Stop Digging, Mr President


Yesterday’s attempt by the president to try and argue that he didn’t give a blanket, sweeping promise that no one would have to change their insurance plan or doctor under the ACA was not the Obama I know. It was the kind of parsing that Bill Clinton would have tried. Here’s the money quote:

“Now, if you have or had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really liked that plan, what we said was you can keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law passed.”

Oy. Look: I love this president, regard him as the sanest man in Washington, think his two terms still have the potential to be transformative, believe his foreign policy has been cool-eyed and under-appreciated, and know that he helped preside over a civil rights revolution not seen in decades. But he over-sold his well-intentioned, moderate plan for universal health insurance. He made a decision in a polarized climate to over-simplify to the point of near-deception. I don’t think it’s outright deception because the plan does indeed mean that large numbers of people will not be forced to switch plans so much as upgrade some. But he still said something that was untrue and he underlined it with a “period”, meaning there were no caveats.

It’s not an Iran-Contra or Iraq WMD or Lewinsky lie. But it’s a serious one. And he should stop trying to finesse it. The best advice for him was given by Chris Christie, believe it or not. To wit:

“Here’s what my advice would be to him — don’t be so cute. And, when you make a mistake, admit it. If he was mistaken in 2009 an 2010 on his understanding of how the law would operate, then just admit it to people. ‘You know what? I said it and I was wrong. I’m sorry, and we’re gonna try to fix this and make it better.’ I think people would give any leader in that circumstance a lot of credit for just owning up to it. Instead of now trying — don’t try to lawyer it. People don’t like lawyers. I’m a lawyer – they don’t like them. When I saw that this morning, I saw that for the first time, and I thought, ‘he’s lawyering it. That’s Barack Obama the lawyer.’”

Bring back Barack Obama, the truth-teller. I understand why he feels beleaguered right now, but this too will pass. The core of the law will help millions without insurance and reassure millions more who have it. Hang in – but be as candid as you possibly can. Get out of the defensive crouch and into the game. Everything is still to play for.

(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty.)