If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an apology is worth a thousand interpretations, at least in the United States. Such was the case when President Barack Obama issued an apology over the struggling Affordable Care Act (ACA) and fledgling website, something he had hoped would be an indelible part of his legacy. Despite assurances to Americans that “if you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan,” millions have been dropped by insurance companies. Since the summer of 2010, President Obama was well aware of how the new law would cause millions to lose their insurance. In a recent interview on NBC News, President Obama said, “I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me.”
Already, some news pundits and Republican strategists are denouncing his apology as being either phony, half-hearted or ambiguous at best. Other political and talk radio opponents claim he is merely “faking” it, especially since the ACA was intended and designed to destroy the privatized healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, both of which consists of 18 percent of economic activities. Others have gone as far to claiming that Obamacare, as it is sometimes called by those who despise it, was implemented as a way of destroying American liberty and free choice, and for the purpose of buying votes in the next 2016 presidential election, assuring a Hillary Rodham Clinton victory. Still, some supporters are attributing his blunder to bureaucratic incompetence.
Because of its uncomfortable and disruptive nature, most people usually attempt to avoid embarrassing situations. In dealing with lies, individuals, including American presidents, often make attempts to redress their untruths to avoid accountability. They also try and maintain their composure through several “face-saving” strategies, such as hostility. In a newly released book, one senior official in the Bush Administration who later regretted his involvement in the U.S.-Iraq War claimed, “The only reason we went into Iraq, I tell people now, is we were looking for somebody’s ass to kick. Afghanistan was too easy.” The official attributes this attitude and quote to President George W. Bush. Even as the war became a major debacle and embarrassment, he merely grew more aggressive.
After raising taxes, President George H.W. Bush, President Bush’s father, never did apologize for “Read my lips: no new taxes!” pledge. President Ronald Reagan tried to escape his Iran-Contra lies, and untruths over how Nicaragua was going to invade the U.S., by claiming, “A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not.” Throughout the Watergate Scandal, and having repeatedly told blatant lies about not expanding the U.S.-Vietnam War into Laos and Cambodia, upon resigning President Richard Nixon avoided remorse and responsibility by blaming others. “My enemies gave me a sword,” exclaimed President Nixon, “and I fell upon it!”
And don’t forget President Bill Clinton who just weighed in on the millions of Americans losing their insurance under the ACA. While calling on President Obama to apologize and reinstate their policies, as a former president he continually dodged his immoral and extramarital affair (just one of many) with Monica Lewinsky by perjuring himself before a grand jury. He also denied the tryst (and then degraded Ms. Lewinsky) on national television by saying, “I did not have sex with that woman.” To his credit, he did apologize upon arriving in Guatemala for the U.S.’s decades long corporate-imperial wars which killed 250,000 people. Sadly, he never did apologize for the deaths of 600,000 children in Iraq due to punitive economic sanctions.
Presidential lies are as common as apple pie, hot dogs and baseball. Inherent in a federalist system turned-federalist-empire is an underlying principle that power should be, and always remain, in the hands of the most virtuous and noble, or those who think they are dedicated to what is the “highest” good. What is the highest good and “absolute truth” is embodied in the wealthy elites and their corporate-military structures. Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward warned of this when he said a huge “secret government” (like the Pentagon, NSA and CIA) needs reviewed. According to Woodward, “We have an incredibly powerful government that gets on automatic pilot. People aren’t checking all of the boxes and the administration didn’t properly ‘practice’ Obamacare.”(1)
In order for the powerful to protect themselves and maintain control over the masses, replete with dominant organizations and violent structures, coded language and lies-which is often the glue that hold dysfunctional societies together-must be constantly utilized. Just as truth and transparency are dangerous in limited democracies, so too are apologies. An apology means a mistake was made, an undesired behavior was committed. It entails blameworthiness and being accountable to others. Some type of remediation and correction is expected and must be pursued in an attempt to regain social approval. Apologies also symbolize equality and humanness while denoting parity and justice, qualities that are aversive in fascist states or managed democracies.
For whatever reason, President Obama apologized. Since an apology is worth a thousand lives in a federalist empire, it should serve as the greatest legacy, including those of his predecessors whom have mislead the citizenry with their untruths, and through avoidance, escape, rationalization or displacement, have deformed self-governance by creating a culture of deceit. An apology is always an admission of guilt, of taking responsibility for committing psychological violence against the “Other” or a group of people. It is the first step in unimposing a false reality, of restoring the public’s trust. President Obama’s apology is a reminder of the many lies Americans have had to endure: the deceptive wars, the irrational ideologies, the cover-ups that have literally killed millions.
Of interest is in terms of gender differences, women seem more likely than men to offer an apology. Women are also more likely to offer help and act on such offers, if their embarrassing actions have caused potential distress to others. And when someone is caught in a lie, people of higher status, in comparison to those of lower status, are less likely to acknowledge responsibility and apologize or account for their actions.(3) These findings might be of great importance in the upcoming 2016 presidential election.
And the whole truth about legacies will never be complete until the People, not the Presidents, start fashioning and making their own.
(1) www.politico.com. “Woodward: ‘Secret government’ at the root of problems,” by Emma Caitlan, 10/27/13.
(2) Wolin, Sheldon S. Democracy Inc., Managed Democracy And The Specter Of Inverted Totalitarianism. Princeton, New Jersey: Oxford University Press, 2008., p. 170, 171.
(3) Ramachandran, V.S. Encyclopedia of Human Behavior. New York, New York: Academic Press, Inc., p. 241.