Last night, President Obama said "I am sorry" to Americans who weren't able to keep the health insurance plans they liked. Even though the apology was from the mild genre of "sorry you're offended" public apologies, the quote is attention grabbing. And, it's something of a muse for opinion. Did Obama really apologize? Does he feel sorry in his heart, and can I therefore accept his apology? These are the questions of our time. Here are the answers.
For reference, the full quote is, "I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me," and it's in reference to the 5 percent or so of Americans who might get letters canceling their existing insurance plans, often because those plans don't meet the requirements of Obamacare. Most of those Americans will be able to get comparable or cheaper plans on the health insurance exchanges, but as Obama also noted, it's not exactly easy to do that on the still-troubled Healthcare.gov. Obama issued the apology after NBC's Chuck Todd asked him if he felt he owed one to those in this situation.
Conservatives: No, he is not sorry enough.
Sen. Rob Portman said on Friday that the president's apology was "kind of like saying, 'I'm sorry your dog died,' without admitting the fact that you just ran him over with your car." In other words, Obama is not sorry enough. "I didn't hear the apology," he added. House Speaker John Boehner also does not think the president is sorry enough, because the president has not yet supported the House Republicans' plan to "fix" Obamacare.
Importantly, Charles Krauthammer also believes the president is not sorry enough. He said on Fox News:
"Chris Christie had advice for the president. He said in an interview, I think it was last week, why don't you just say, 'we made a mistake, and we're sorry, we're going to try and fix it'? I think that would go a long way. But I don't think the president, this president is capable of ever saying that."
Reason, meanwhile, said "this is not a very good apology" because it doesn't apologize for the law itself. In conclusion: the president is not sorry enough, says the right.
The Media: We are pathetic sheeple.
Salon's Joan Walsh, who has previously argued that the media should stop going after the flawed Healthcare.gov site because it might give the right some rhetorical ammunition, wrote about the "Media's pathetic obsession" with Obama's apology. You see, the journalists who write about Obamacare, especially from a center or left perspective, never ever get angry emails from conservatives in response like she does, and aren't aware that their focus on The Apology will also give the right more to talk about:
At root I think it stems from the inability of most mainstream journalists to understand the implacable resistance to this president. So they tell themselves a fairy tale in which, if the president just "does the right thing" and asks forgiveness for his real if comparatively trivial "wrong-doing," he’ll be forgiven. It’s a ritual they know and understand and have faith in; they can’t let themselves believe it doesn’t work.
Now you know, journalists. Mediaite also jumped in on the media reaction to the apology, claiming that Obama's mild apology for the frustration caused by the consequences of the reform law so far "burned" the press, who have fact-checked claims from consumers that insurance cancellation notices were forcing them into much more expensive plans. Therefore, it does not matter whether the president is sorry enough. Instead, the media should be sorry.
But does Obama feel sorry?
Sadly, NBC's Chuck Todd did not follow-up to see whether Obama just felt a little sorry, very sorry, or not at all sorry as a person for the frustration some Americans are facing during the Obamacare roll-out. Therefore, we will never know.
Of course this all just distracts from the actual issues at hand. The sincerity of Obama's apology won't do anything to end the holding pattern of the insurance cancellations: those with cancelled plans are unable to take advantage of the federal exchange to shop for affordable alternatives. And it does absolutely nothing to make the case for the reform that simmers underneath: the system in place before. In The Washington Post, Ezra Klein noted that "There's been an outpouring of sympathy for the people in the individual market who will see their plans changed," noting that the sympathy for those Americans "isn't leavened with sympathy for the people suffering now," referring to those for whom health insurance access is either too expensive or exclusionary under the industry's practices before the law's reform. In conclusion: whether Obama feels sorry or not sorry or really sorry doesn't matter. It's who gets left out of the festival of apologies entirely.