Secretary Sebelius: Loyal Soldier, Sacrificial Lamb
By Ken K. Gourdin
Usually, someone delivers those words sincerely, having recognized a wrong committed and having approached the person wronged in a spirit of humility and contrition, with a desire to make amends for the wrong done and to repair the relationship. Not so, however, in the case of United States Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, speaking before a Congressional committee of the SNAFUs underlying the attempted enactment of the Affordable Care Act in general and the Web site on which citizens are supposed to be able to determine their eligibility and to enroll in one of the available plans, in particular.
True, some people are more matter-of-fact, and they operate less in a realm of emotion and intuition than in a realm of logic and reason. Perhaps such people can issue an apology which, while it is no less heartfelt and genuine than the one described in the foregoing paragraph, nonetheless seems to lack those characteristics to people who operate in the former realm. When I heard the Secretary’s apology, however, it sounded more like a perfunctory, quasi- (or non-) apology “apology” than its truly genuine counterpart. I had to wonder whether that’s how the Secretary sounds after having unfairly lost her temper with one of her children or grandchildren and, if so, how one of them might receive such an apology.
To be fair, while the Secretary’s putative job is to oversee the federal machinery dedicated to ensuring the physical and social welfare of many of the country’s more vulnerable citizens (such as women, children, the elderly, the infirm, and the otherwise disadvantaged), her real job is to protect her boss. As Secretary Sebelius so pointedly reminded us, she works, not for us, the American People, but rather for him — the President of the United States, Barack H. Obama. And if all else fails, and if he is disinclined to follow President Harry S. Truman’s advice about “where the buck stops,” her ultimate job is to provide political cover for the President — by falling on her sword if necessary.
Perhaps the President told Secretary Sebelius something like this: “Kathy, this is my signature initiative. It has my name on it (at least informally: It’s not called ‘Obamacare’ for nothing). I have a reputation and a legacy to protect, so I can’t take any responsibility for the problems with it. I’m gonna have to duck. You’ll be behind me but in front of the fan. I need you to stand tall and hold your head high when the . . . umm, stuff . . . heads your way. Can you do that?” To which Sebelius may have responded (however reluctantly), “Mr. President, I’m your loyal HHS Secretary. If that’s what you need, I’ll do it.” While that exact conversation may not have occurred between President Obama and Secretary Sebelius, an exchange which is similar in substance between the two certainly would do a lot to explain Sebelius’s seemingly robotic attempt at contrition.
If my hypothesis is correct, I certainly have a certain amount of sympathy for Sebelius. I wouldn’t be surprised if she wishes that President Obama were a little bit more like President Truman.
P.S., October 31, 2013 – At another point in the hearing, Sebelius can be heard muttering into an open microphone, “Don’t do this to me.” While I was unable to determine the circumstances surrounding this plea, I do find it revealing. In my mind, it certainly lends credence to my contention that Sebelius is a sacrificial lamb and a loyal (if reluctant) soldier.
And at still another point in the hearing, Sebelius testified, “The Web site has never crashed.” Even at ABC, which can hardly be classified as an outlet which has been unfriendly to the President or to his aims and initiatives (and frankly, having much in common with most of the media in that regard), even the network’s White House correspondent who related this declaration from the Secretary asked skeptically, “Never crashed? Huh?” To be fair to Sebelius, she’s no technophile. Perhaps in her mind, the word “crash” should only be used to describe a total lack of functionality: at least the Web site has been functional enough to tell us when it’s not completely functional! ;-D
Update: November 8, 2013 – The Apologies Continue – The urge to apologize (albeit perfunctorily, perhaps?) is spreading. Now, President Obama — he of the ubiquitous pronouncements that “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan . . . period,” and “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor . . . period” 1 — says he’s “sorry” that so many people’s insurance plans have been discontinued. President Bill Clinton’s glaring personal peccadillos notwithstanding, President Obama’s apology made me long for the old days when President Clinton was in office. As much as President Clinton’s assurances that he “felt our pain” might have been politically motivated, at least they were believable on some level. Not so with President Obama.
Update, November 12, 2013: Why President Obama’s “Apology” May Not Be Sincere – Upon further reflection, it has occurred to me that perhaps the reason President Obama’s apology doesn’t sound sincere (as much as I hate to doubt the sincerity of my fellow human beings when they apologize for failing in some way) is . . . because it’s not: Repeated, emphatic “if-you-like-your-doctor-you-can-keep-your-doctor-(period)” and “If-you-like-your-plan-you-can-keep-your-plan-(period)” pronouncements (and later apology when those pronouncements later proved inaccurate) notwithstanding, in order for the Affordable Care Act to work as intended, President Obama needs to get the well and wealthy off of their pre-ACA plans and into the health insurance exchanges in order to be able to fund the typically-more-extensive healthcare needs of the sick and poor.
1. What President Obama meant by that (forgetting to tell us that, in contravention to usual rules of punctuation, those sentences were supposed to contain an additional clause following his emphatically declared period) is that we could keep plans we like, as long as they provide fictional “fertile octogenarians” maternity coverage, and as long as they provide non-drug abusers much needed substance abuse coverage. (I’ll never understand why every plan now must contain those features under the Affordable Care Act; while I’m generally opposed to sweeping, arbitrary federal mandates, if they were going to mandate something, why didn’t the ACA’s creators simply mandate that such coverage must be offered as an option?)