Hey, Kids! What Time Is It?

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on November 11, 2013

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal.com’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.

“Delaware Boasts 4 Obamacare Enrollees at $1 Million a Pop”–headline, DailyCaller.com, Nov. 7

image492Hey, Kids! What Time Is It? 
“It’s Time to Get Over Dwight Howard Leaving the Lakers”–headline, USA Today website, Nov. 7

Question and Answer

  • “Madonna Doesn’t Dress Her Age. Why Should You?”–headline, TheCareerist.typepad.com, Nov. 6
  • “Being Human Means Having Dignity”–headline, Independent Florida Alligator, Nov. 6

Sorry Charlie
NBC’s Chuck Todd got a scoop out of his interview with President Obama yesterday–or did he? “Exclusive: Obama Personally Apologizes for Americans Losing Health Coverage.”

Other news organizations also credited Todd, and Obama: “Obama bowed . . . to mounting criticism that he had misled the American people about the health care law, apologizing to people who were forced off their health insurance plans by the Affordable Care Act despite ‘assurances from me,’ ” reports the New York Times. “President Barack Obama apologized on Thursday to Americans who are losing their healthcare insurance policies,” is how Reuters put it.

But other journalists were more skeptical. A Washington Post Wonkblog post from Ezra Klein protegée Sarah Kliff was headlined “VIDEO: Watch Obama (Kinda, Sorta) Apologize to Americans’ [sic] Losing Their Health Plans.” The Associated Press’s Julie Pace reported that Obama “says he’s sorry Americans are losing health insurance plans he repeatedly said they could keep under his signature health care law” but noted that “the president stopped short of apologizing for making those promises in the first place.” A headline on a blog post by Lynn Sweet, bureau chief of the Chicago Sun-Times, is rather scathing: “Obama Tries to Empathize Over Health Insurance Cancellations, but Is That the Best He’s Got?”

Mr. President, let us show you how it’s done. This is from an ABC News report dated March 12, 2009:

Applause broke out in a Manhattan courtroom today when a judge denied admitted Ponzi scheme operator Bernard Madoff’s request to return to his luxury penthouse, and instead ordered him handcuffed and taken straight to jail. Madoff pled guilty to 11 felony counts Thursday including securities fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and perjury. He faces a 150 year sentence.

“For many years up until my arrest I operated a Ponzi scheme,” Madoff told the court. “When I began I thought it would be over shortly, it became difficult to stop.”

For the first time, Madoff offered a public apology saying he is “deeply sorry and ashamed.”

“I knew what I was doing, it was wrong and I’m deeply sorry,” Madoff said.

Madoff might not have been sincere, but at least we can be certain he intended to appear contrite.

Unlike Madoff, Obama is still making excuses. The Post’s Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan, in a blog post titled “The Lowest Low of the Obama Presidency” (a low standard of lowness, one must admit), noted one of them:

Here’s what President Obama really wanted to tell NBC’s Chuck Todd about the implementation of the healthcare law in an interview Thursday: “Look, Chuck. We’re talking about 5 percent of the population who can’t keep their plans. Five percent. And once the Web site starts working right, they will realize they can get better plans anyway.”

Of course, when you’re president of the United States, you don’t say that–unless you don’t want to be president much longer. Time and time again during the interview with Todd, Obama kept running into the political reality that the 5 percent of the country who can’t keep their healthcare plans isn’t all that big a deal unless you are part of that 5 percent.

Cillizza and Sullivan are being too easy on Obama. There is ample evidence that the plans to be sold on the vaporware exchanges will frequently, perhaps usually, be poorer values than the canceled ones. And the 5% figure is very much a lowball estimate. Among others, it excludes people who’ll lose employer-provided insurance or see it downgraded as a result of ObamaCare’s mandates and incentives, as well as those affected by Medicare cuts.

But for the sake of argument, let’s accept the 5% figure as the number of Americans Obama now acknowledges having victimized with his “If you like your plan, you can keep it” swindle. The U.S. population is just over 317 million (that includes children, but so does the population affected by theObamaCare cancellations). Five percent of 317 million is just under 16 million people.

Imagine if Bernie Madoff had swindled 16 million people.

No, that doesn’t quite do it justice. Imagine if Bernie Madoff had swindled 16 million people, many of whom never agreed, or had any desire, to do business with him in the first place.

NewsBusters.org’s Mark Finkelstein notes that Obama also played victim in the Todd interview:

I am deeply frustrated about how this website has not worked over the first couple of weeks. And, I take responsibility of that. My team takes responsibility of that. And we are working every single day, 24/7, to improve it. And it’s better now than it was last week. It’s certainly a lot better than it was on Oct. 1. Having said that, given that I’ve been burned already with a website–well, more importantly the American people have been burned by a website that’s been dysfunctional . . .

“My team takes responsibility. . . . I’ve been burned.” Not exactly “The buck stops here,” is it?

In the interview–transcribed in full at the Kliff link above–Obama kinda, sorta pledged to do something about the cancellation notices:

I meant what I said. And we worked hard to try to make sure that we implemented it properly. But obviously, we didn’t do enough–a good enough job–and I regret that. . . .

We put in a clause in the law that said if you had one of those plans, even if it was subpar–when the law was passed, you could keep it. But there’s enough churn in the market that folks since then have bought subpar plans. And now that may be all they can afford. So even though it only affects a small amount of the population, you know, it means a lot to them, obviously, when they get–this letter cancelled.

And–you know, I am deeply concerned about it. And I’ve assigned my team to see what we can do to close some of the holes and gaps in the law–because, you know, my intention is to lift up and make sure the insurance that people buy is effective.

This is very far from a clear pledge to make good on the oft-repeated if-you-like-your-plan-you-can-keep it promise. There’s a good reason for that: Even if Obama wanted to keep his promise now, it would be all but impossible to do so.

Some of the canceled plans–the ones Obama now categorically describes (dishonestly) as “subpar”–had to be canceled because the Health and Human Services Department narrowly construed the “grandfather” clause, forbidding the renewal of any plan that is not compliant with every ObamaCaremandate if it was changed in the slightest–even just a small adjustment of copayments–after the enactment of the law.

HHS presumably could revisit that regulatory interpretation so as to permit insurance companies to continue offering those plans. But the government has no legal authority to compel insurance companies to do so. Congress could pass legislation to that effect, but that would surely provoke litigation from insurance companies, which would have a reasonable argument that imposing a new mandate fast on the heels of a contrary one is so capricious as to constitute a violation of due process.

Some insurance cancellations have been the result not of ObamaCare mandates directly but of business decisions made by insurance companies, or of regulatory decisions at the state level. ObamaCare defenders argue that it is unreasonable to hold the president accountable for those. This column strongly disagrees. Insurance companies and state regulators are making their decisions within the regulatory environment created by ObamaCare’s “comprehensive” reform; cancellations that result indirectly from that reform are as much a failure to keep the president’s promise as those mandated by it.

Further, Obama is accountable even for cancellations that cannot be laid directly to ObamaCare’s mandates or indirectly to its incentives. He did not qualify his promise “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” It was a blanket assurance that policyholders would be protected from cancellations. For Obama and the law’s supporters in Congress to have made good on his promise, they would have had to include a mandate that insurers offer all existing policyholders the option to continue their plans. At this point, there is no way to restore the canceled plans unless all the insurance companies cooperate.

ObamaCare defenders have tried to shift blame onto insurance companies. Although they are wrong to do so, insurance companies do deserve a share of the blame, for ObamaCare is in part a payoff to them. What other industry has the benefit of a federal law mandating (or at least purporting to mandate) that Americans purchase its products?

In fact, we’ve seen no purer expression of contempt for Americans seeking to hold the president to his promise than this one from a Virginia insurance executive quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

[Doug] Gray, of the Virginia Association of Health Plans, called discussions about letting people keep noncompliant plans for another year “ridiculous.”

“We have been implementing this law for three years, changed all of our systems, all of our approaches to underwriting based on the new rules,” Gray said.

“None of this is new. Everybody knew that we changed the law and when it was taking effect. Pretending to be surprised when your plan is canceled and replaced with (one that meets the new law) is silly,” he said.

One difference between Barack Obama’s “apology” and Bernie Madoff’s is that the former seemed to be leaving open a defense that the fraudulence of his promise was unintentional: “We worked hard to try to make sure that we implemented it properly. But obviously, we didn’t do enough–a good enough job–and I regret that.” Madoff, by contrast, flatly admitted: “I knew what I was doing.”

Can Obama be forgiven because he didn’t know what he was doing? Before you answer, read this comment from the president at the House GOP Issues Conference Jan. 29, 2010, after ObamaCare had passed the Senate but before it passed the House:

I am absolutely committed to working with you on these issues. But it can’t just be political assertions that aren’t substantiated when it comes to the actual details of policy, because otherwise we’re going to be selling the American people a bill of goods.

I mean, the easiest thing for me to do on the health care debate would have been to tell people that, “What you’re going to get is guaranteed health insurance, lower your costs, all the insurance reforms, we’re going to lower the cost of Medicare and Medicaid, and it won’t cost anybody anything.” That’s great politics. It’s just not true.

So there’s got to be some test of realism in any of these proposals, mine included. I’ve got to hold myself accountable, and I guarantee the American people will hold themselves–will hold me accountable if what I’m selling doesn’t actually deliver.

Obama didn’t say flatly “we’re going to be selling the American people a bill of goods.” But taken in the context of both his 2010 disquisition and subsequent events, it reads like a confession.

For more “Best of the Web” click here and look for the “Best of the Web Today” link in the middle column below “Today’s Columnists.