Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

The president's political apology

President Obama's sort-of apology for saying, "If you like your heath care plan, you can keep it," is in keeping with the tradition of Oval Office occupants trying to cover their posteriors when they are suddenly exposed.

It brings to mind the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry takes an obviously shrunken shirt back to the cleaners. The defensive clerk first asks for a receipt to prove the shirt had actually been laundered there. Finally, with a sheepish look of resignation, he blurts out: "We shrunk it!"

Ah, if only life mirrored television humor. Instead, President Obama settled in an NBC interview by saying "I am sorry" that millions receiving cancellations of their old policies and promising to do everything he could to help those "who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this."

The president's carefully crafted mea culpa repeated his alibi that those who held cheap policies lacking the better provisions of his Affordable Care Act were intended to be "grandfathered in." That is, they would be able to keep their old plans if bought prior to enactment of Obamacare. Like the small print in insurance policies, the caveat went largely unnoticed and was incomprehensible.

President Obama deftly segued into his sales pitch, saying "the majority of folks ... who got these cancellation letters (will) be able to get better care at the same cost or cheaper in these new marketplaces." They just haven't been able to realize it yet, he said, because of the malfunctioning of the government's sign-up website.

Hence his frantic effort to get the site up and running efficiently, before his commendable dream of near-universal health care goes up in smoke. So far, it's a repair job on a program that, incidentally, was built by private-sector contractors, not some new bureaucracy like Social Security, as its foes often imply.

Because presidents are politicians who depend on public support for ultimate success, they're obliged to maintain voter confidence or they will see their power wane. So when a misstep occurs, they are most often unable, or at least unwilling, to offer apology with the bark off. One need only remember Bill Clinton's mind-numbing evasion that "it depends on what the meaning of is, is" in the word games he played over the Monica Lewinsky fiasco.

In the earlier Watergate crimes that caused the first presidential resignation in disgrace, Richard Nixon started out by telling a Disney World audience (!), "I'm not a crook." He gradually went downhill from there, orchestrating release of carefully edited transcriptions of the damning White House tapes that eventually did him in.

Years later, George W. Bush launched his war of choice in Iraq on grounds that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction poised to attack the West, and was proved to be wrong. But he never bothered to apologize. When confronted with this fact afterward by Diane Sawyer on ABC News, his response was: "So what's the difference? ... Saddam Hussein was a threat, and the fact he is gone means America is a safer country."

As presidential apologies go, President Obama's mild expression of regret was about par for the course. Being president apparently means, as an old mushy romance novel said of love, never having to say you're sorry, at least not explicitly. It's true that President Obama doesn't have to worry about re-election, but he does want to preserve his credibility to achieve desired political goals in his remaining three White House years.

He might have been better served at this juncture to flat-out admit that his assurances over Obamacare and its bungled rollout were his own fault, by carelessness rather than intent, beyond acknowledging that, in Harry Truman's words, "The buck stops here."

John Kennedy put it another way in his own categorical observation after his failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, that "victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan." Kennedy's candor cleared the air, maintaining his high popularity thereafter. But with Obama's ardent foes snapping at his heels, it's probably unrealistic for him to do other than offer voters a more coherent justification for buying into the current health-care dilemma that bears his name.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • On dumping vice presidents

    On dumping vice presidents

    A new post-mortem account of the 2012 presidential campaign holds that President Obama's strategists toyed with, but rejected, the notion of dropping Vice President Joe Biden from the Democratic ticket and replacing him with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

  • Act to prevent a crude oil derailment in Maryland

    Act to prevent a crude oil derailment in Maryland

    Two years ago, dozens of runaway rail tanker cars carrying 1.5 million gallons of crude oil derailed in the center of the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, creating a massive explosion and resulting in the death of 47 individuals and the destruction of over 30 buildings. But what would happen if this...

  • You can't compromise with culture warriors

    You can't compromise with culture warriors

    I loved reading the "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" books to my daughter.

  • Gerrymandering reform: putting the interests of the people before the party

    Gerrymandering reform: putting the interests of the people before the party

    Last week the Supreme Court paved the way for fundamental gerrymandering reform by upholding redistricting commissions that are independent of state legislatures in its decision in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. Gov. Larry Hogan now has a historic opportunity...

  • Could a state property tax cap stimulate Baltimore's economy?

    Could a state property tax cap stimulate Baltimore's economy?

    When Gov. Larry Hogan announced his rejection of the Red Line, an east-west rail transit line in Baltimore City, he seemed to derail the high hopes of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and many other supporters of the $2.9 billion project. "He canceled a project," lamented the mayor, "that would have...

  • Urban America should give up on the Democrats

    Urban America should give up on the Democrats

    In my lifetime (I was born in 1950), the Democrats have had an extraordinary opportunity to run some of America's largest cities and apply their brand of liberal policies to the social and economic problems that have plagued them. Look at the history in just eight of these cities, according to...

Comments
Loading

72°