Here in the world outside of Washington, D.C., we acknowledge a couple of truths from the past two weeks: 1) The government shut down because a small, rabid gang of congressional Republicans can’t get past its hatred of Obamacare, and 2) Obamacare started anyway, but the rollout was saddled with technical errors.
Easy enough to understand. Unless you ask the people who work in national politics, in which case, neither of these things actually happened.
Instead, they’ve given us talking points: speeches about how various people are waiting patiently for various other people to come to their senses; declarations about how the health care rollout is going very well except for in the ways it is not going well, which are not really problematic because the problems that have emerged are not problems per se.
I read a lot of talking points last week, wondering if I’d catch somebody slip and say something substantive.
I was hopeful when I got an advance transcript for Saturday’s weekly Republican radio address, in which Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, was going to explain why the government is still closed.
What I wanted to hear: “Look, you’ve got to understand that every Republican is terrified of a primary election where some rich guy funds ads against him saying, ‘He voted for Obamacare.’ ”
What he said instead: “Hopefully our friends across the aisle will eventually get tired of playing politics. Hopefully they’ll remember that neither house of Congress can set the national agenda all by itself.”
Meanwhile, at the White House, an intrepid set of reporters asked White House spokesman Jay Carney how many people had signed up for Obamacare.
What I wanted to hear: a number. Or, “I don’t know.” Possibly followed by a self-serving, “Yes, we screwed up the rollout, but the fact that we’re overloaded with applicants suggests that there’s a need for this universal health care thing.”
What he said instead: “I’m glad you asked that question because I want to be clear about it. When it comes to enrollment data — I want to clear this up — we will release data on regular monthly intervals . . . What I can confirm right now is that people are signing up through federal exchanges. But we’re not going to be — this is an aggregation process and we’re not going to release data on an hourly or daily or weekly basis.”
I’m not the only one to feel annoyed. On “The Daily Show” last week, Jon Stewart tried, repeatedly, to get Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to answer a simple question: Why can’t individuals delay Obamacare for a year, like businesses can? He finally wound up asking her, “Am I a stupid man?”
But lately, I’ve started to wonder if these Washington folks are the smart ones after all. So I’ve decided to try out their tactics, and converse with my kids exclusively through talking points. I started while packing school lunches. Kid A asked for a sandwich, but I had no bread.
What I wanted to say: “Sorry, I forgot to buy bread in the supermarket, because I was too busy convincing your brother that he didn’t need that box of Angry Birds crackers that were somehow shelved directly at his eye level.”
What I said instead: “I’m endeavoring to make lunch as delicious as possible given the ingredients we have at our disposal.”
Kid A didn’t know what to make of this, so she moved on. “Where’s my blue shirt?”
What I wanted to say: “It’s somewhere in the bottom of that mountain of laundry in the basement, and will probably make its way up to the top in a week or so.”
What I said instead: “I’m glad you asked that question. Laundry is a very important household task that we all take very seriously.”
All in all, it’s been going pretty well. With talking points, you don’t need to worry about logic or truth. And you never have to take the blame. When Kid B asked to go to the park the other night, I could have given the real answer: “No, because I haven’t started dinner yet, and eating at 8 p.m. will seriously mess up your bedtime routine.”
What I said instead: “I’m sorry. My good friends in Washington shut down the government. I’m confident that they’ll eventually come to their senses, but until then, every park in America is closed.”