Presidential Apologies: Who’s Sorry Now?
Policy + Politics

Presidential Apologies: Who’s Sorry Now?


Though President Obama issued a second apology last Thursday over the failed rollout of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, his words of contrition continue to resonate.   

With his first mea culpa, Obama took responsibility for the ongoing technical failures of, which launched on October 1. To remedy the situation, Health and Human Services director Kathleen Sebelius implemented a “tech surge” to reprogram the site and meet a November 30 deadline for relaunching the site. (She apologized, too.) 

Slide Show: 9 Historic Apologies

The president’s second apology alluded to his broken promise, a promise repeated multiple times: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.” At his press conference last week, he said, “Those who got cancellation notices do deserve and have received an apology from me.”

Obama certainly isn’t the first president to apologize for his mistakes. George W. Bush issued a feeble apology in 2005 for his administration’s inept response to Hurricane Katrina. He said, “Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government.  And to the extent that the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility.” 

Related:  George W. Bush: Too Soon to Forget His Mistakes

Bill Clinton had to retract this earlier statement about Monica Lewinsky: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” While under oath during a deposition, he said, “I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife. I deeply regret that.” 

For Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, the apology had a global twist: “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 the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake. 

In an interview with David Frost, Richard Nixon finally came clean over Watergate. He told Frost, “Well, when I said: ‘I just hope I haven’t let you down,’ that said it all. I had. I let down my friends, I let down the country, I let down our system of government and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government but will think it is all too corrupt and the rest. Most of all I let down an opportunity I would have had for two and a half more years to proceed on great projects and programs for building a lasting peace." 

Click here for our slide show:  9 Historic Apologies

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