Littwin: OK computer, give the people what they want
As recent presidential humiliations go, Barack Obama’s Obamacare infomercial speech is hardly the worst. I mean, he didn’t lie about having sex with that woman. And he didn’t land on an aircraft carrier wearing a flight suit while walking under a mission accomplished sign.
But it was still bad enough. The high-tech president, who won the 2012 election when Mitt Romney’s ORCA computer program crashed, had to admit that the Obamacare computer problems went beyond glitches and kinks to somewhere closer to a category 5 disaster. And if the IT people can’t fix it, Obama may have to send in FEMA.
Presidents don’t like to admit they’ve screwed up. And, to be honest, Obama didn’t quite go that far. He didn’t even go as far as the expected buck-stops-here proposition, which is the fallback presidential cop-out for not really blaming yourself. Not that he blamed anyone else, either. As his old adviser Robert Gibbs said, he should have fired someone, just to show he really cares.
Instead, Obama said he was madder than anyone (almost certainly true) and sort of conceded – just by being there – that he was as embarrassed as anyone.
But the truth is, he’ll get over it. The glitches/catastrophe will get resolved eventually. If Americans can’t make computers work, we’re in much worse shape than I thought.
The people who should be mad are the people who actually need Obamacare. They’re the ones who’ve been hurt. They’ve been hurt by the Republicans who have done everything in their power to shut Obamacare down. They’ve been hurt by the healthcare.gov website that won’t let them power up. They’ve been lied to for three years about how bad Obamacare is going to be, and now it seems like it takes three years just to try to sign up.
The people really hurting are those who don’t have healthcare because it’s too expensive and the ones who don’t have healthcare because they have preexisting conditions and the ones who don’t have healthcare because their employers don’t offer it and the ones who don’t have healthcare because they lost their jobs.
As Garance Franke-Ruta wrote in the Atlantic, polls show that most people who don’t have insurance intend to enroll. And as people become more familiar with the Obamacare exchanges – you know who you are, Cory Gardner — the numbers will almost certainly move higher.
But funnier than Obama doing his Dealin’ Doug imitation – call 1-800-MESSDUP – are the Republicans who pretend to be outraged that people can’t sign up for a program they don’t want anyone to sign up for. It’s like complaining that the team you hate isn’t scoring enough points.
“The product is good,” Obama promised his would-be customers. “The health insurance that’s being provided is good. It’s high quality, and it’s affordable.”
And, for the meantime, it’s all but ungettable, which tells us something very important. No, it’s not that the program is bad – for the most part, it isn’t — or even that the computer program is bad, which it clearly is.
The real issue is the efficacy of government programs as we head into another round of budget negotiations that may well lead to some entitlement adjustments (read: cuts). The government shutdown reminded us that government matters. The reason the shutdown got such terrible reviews and, especially for House Republicans, such terrible polling numbers is that that people don’t want politicians getting in the way of what government does. That was important.
It’s true that people don’t trust government in overwhelming numbers, which is not a bad thing. But trusting that government will be able to do its job is a different matter. The question is how Obamacare fits into the argument.
There’s a new CNN poll that takes us beyond the latest numbers on Congress (12 percent approval rating, if you’re curious) and asks about Obamacare. What’s important is that the poll didn’t simply ask the approve/disapprove question, which came out the way we’ve come to expect — 56 disapprove and 41 approve. When asked why they disapproved, 12 percent said it was because the program is “not liberal enough,” which significantly changes the equation.
The law is unnecessarily complicated because that’s the only way it could get through Congress, which somehow needed to ensure that insurance companies still got their profits. Single payer never had a chance. All-Medicare never had a chance. Public option had a chance, but not much of one.
To understand the all-out effort to defeat Obamacare, you can just look at the government shutdown absurdity or, for an even better read, look at the many states that have refused government Medicaid money – money designed to help the poor buy health insurance — as a way of undermining health care reform. In Ohio, a Republican governor just found a way to do an end around on the Republican legislature in order to take the money. Most states are bound to follow because it’s crazy, and cruel, not to take the money.
But the rollout failure only encourages those in the Ted Cruz world to believe ever more fervently that Obamacare will fail in the end. Democrats like to point out that Medicare Part D had big problems when it rolled out. But this was a far bigger deal. It was, in fact, a must-not-fail proposition.
According to the Washington Post, Obama and his top officials were taken by surprise by their team’s failure to make the system work. Apparently, the tech people thought they could make the computers work in time and hid the problems. You’d have thought, if nothing else, that the NSA would have picked up some of the chatter.
Still, it’s not surprising that a law that was so difficult to pass would be hard to implement.
But there’s hard and then there’s hard. And then there’s humiliatingly hard.
[ Image: Max with Robot zombie Scarecrow by R.xR. Anderson ]
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