Does Jay Carney realize he’s now Ron Ziegler?

Does Jay Carney realize he’s now Ron Ziegler?

Carney4In 1973, President Richard Nixon’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler, uttered words that have gone down in political spin history: “This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.”

Now we are daily treated to permutations of that quote from Jay Carney, President Barack Obama’s press secretary. Ever since the news broke that millions of Americans can’t keep the health plans they liked, contrary to promises the president made repeatedly over the past three years, Carney has been swimming upstream at his daily press briefings. The problem is, he hasn’t seemed to notice he’s in deep water. He appears to think he’s doing a dandy job.

Witness this little confrontation about another bit of presidential fibbing concerning the Affordable Care Act. ABC’s Jon Karl pointed out to Carney that the president knew, when he pitched the ACA 800 number in the Rose Garden, that it would lead to a Potemkin Enrollment Experience (my words, not his) because documents now reveal White House insiders realized the phone enrollment would mean advancing no farther in the bottle-necked online queue.

The line from this exchange that stands out to me is the one Carney tosses off near the end:

I think everybody else is looking quizzically because there’s a reason to be quizzical here.

Uh, if he’s referring to the rest of the press pool in the room looking a bit bewildered, it’s not by Karl’s legitimate question. It could be they were taken aback by Carney’s bumbling mockery of a legitimate question from a legitimate reporter of a legitimate broadcast news outlet.
As that exchange demonstrates, Carney is now far into Ziegler land. And as the briefing the next day showed, he’s completely clueless about his new status. Question after question came at him on the president’s promise that Americans would be able to keep their own health plans that they liked. And Carney kept offering one absurd claim after another:

“I think that that is the explanation for the broader approach, which is that back when the law was being written, and the provision that the President insisted be part of the Affordable Care Act that allowed for the grandfathering in of existing plans on the individual market — so that if you had that plan and you wanted to keep it, even though it was substandard, you could — that you couldn’t apply that hypothetically to plans that did not exist, because basically you would be undermining the central promise of the Affordable Care Act, which is a sort of bottom baseline of coverage that everyone should enjoy…”

Did you get that? Loose translation: The statements the president made campaigning for the ACA are inoperative.

Or how about Carney’s answer to another question on the “if you like your plan you can keep it” promise:

“I just want to be clear: The President was referring to the law and to the fact that the law was written in a way — and everybody who closely covered the drafting of that legislation knew it was written about — that the grandfathering clause was in the law, and he was referring to the implementation of that law through the rule process. When the rule was issued, Secretary Sebelius and others spoke to the press about it, specifically about the fact that not everybody — that if insurance companies changed their plans or canceled their plans, they would give up the opportunity to grandfather those plans in, in June of 2010. And there was a fair amount of coverage of that in major newspapers… Look, the provision within the Affordable Care Act was the manifestation of the President’s promise that if you had a plan that you liked, you could keep it. But he didn’t say, if your insurance company cancels your plan and gives you something else that’s worse, you can keep it. “

Translation: The previous statements the president made are inoperative.

I could go on, but you get the gist. And if you want more, tootle on over to the White House Press Briefing site to read the transcripts. You might want to put on some boots and clip your nose shut, though, before you go. It’s spread pretty thick over there, and it reeks to high heaven.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Follow her on twitter at @LibbysBooks


Libby Sternberg

Libby Sternberg

Libby Sternberg is an Edgar-nominated novelist whose works include humorous women’s fiction, young adult fiction, and historical fiction. Her political writings have appeared at Hot Air, the Weekly Standard, Insight, the Wall Street Journal, and Christian Science Monitor.

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