Yesterday the president said what every American not living under a rock already knew: “I mean, we fumbled the rollout on this health care law.” He also stated, “I think it’s legitimate for them to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health care law in particular, and on a whole range of these issues in general. And that’s on me.”
Winning back the trust of the American people and any hint of credibility, particularly after some Americans lost their current health care after the rollout, despite repeated assurances that they would not, will not be easy. But below are some suggestions on how he could start.
Fire someone and let everyone know that you did.
This morning, journalists on CBS News mentioned that some are drawing comparisons to the incompetency displayed by this administration with the health care rollout to the incompetency displayed by the Bush administration in response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. That’s ridiculous. But what is not ridiculous is that in some ways, President Bush was not reviled for the crime but for the cover-up. Americans resented seeing his team coast along after such a major fumble and the president seeming to continue to support them anyway.
By comparison no one expects President Obama to be responsible for setting up the website. We do expect him, however, to have accountability for the failures of those who do. By not firing anyone on his team for bungling the launch of his administration’s signature issue, he is inviting comparisons to Bush’s legacy-defining misstep when he proclaimed to FEMA Director Michael Brown, “You’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie.” Just as Brownie’s head should have rolled, someone in this administration’s should, too.
Get some of your allies to spend some of their war chests highlighting how Obamacare has actually helped Americans since becoming law of the land.
If there is one thing the Obama administration has failed at more miserably than the actual launch of the ACA website, it is communicating about the effectiveness of Obamacare. Part of why the president has been playing defense from Day 1 is that his team did a lousy job of communicating from the very beginning why Obamacare was a good thing for most American families. Now is the time to flood the airwaves with ads and stories highlighting every young adult whose life has been saved by health care treatment they could not have sought had they not stayed on mom and dad’s plan after college. Or every young mother who had a dangerous health condition uncovered during her now free well-woman exam. Don’t get me wrong. Obamacare is not perfect. But it is a much better alternative for the average American than being uninsured. At the moment that message is not surviving the Washington media echo chamber. Team Obama has to find a way to penetrate that.
Use Michelle more.
The first lady has a lot going for her that the president currently does not. She is well-liked by a majority of Americans and does not have a credibility problem. Additionally, she recently began wading into more complex policy advocacy with her recent event at a D.C. public school announcing her interest in helping more kids from low-income backgrounds attend college. While it wouldn’t be beneficial to have her shouting from the rooftops, “Leave my husband alone!” she could do a listening tour of Americans on health care—what they like, what they don’t like and report back to the White House. She could be the face of stability and empathy that the White House so desperately needs right now. By going into the community she could help highlight the many ways Obamacare is making American lives better, not worse. Such stories may seem slightly less cynical coming from the first lady, a nonpolitician.
Stop apologizing and start leading.
I’m a big believer in apologies, which often denote character and accountability. Studies show that doctors who deliver apologies for medical missteps immediately are less likely to be sued. The president was right to apologize for the disaster that has been the rollout of his signature legislative achievement. The character it takes to apologize can actually convey an impressive measure of power as opposed to weakness, as some who are leery of delivering apologies believe.
But the president does risk weakening his position in this back and forth by focusing too much on the “I’m sorry” and not enough on “Here’s what I’m doing to fix it.” Everyone knows that an “I’m sorry” is really only as good as the next steps that follow to try to make amends. Saying “I’m sorry” for hitting someone with a car is nice. Paying to fix the paint job for the car that you dented is a bit more useful. The president needs to focus on the paint job from here on out. And he needs to clean house of anyone in his administration who can’t help him with that effort.
Keli Goff is The Root's special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.