It’s been a grim month for fans of Obamacare, and perhaps especially for the red state Democrats in Congress who voted for it. Between the ghastly failure of the website, the waves of policy cancellations, and the grim realization that the ‘wonks and experts’ knew all along that the “you can keep your policy” mantra was pure hogwash, fans of President Obama’s signature initiative have been looking a little green around the gills.
There is, it appears, worse to come. So far we are only looking at the fallout as Obamacare-mandated changes hit the relatively small individual insurance market. Coming soon to a cable news outlet near you: the tsunami of outrage when Americans in employer-sponsored programs discover that the President wasn’t telling the truth about their plans and their doctors either.
There is a case that can be made for this law, shoddily designed as it was, but even its proponents seem to have believed that if the American people really knew what was in the law, it would never have passed. Now the law’s backers face the convergence of three different centers of unhappiness: unhappiness with the bungled website rollout, unhappiness with a mix of cancellations and price increases by customers in the individual insurance market, and unhappiness on the part of millions of rubes (aka ‘voters’) that the proponents of the new health care system concealed potential deal breaking features while they were selling the law.
All this has plunged the White House into the deepest hole of the Obama presidency to date, but the biggest shock isn’t about the cruddy rollout, the kludgy law or the disingenuous sales job by which it was passed. The biggest shock and the most damning revelation came in the President’s hasty and awkward press conference when President Obama responded to a reporter’s question about his knowledge of the website’s problems:
OK. On the website, I was not informed directly that the website would not be working as — the way it was supposed to. Ha[d] I been informed, I wouldn’t be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great. You know, I’m accused of a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying, this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity, a week before the website opens, if I thought that it wasn’t going to work.
This was eyepopping. Obamacare is the single most important initiative of his presidency. The website rollout was, as the President himself has repeatedly stated, the most important element of the law’s debut. Domestically speaking there was no higher priority for the President and his staff than getting this right. And the President is telling the world that a week before the disaster he had no idea how that website was doing.
Reflect on that for a moment. The President of the United States is sitting in the Oval Office day after day. The West Wing is stuffed with high power aides. His political appointees sit atop federal bureaucracies, monitoring the work of the career staff around them. The President has told his core team, over and over, that the health care law and the website rollout are his number one domestic priorities.
And with all this, neither he nor, apparently, anyone in his close circle of aides and advisors knew that the website was a disaster. Vapid, blind, idly flapping their lips; they pushed paper, attended meetings and edited memos as the roof came crashing down. It is one thing to fail; it is much, much worse not to see failure coming. There is no way to construe this as anything but a world class flop.
What is a staff for? Surely a competent staff would have set up an effective monitoring and reporting system so that accurate and timely information about website problems would reach the White House. Surely at the first signs of trouble, an effective trouble-shooting response from the White House would delve into the issues, develop some action plans, and also inform the President and senior staff about any threat to the scheduled rollout. But apparently none of this happened, and at least from what we see so far in public, the President is OK with that. No heads are rolling. No one is being taken to the White House woodshed. There are reports that the President has vented, but “no drama Obama” is apparently still turning the other cheek. The President is content to keep working with the team he’s got.
One would like to assume that a number of people, beginning with the chief of staff, have offered their resignations to the President after failing so utterly at their Job Number One. This would be normal behavior by any responsible professional when something goes so badly wrong and it would be a sad day indeed if the President’s top staff don’t understand this.
There is nothing that any president needs more than a team of competent people around him who can keep him and his key initiatives on track. President Obama is in his fifth year in office, and he isn’t getting the level of performance from his staff you’d need to be an effective principal of a middle school. At this point, that failure doesn’t just reflect badly on the staff; it reflects on the man who selected them. More and more people in the United States and beyond are asking the obvious and painful question: Why can’t the President of the United States find and keep a minimally competent staff?
Forget the merits and demerits of Obamacare. The White House now faces crises of confidence and competence and President Obama will not be able to solve one unless he addresses both. While much of the MSM is still doing its usual collusive best to avoid peering too deeply into the entrails of a liberal disaster (something already changing and likely to change more as liberal opinion continues to detach itself from a disappointing administration), some messes are too big to ignore. As more people reflect on the President’s extraordinary press conference, the public sense that the President and his team just aren’t up to the job will inevitably grow. It was a jaw dropping moment of naked self revelation, and the more one reflects on it the more striking it becomes. The President of the United States didn’t know that his major domestic priority wasn’t ready for prime time—and he thinks that sharing this news with us will somehow make it better. It is moments of this kind that give epithets like “Carteresque” their sting.
President Obama must now deal with two problems: he must defend and implement an unpopular law and he must answer questions at home and abroad about his competence. To get this done would be difficult under any circumstances and it will be impossible without a genuinely brilliant White House staff. It will be interesting to see whether President Obama thinks that the people whose serial incompetence got him into this mess are the people who can get him out.
[Photo of President Obama courtesy Getty Images.]