As insulting as a phony apology is, it’s worse when the phony apology comes from the president of the United States.
President Barack Obama’s “apology” came Thursday in an NBC News interview. He said he was sorry that millions of Americans who thought they could keep their health insurance won’t actually be able to. But he didn’t quite apologize for having promised them that wouldn’t happen.
“I am sorry that they, you know, are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me,” he said. “We’ve got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them, and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this.”
That’s not an apology. Neither is saying, “We weren’t as clear as we needed to be in terms of the changes that were taking place,” although as understatements go that one is a beaut.
What he didn’t say that he should have is that he is sorry for having misled — or even having lied to — Americans. That would have been helpful, and it would have meant more if he had apologized directly to the American people instead of telling a reporter — a reporter who pressed him on the subject — that he was sorry for their predicament.
At least 3.5 million Americans are in that predicament. That’s how many have received cancellation notices from their insurance companies because their present policies don’t meet the coverage standards of the Affordable Care Act. Their anger is understandable given that the president repeatedly promised in the last couple of years that any Americans who like their existing policies could keep them.
It’s easy in hindsight to wonder why the president didn’t simply substitute “almost all” for “any,” but that might have led to pesky questions about which Americans would be omitted. Given reports that his advisers had expressed concerns about his blanket promise, it becomes inexplicable. And unless he wants Americans to believe he didn’t know what was in his signature legislative achievement, his promise becomes downright indefensible when it should have been clear that Obamacare would render some existing policies obsolete.
President Obama isn’t the first chief executive to be dishonest with the American people; President Bush’s comments with regard to the invasion of Iraq and President Clinton’s lies about Monica Lewinsky come quickly to mind. But those men’s actions don’t diminish President Obama’s act.
How much his dishonesty complicates health care reform already suffering from self-inflicted blows is unclear. But the president does it little good in offering an apology that had nowhere near the clarity of his oft-repeated promise.