When something goes wrong, our first instinct is to point fingers and place blame. Such is the case with the technical mess associated with the roll out of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”
This was an awful week for President Obama. The rollout of the health care law has been an unmitigated disaster and could not have been more ill-timed. Just a few days after winning political points by refusing to yield to the pressure of a threatened government shutdown over Obamacare, its web site launched and failed miserably. The same people who tried to de-fund the plan last month were now screaming about its failure to work. Obama’s political and PR victory of a couple of weeks ago quickly turned to a highly visible crisis. Some members of Congress, always ready to show they’re working hard to solve important problems through the magic of sound bites, scheduled hearings so they could spend much of the week pointing fingers and looking for someone to blame.
In crises like these, particularly after something has gone wrong, is it really important to place blame? Is it helpful to find a scapegoat, someone to take the hit and be disciplined, fired, or even jailed?
When a leader needs protection from negative public opinion, some believe that a good crisis PR plan includes forcing an individual to dutifully fall on the proverbial knife. There’s indeed a PR expert or two who think that naming a scapegoat is a way the president could defer at least some of the blame for the bungled Affordable Care Act launch. But so far Mr. Obama is backing his staff. This past week his Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius testified in Congress, accepted blame for the mess, but didn’t offer her resignation, despite several harsh political voices calling for it.
President Dwight Eisenhower once said, “The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.” But maybe it shouldn’t be a PR strategy. Your thoughts?