Just in time to make the 2013 cut-off, the White House achieved the Jumbo of the year, and simultaneously made me wonder if I am going to have to jettison all respect for my loyal Obama-supporting friends.
The Jumbo is an Ethics Alarms category lunched in 2013, designed to recognize individuals who engage in spectacular examples of unethical conduct I have always detested with a special passion: trying to wiggle out of a tight spot by stubbornly insisting that what is obviously the case isn’t really, a brazen exercise resting on the presumption that everyone else is either a dimwit or as corrupt as the speaker. The name derives from an iconic moment in Billy Rose’s 1936 Broadway musical extravaganza “Jumbo,” named after P.T. Barnum’s famous giant elephant, that starred Jimmy Durante. Caught red-handed as he tried to sneak his dying bankrupt circus’s major asset off the premises and away from creditors, the “Old Shnozzola” was confronted with a sheriff who belligerently inquired, “Just where do you think you’re going with that elephant?” Jimmy’s response, acting for all the world as if the massive pachyderm at the end of the rope he was holding didn’t exist: “Elephant? What elephant?” Another apocryphal equivalent is the old burlesque joke about the philandering husband caught by his wife as he frolics in their bed with a naked and luscious bimbo. The rake still denies anything untoward is going on, pleading, “Who are you going to believe, me, or your own eyes?” . In real life, the gold standard might be actress Lindsay Lohan’s insistence to police, when she was arrested for reckless driving and cocaine was found in her pocket, that she was wearing someone else’s pants.
The White House’s entry into the Jumbo Hall of Fame is pretty impressive, though. As figures showed that a million Americans had registered for Obamacare in December, bringing the total number to 2.1 million, well short of the 3 million goal, White House White House health care adviser Phil Schiliro told MSNBC yesterday that the frequently stated Administration goal of 7 million enrolled by the end of March, when the individual mandate (penalty, according to Democrats; tax, according to the U.S. Supreme Court) kicks in, was not really the goal after all.
The Obamacare flacks, and that includes the President of the United States, have been in full spin mode ever since the mess of a health care law was officially launched in October, with the spin frequently churning into outright lies. Yesterday, for example, commenting on the so-called December “surge” in enrollments, Dan Mendelson, president of health research firm Avalere Health said, “It was a very impressive December. The fact that they have about 2 million enrolled is not that far off from 3.3 million.” Huh? since when is missing a goal by about 40% “not that far off”? Isn’t 60% an “F”? If I miss my business’s income projection by 40%, I’m facing personal and professional bankruptcy. A baseball team projected to win 100 games (meaning a probably championship) that wins only 60 (finishing last) fires its manager and goes down as one of the worst disappointments in sports history. A sales manager who reaches just 60% of his goal is going to be looking for a job too.
Schiliro, however, really has some brass. The Congressional Budget Office estimated earlier this year that 7 million people would sign up for health insurance under the new law by the end of open enrollment in March. Then HHS Secretary Sebelius—you know, the Cabinet member who is head of the department responsible for administering the Affordable Care Act, and presumably a reliable spokesperson regarding such matters as goals?— repeatedly stated in interviews that the administration’s goal was 7 million enrollees .
Forget all that, insists Schiliro. “That was never our target number,” he said, Durante-like. “That was a target that was put out by the Congressional Budget Office and has become the accepted number.” Yes, and that was also the number specified as the goal by the Secretary of Health and Human Services more than once, and never corrected or contradicted by the Administration until now. How can that be? It can be because the Obama Administration will tell us what real goals are after the final results are in, where they will be remarkably similar to whatever number was achieved.
This is how fakes, frauds, bad middle managers and Orwellian leaders behave. If 7 million was never the goal, then it was incumbent for the White House to instantly correct the announced goal when it was specified by a credible and authoritative source with the apparent authority to speak for the government. It can’t come out months later and say, as Schliro is essentially saying, “No, we actually have a double-secret goal that’s the real goal, and we aren’t bound by what the official overseeing the program said. In her official capacity. To the news media. Repeatedly. Because, see, we’re obviously not going to make that number, and this Administration always meets its targets, even if it has to draw a red circle around wherever an errant arrow lands.”
Or, “Elephant? What elephant?“
As I said, I really hate this kind of thing (unless Jimmy’s the one doing it). It is insulting to every American, journalist, and adult. How dare our government treat us like drooling morons? This conduct is also the opposite of accountability, the avoidance of which has been one of the unethical hallmarks of President Obama’s leadership from the moment he took office. Ethical, admirable, trustworthy leaders have the character and integrity to say, “Yup, we had an ambitious target that we thought was achievable, and we’re obviously not going to make it. We’ll have to do better.” This crew never can muster the courage, honesty or candor to level with the nation, or presumably itself.
Finally, such conduct is horribly corrupting. It plants cynicism in the minds of citizens that will cause them to distrust future leaders. It poisons the culture, giving credibility and status to a blatantly dishonest tactic: lying to avoid the consequences of likely failure. Perhaps worst of all, it forces loyal supporters to choose between abandoning a program, a leader and an administration that they are invested in, or endorsing unethical conduct. It literally makes its supporters worse human beings, because this sort of fraudulent handling of failed expectations, promises and responsibilities becomes a habit. If your government does it and you nod meekly, you’re likely to start behaving the same way.
This is really what bothers me about this Jumbo. I don’t believe in demonizing people who disagree with me on national policy issues; unlike MSNBC and Mark Levin, I don’t assume those who think differently from the way I do are villains, and I don’t think a democracy can function if that’s how most citizens think. Nevertheless, I cannot, and as a matter of integrity and civic duty should not, continue to respect people, even friends, who perpetually support and bolster unethical leaders when they unambiguously use lies to compensate for their own incompetence. I don’t know how long I am going to be able to tolerate friends that I desperately want to respect and have in my life who are fed obvious lies, see their colleagues and family fed lies and treated like sheep, and respond by saying, “I’m still 100% per cent behind” the source of those lies. Such people are the backbone of every totalitarian regime in history, and the amount of death and tragedy their weak, lazy and unprincipled passivity has caused through the centuries is incalculable. Eventually, for me to ignore that dangerous conduct is as unforgivable as falling for Schiliro’s Jumbo.
Graphic: Deviant Art