Deliberate Misspeaking

When the former constitutional law instructor-current president said this week that he was against Marbury v. Madison before he was for it, he obviously misspoke, as his supporters are claiming. But there are many causes of misspeaking. One could simply make an honest slip of the tongue or get one’s words confused. One could be wrong and simply too stubborn to admit it. Or one could be lying. Here’s what Mr. Obama said that has gotten him (from his point of view) such strict scrutiny:

“Ultimately I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

The president was speaking about whether the Supreme Court will strike down ObamaCare, which narrowly passed on basically a party-line vote. He was intimating that the high court cannot overturn the controversial legislation. Of course, the Court has overturned all sorts of laws since the seminal Marbury v. Madison decision in 1803. So much for “unprecedented.” Hence the claim that the president “misspoke.”

So what kind of misspeaking is this? President Obama’s defenders say he was speaking in “shorthand,” so this is no slip of the tongue. The problem, they imply, is not in his communication skills, but in our inability to understand. Or perhaps he is simply too proud to admit his error? That is likely, given his track record of blaming others for his own failures. But is there more going on here? Was the original misstatement also a lie?

The misspeaking would be a lie if Barack Obama knew what he was saying was factually wrong and said it anyway. Clearly, unless he was having a brain cramp of the first order, the constitutional “expert” knew he was wrong on the facts and said it anyway. So it was a lie. The real question is, Why?

I believe that Mr. Obama was sending a message to the Supreme Court through his deliberate misspeaking–a message that is hard to miss: “Hands off ObamaCare.” It was an effort, in the tradition of his hero FDR, at court packing. It was not a legal statement; it was a political statement. He meant to say it, so it was not a mistake. The message was thought out; the message was delivered; and the message was received.

It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court will reply. Let’s hope its own message is just as unambiguous.

About Stan Guthrie

Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today magazine and for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. His latest book is God's Story in 66 Verses. He also is author of All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy. He is co-author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Besides authoring, writing, and editing books, Stan is a literary agent, bringing together good authors, good books, and good publishers. Stan writes the monthly Priorities colum for He has appeared on National Public Radio's €œTell Me More,€ WGN's Milt Rosenberg program, and many Christian shows, including The Eric Metaxas Show and Moody Radio'€™s €œNew Day Florida.€ A licensed minister and an inspirational speaker, he served as moderator for the Christian Book Expo panel discussion, Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?
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