this bad information to a national television audience.

He has also compared the new law to Canada's system and suggested it will lead to a rationing of health care. This is a spurious argument since the majority of Americans will keep the same health insurance they've always had.

Scott has also offered wildly inflated costs for Obamacare on several occasions, even after being told by his own state officials that the numbers he was quoting were incorrect by billions and billions of dollars.

Now all of this is troubling on two major fronts.

No. 1, how strong is your argument against the Affordable Care Act if you have to continually exaggerate to make your point?

If this plan is as dangerous as you claim, the numbers should speak for themselves and Americans should be able to figure that out. Instead, the governor chooses the most extreme and unlikely scenarios, and then embellishes from there.

No. 2, if you're continually caught stretching the truth on health care, how much credibility do you have on other issues?

Should your argument be trusted on corporate taxes? On environmental rollbacks? On the benefits of privatization? On the reliability of standardized testing in schools?

Look, the governor understands the business world. Scott rose from modest roots to become an extremely wealthy man at a relatively young age.

And it's true that much of his appeal as a candidate in 2010 was that he was going to bring a corporate-like approach to governing.

But there are differences between running a business and serving constituents. Public service is usually not an end-justifies-the-means industry.

You may owe it to the public to fight for what you believe in, but you also have an obligation to make it a fair fight.

Here's the bottom line on the Affordable Care Act:

The executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government have signed off on it. The nation's voters have given it their seal of approval by re-electing the president. And Florida's voters gave it a thumbs-up via an amendment on the November ballot.

Now it is entirely possible, years from now, the Affordable Care Act will be considered a gallant failure by the Obama administration.

And, if so, it will certainly be a fact that Rick Scott had been right all along.

But until that day, the governor has no right to create his own facts.