November 14, 2013

We’ve been using so many weird euphemisms lately that it is hard to keep track of them. The New York Times says President Obama made an “incorrect promise” about keeping your health plan, which was — kind of weird, and not really a phrase that exists. Then the administration said the Web site would be up and running by “November 30″ which, it turns out, meant “sometime, probably not November 30.

Continuing this theme, the president held a news conference Thursday, from a nice office overlooking the sharp chasm into which his approval rating has plummeted. Here are translations of some key lines:

Obama: But we’ve got to move forward on this. It took a hundred years for us to even get to the point where we could start talking about and implementing a law to make sure everybody got health insurance.

Translation: Actually, a hundred is low-balling it. What about all those years when health insurance was nailing a horseshoe over your door to ward off the Evil Eye? I only say a hundred because it is the number of years we’ve had penicillin, give or take a decade.

Obama: There is no doubt that people are frustrated. We just came out of a shutdown and the possibility that for the first time in over 200 years we wouldn’t pay our bills. And people breathed a sigh of relief when that finally got done, and the next thing they know is, is that the president’s health-care reform can’t get the Web site to work and that there are these other problems with respect to cancellation notices.

Translation: REMEMBER THE SHUTDOWN? DON’T YOU REMEMBER THE SHUTDOWN? OH, COME ON, NEWS CYCLE! YOU HAVE THE ATTENTION SPAN OF A COKE-ADDLED GNAT WATCHING YOUTUBE VIDEOS.

Obama: So in terms of how I intend to approach it, I’m just going to keep on working as hard as I can around the priorities that the American people care about.

Translation: I, um, well, I don’t code. I tried sitting there next to the people who knew what they were doing and clearing my throat a lot in a disappointed way, but they said it was, and I quote, “bothering them more than it was helping,” so I stopped. I don’t really know what to do. I guess I’ll make a speech about it, or something.

Obama: And, you know, that’s on me. I mean, we fumbled the rollout on this health-care law. There are a whole bunch of things about it that are working really well that people didn’t notice, all right, because they weren’t controversial, so making sure kids could stay on their parents’ plans till they were — up through the age of 25, and making sure that seniors got more discounts on their prescription drugs — there were a whole bunch of stuff that we did well over the first three years, but we also knew that these marketplaces — creating a place where people can shop and, through competition, get a better deal for the health insurance that their families need — we always knew that that was going to be complicated, and everybody was going to be paying a lot of attention to it.

Translation: There are also some additional things that are working REALLY REALLY well, but the only people who can see them or know about them are the pure in heart.

Obama: On the Web site, I was not informed directly that the Web site would not be working as — the way it was supposed to. Had I been informed, I wouldn’t be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great. You know, I’m accused of a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying, this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity, a week before the Web site opens, if I thought that it wasn’t going to work.

Translation: NO ONE TELLS ME ANYTHING! Directly, that is. Also, I’ve had some bad experiences on Travelocity. Gnomes.

Obama: With respect to the pledge I made that if you like your plan you can keep it, I think — you know, and I’ve said in interviews — that there is no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate.

Translation: There’s a term for that. Oh, yes: “incorrect promise.”

Obama: You know, the Web site itself is doing a lot of stuff.

Translation: Aren’t you reassured by my evident knowledge of Web sites and how they work? I hear it is hard for Web sites to do stuff.

Obama: And you know, I am very frustrated, but I’m also somebody who, if I fumble the ball, you know, I’m going to wait until I get the next play, and then I’m going to try to run as hard as I can and do right by the team.

Translation: Let’s talk about football instead of this Web site! Football’s fun and interesting. That Washington team, what should we call them? How about “Skins”? Just “Skins”? No?

Obama: It’ll be working a lot better than it is — it was last week and will be working better than it was this week, which means that the majority of people who go to the Web site will see a Web site that is working the way it’s supposed to.

Translation: This is safe to say. It cannot be working any worse than it is unless whenever you click on anything an angry clown comes tumbling out of your computer screen and starts destroying your belongings with a hatchet.

Obama: I think it is not possible for me to guarantee that a hundred percent of the people a hundred percent of the time going on this Web site will have a perfectly seamless, smooth experience.

Translation: No one is asking me to guarantee that, but we can all agree it would be unreasonable!

Obama: What we’re discovering is that part of the problem has been technology, hardware and software, and that’s being upgraded.

Translation: We know for certain what the problem is: It has to do with technology. Hardware. Software. We are fixing those things. As you can tell we really understand how this works.

Obama: But even if we get the — the hardware and software working exactly the way it’s supposed to with relatively minor glitches, what we’re also discovering is that insurance is complicated to buy.

Translation: If you are screaming a little bit, saying, “YOU DIDN’T REALIZE THIS EARLIER WHEN YOU SET OUT TO REFORM INSURANCE?” Well, as I said, that’s on me. Like a football thing.

Obama: And in fact, you know, if we can get some focus groups and we sit down with actual users and see, you know, how well is this working, what would improve it, what part of it didn’t you understand, that all, I think, is part of what we’re going to be working on in the weeks ahead.

Translation: “You know what would improve it? If it WORKED!” the focus group will probably say, but, you know, these things are hard. It’s the hardware and the software.

Obama: You know, I — I’ve got to say I meet with an awful lot of folks, and I talk to an awful lot of folks every day. And I have lunches with CEOs and IT venture capitalists and labor leaders and, you know, pretty much folks from all walks of life on a whole bunch of topics. And if you looked at my schedule on any given day, we’re interacting with a whole lot of people.

Translation: I am not insular! I like having lunch with people!

Obama: What is true is that, as I said before, our IT systems, how we purchase technology in the federal government is cumbersome, complicated and outdated. And so this isn’t a situation where — on my campaign, I could simply say, who are the best folks out there, let’s get them around a table, let’s figure out what we’re doing and we’re just going to continue to improve it and refine it and work on our goals.

Translation: The federal government is bad at doing things like this, I realize now, now that they are charged with All The Insurance Things.

Obama: And one of the — you know, when I do some Monday morning quarterbacking on myself, one of the things that I do recognize is since I know that the federal government has not been good at this stuff in the past, two years ago as we were thinking about this, you know, we might have done more to make sure that we were breaking the mold on how we were going to be setting this up. But that doesn’t help us now. We got to move forward.

Translation: You know what they say: When you’re in a hole, keep digging. Also, football.

Obama: Well, the problem with the — the grandfather clause that we put in place is it’s almost like we said to folks, you got to buy a new car, even if you can’t afford it right now. And sooner or later folks are going to start trading in their old cars. But, you know, we don’t need — if their life circumstance is such where, for now at least, they want to keep the old car, even if the new car is better, we should be able to give them that option, and that’s what we want to do. And by the way, that’s what we should have been able to do in drafting the rules in the first place. So again, you know, these are two fumbles on something that — on a big game which — but the game’s not over. With respect to the politics of it, you know, I’ll let you guys do a lot of the work on projecting what this means for various political scenarios.

Translation: You can tell this is getting fixed because I have come up with three metaphors for it. The more metaphors you have to describe something, the better it is working.

Obama: And, you know, I think I said early on when I was running, I am not a perfect man and I will not be a perfect president, but I’ll wake up every single day working as hard as I can on behalf of Americans out there from every walk of life who are working hard, meeting their responsibilities but sometimes are struggling because the way the system works isn’t giving them a fair shot.

Translation: Look, nobody’s perfect. What am I, some sort of wizard? You want someone who is president and has a signature piece of legislation to make sure it is working correctly before everyone tries to sign up? Yes? Okay, um, I’ll just … back away slowly.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.