The botched start-up of the Affordable Care Act is an embarrassingly stupid mistake, and it's President Obama's fault for not doing a better job of overseeing the launch of his signature legislative achievement.
With that said, the aftermath of the roll-out snafu has been even more ridiculous than the screwy website itself — ridiculous enough to be a good illustration of just how frivolous, inane and destructive the nation's politics have become.
We all know that the president is a great political campaigner, as evidenced by his electoral thrashing of his opponents in every U.S. region but the South. That makes it all the more astounding to see how politically tone-deaf he can be when he's off the campaign trail. His original refusal to let people keep their old, but newly canceled, health insurance plans was a perfect example of Obama's sporadic political cluelessness, but it's just the latest one. Early in his administration, when he had Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and voters expected bold moves, Obama instead gave us timid, piecemeal approaches to every issue, and stubbornly sought some common ground with a Republican Party that was already comparing him to Stalin.
It was as if Obama had never heard of the No. 1 rule in politics: Never give your opponents a chance to kick you in the ass. The botched Affordable Care Act roll-out proves the truth of that rule, especially if you start up a major new program by kicking your own ass so successfully.
Republicans, given the opportunity to beat up Obamacare one more time, went uber-ballistic, accusing the president of, well, nearly anything you can name. The mainstream media — starved for money and staff and locked into a never-ending news cycle that leaves little time for nuanced articles, never mind real investigations — jumped on the Republican "terrible Obama" bandwagon, portraying the president, in contradictory GOP fashion, as both an all-powerful, wicked manipulator and an incompetent dope.
What's missing from today's shallow media establishment are context and historical perspective. It should go without saying, but there are other things to consider about the ACA roll-out besides going nuts. Here are some:
1. The bungled start-up is not a cataclysmic event, should not have been such a shock, and doesn't automatically doom the ACA for all eternity, despite the current hysteria. Those should be obvious observations, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a D.C.-based journalist, i.e., a media-bubble-dweller, that will mention them. Social Security, unemployment insurance and Medicare all had difficult, glitch-filled starts — it's what usually happens when programs of such massive scale are trotted out, no matter the program or the country. A grasp of basic U.S. political history could have saved all of us from an intense brouhaha.
2. The GOP wins the Crocodile Tears Award for complaining that Americans aren't able to sign up for the ACA, after the party spent months trying to deny those same people (and the rest of us) affordable health care. Again, the media has given the GOP a free ride, treating the quickly created special "investigative" Obamacare committees in the House as if they were actual, serious efforts to remedy the healthcare woes of the American people rather than transparent political grandstanding.
3. The primary culprit in the website debacle is the ACA's overly complicated structure. The reason it's so complex is that Obama "pre-compromised" his healthcare reform law by relying on a model for national health care that was originally proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Heritage's plan kept the existing U.S. set-up in which private insurance companies dominate the medical industry. A single-payer system, which is the norm in most of the industrialized world — and which, contrary to GOP/Fox myth-making, works very well thankyouverymuch — would have been much simpler. In this case, Obama's penchant for compromising before it's needed came back to bite him.
4. The GOP has no alternative to Obamacare other than to keep the overly expensive, insurers-do-what-they-please-and-to-hell-with-patients'-health approach we've all come to love so much.
5. Most of the stories peddled by the rightwing media, i.e., Fox, Limbaugh, Red State, etc., about patients who've lost their insurance due to the ACA are pure b.s. As documented by Media Matters, in nearly every instance, the ACA will wind up giving the people profiled by Fox, etc., far better coverage at a much cheaper price than they were paying for crappy coverage.
This list could go on for pages, but those five are the more obvious aspects of the ACA rollout that have been way under-reported in the rush to hysteria. Again, yes, Obama's lackluster supervision (or total lack thereof) of the ACA's start-up is his fault. But for crying out loud, could we please keep some kind of rational perspective when discussing issues as important as health care?