A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Utopia

We had hoped to take a day off from the Obamacare death watch, but the convulsions and rattling are simply too riveting and amusing a spectacle.
Wednesday brought not just one but two knee-slapping comedies as both Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the eponymous President Barack Obama both made hilarious attempts at defending Obamacare. Sebelius can probably said to have gotten the worst of it, as her appearance before a House of Representatives committee entailed questioning by anarchist terrorist Republicans with their crazed notions of holding government officials responsible for their actions, whereas Obama faced only another hand-picked audience of adorers during a speech in Boston, but both provided plenty of knee-slapping moments of comedy.
Poor Sebelius had to endure the inevitable “Wizard of Oz” references that are the bane of every Kansan’s existence, even though she grew up in Ohio and is a Democrat, and her day on the job only got worse from there. She was forced to concede that the computer program she had paid $634 million of taxpayer money for wasn’t working very well, and the best boast she could up with was that it hadn’t crashed. Shortly before she made this dubious claim the program crashed, and even CNN couldn’t resist the temptation to split its screen between the apologetic web site message and Sebelius’ earnest if understated claims of success. She was asked about the president’s oft-repeated promise that people will be able to keep their insurance policies “if they like them” and insists that it’s true, even as the president is in Boston admitting the undeniable and evenly widely-reported fact that for many it is not true. A Michigan Republican — apparently they do exist — asked some technical questions about “hot-swapping” and “end-to-security testing” and other computer lingo that forced to Sebelius to admit she had not idea what the hell he was asking about, even after spending $634 million of taxpayer money on it. She was also forced to admit she had no idea how many of the healthy, young suckers needed to subsidize the scheme had been enrolled, or that CNN had reported her website had been broken into by unknown but undoubtedly nefarious hackers. At one point, while being grilled about her own participation in the Obamacare insurance program, and offering a questionable, she was overheard mutter “Don’t do this to me.”
The softball questions sympathetically lobbed in Sebelius’ direction by the Democratic members offered little help, nor did an audience stacked with die-hard supporters offer Obama much help as he touted Obamacare in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall. Despite a pep-rally atmosphere more suitable to a winning basketball team’s impending homecoming victory, Obama at last acknowledged that his oft-repeated promise to people who like their health insurance plan that they can keep it is only going to be kept for the “vast majority” of Americans. Given that Obama’s 52 percent of the 2012 vote was hailed as a vast majority this means that as much as 48 percent of the country could wind up losing its policies, but whatever the number the president was quick to insist they were lucky to have him watching out for them. All those cancelled policies Obama was forced to acknowledge were the fault of “bad apple” insurance companies, he said, and all those forced onto the non-working web site to find a new policy had “substandard” insurance that the government has helpfully nudged them to upgrade. The millions of people who were well satisfied with their coverage and will wind up paying more for less will be hard to convince that the government knows better than they do about such things, but one has to admire Obama’s audacity of hope in making the pitch. He also seemed to blame the whole mess on former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, as he repeatedly likened Obamacare to the state health care reform that Romney had inaugurated as governor of Massachusetts, but the Obamacare moniker will be hard to shake.
The hardship and pain and premature death that will result from Obamacare are to take, but watching the geniuses who dreamed it up trying put a good spin on it is great fun.

— Bud Norman

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The Democrats’ Problem

The Republicans have their problems, but at least they are not burdened by anything so troublesome as Obamacare.
A brief accounting of the Republicans’ difficulties would include the ongoing hostility of much of the news and entertainment media and an educational establishment that has indoctrinated a significant portion with the basic assumptions of liberalism, as well the unfavorable demographic and cultural trends that deliver ever more newcomers from socialistic cultures and unmarried women with the same redistributive tendencies, and of course the debilitating internecine struggles between the principled and pragmatic portions of the party, but all that seems a mere annoyance compared to the ongoing train wreck that is Obamacare. Never in the history of American politics has such a disastrous policy been so completely a creation of one party as Obamacare is the Democrats, and it might prove enough eradicate all of the Republicans’ woes.
Obamacare is going so badly that even the most locally Democratic media have been forced to acknowledge it, with such reliable news outlets as CBS and NBC and The New York Times being frank about the millions of Americans who have suddenly found themselves uncovered by the new law and such essential satirists as Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live tossing in the sort of ridicule they usually reserve for the likes of Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz. Academia is finding itself hit especially hard by the new law, and its healthy young students who are expected to subsidize the whole boondoggle are suddenly more resistant to being indoctrinated with the basic assumptions of liberalism. The Spanish-language Obamacare website looks likely to be down for a while, and the rate of married or un-married female participation in the workforce is the lowest in decades due in part to Obamacare’s expensive and onerous regulations on employers, and even the segments of the electorate must susceptible to the Democrats’ pitch that they can be trusted to run things will skeptical. The kamikaze tactics of the Tea Party Republicans who temporarily shutdown part o the government in an attempt to de-fund Obamacare will be able to remind the public of their opposition, and even the squishy RINOs who opposed the effort can not be held responsible for the law’s consequences because their predictions of failure all proved correct.
The opinion-makers and the politics don’t really matter, though, because the ill effects of Obamacare are going to be apparent on a painfully personal level to too many Americans. The millions of Americans who will lose their satisfactory insurance plans to Obamacare will know which party to blame, and even the most partisan media will not risk their credibility by trying to tell them otherwise. The many more millions of Americans who will be paying higher premiums for the coverage they’re lucky enough to keep will also know which party is responsible, and at least a few should be open to the other party’s arguments. An even larger number of Americans relegated to part-time employment because of Obamacare might not realize the connection, and too many of them will be grateful for the health care subsidies they’re offered, but more than a few will also be listening to Republican arguments with a newly opened mind.
There’s always the chance that the Democrats can successfully spin their way out of an untenable situation and the Republicans will squander a golden opportunity, but the Democrats will have to concoct something better than a laughable denial and the Republicans will have to do some rather bitter infighting.

— Bud Norman

An Innocent Bystander

Two of the bigger fiascos currently swirling around Washington cannot be blamed on President Barack Obama, we are told, because the poor fellow didn’t even know about them.
By now everyone in America is aware that the $634 million computer program that was supposed to enroll a grateful nation in Obamacare simply does not work, but Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has assured the nation that her boss didn’t find out about it until the rest of us did. The revelation that the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of various other allies has been more widely reported in the snooped-upon countries, where the formerly Obama-crazed citizenry are now marching in the streets with “Hope and Change” replaced by “Stasi 2.0” and other similarly snooty slogans beneath the president’s famously chin-upturned and stylized visage, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others are nonetheless anxious for the American public to know the president was as surprised by the news as anyone else.
This might even be true, but if so it is not so reassuring as the apologists probably intend. One likes to think that the president is a bit more au courant on the latest bureaucratic computer glitches and cloak-and-dagger international intrigues than the common folk, after all, and it’s downright to worrisome to contemplate that he is just as uninformed as the average voter. There used to be a notion that the chief executives of large organizations were ultimately responsible for anything that happened along their chain of command, pithily surmised by the “Buck Stops Here” that adorned the Oval Office desk of Harry Truman, and it also discomfiting to think this standard is no longer in effect at the White House. The president’s most loyal acolytes will likely be satisfied by the belief that their man had nothing to do with these messes, only the people he appointed to positions of responsibility, but those less enamored will be left to wonder why he hasn’t fired the incompetent idiots who didn’t at least give him a heads-up before their best efforts hit the fan.
It causes a certain queasy feeling, in fact, that the Obama apologists are so seemingly confident they can successfully plead ignorance to acquit their man of responsibility for what happens during his time in office. So far they have done well at convincing a significant portion of the country that Obama is an innocent and righteously indignant bystander to the bad things that are happening in the country, well enough that Obama himself can claim with a straight face to be as angry as anyone about the state of the government, so perhaps the confidence is realistic. Still, it is hard to see what good can come of having an innocent bystander as the president of the United States.

— Bud Norman

Another Kansas Laughingstock

The catastrophic failure of Obamacare has caused a widespread feeling of schadenfreude among Republicans everywhere, who are all well entitled to one of the most satisfying “I told you so” moments in American history, even as they suffer the expense effects of the law along with everyone else, but the exhilarating sense of vindication is especially sweet for Republicans here in Kansas.
More significant calamities are sure to come, but thus far the most widely acknowledged failing of the new health care boondoggle is the thoroughly botched computer system  and general bureaucratic bumbling that has been unanimously blamed on former Kansas Governor and current Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Her ineptitude in implementing the ambitious reform of one-sixth of the economy has been so stark that even such reliably supportive satirists as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and the wags of Saturday Night Live have been piling on with their ridicule, and no less a purveyor of conventional wisdom than The Hill has dubbed her “the laughingstock of America.” Kansans are by now well-accustomed to having one of their own be the laughingstock of America, sometimes for valid reasons and sometimes for reasons having more to do with the rest of the country’s absurd prejudices, but it is a rare pleasure to have the Kansan in question be a Democrat. When the Democrat in question is Kathleen Sebelius, it’s all the better.
Kansas is a mostly Republican state, after all, and from Alf Landon to Dwight Eisenhower to Bob Dole most of its native sons and daughters who have achieved sufficient prominence to be a national laughingstock have been Republicans. Having the laughs directed to one of our Democratic minority is a refreshing change of pace, and all the more so when it one of the party’s locally beloved figures. If you’re not a true-blue Kansan or a true-blue Republican, and it’s not quite possible to be one without being the other, it’s hard to explain how very mellifluous is the laughter being hurled at Kathleen Sebelius.
It’s hard to explain, for that matter, how Sebelius ever became governor of this state. To begin with you must understand that also Kansans have very rarely sent Democrats to Washington they have a stubbornly contrarian way about them that doesn’t mind sending one of the danged fools to Topeka every now and then. Anti-tax and pro-life Democrats in particular have a history of winning occasional gubernatorial elections in the state, which has the undeniable benefit of keeping the state’s politics competitive enough to limit the complacency and corruption that characterize one-party jurisdictions, and once or twice in the average Kansan’s lifespan there might be even be a Democratic majority in the state’s House of Representatives for a single term. One also must understand the schisms within the state’s Republican party to understand how the likes of Sebelius ever won the governorship.
Prior to Sebelius the state had been guided for two four-year terms by the blissfully unobtrusive hand of Gov. Bill Graves, a successful trucking magnate who was handsome in a distinguished and silver-tinged sort of way and preached free enterprise, kept the occasional crony-capitalism eco-devo deal coursing the legislature, and pursued a more-or-less limited-government agenda that also limited the government’s intervention in such matters as abortion. Kansas survived such governance in pretty good shape, as far as most Kansas were concerned, but a more fervent portion of Graves’ party found it too weak a Republican brew and its fervor managed to win the nomination for a more full-throated champion of traditional social values and free enterprise. The nominee was easily caricatured as a Bible-thumping zealot by Kansas’ liberal-as-anywhere-else media, the reform rhetoric spooked the state’s well-connected Republican establishment, and the Democrats shrewdly nominated Sebelius as the more moderate and reasonable alternative. She was handsome in a distinguished and silver-tinged sort of way, and although a relative newcomer to the state she was the daughter of governor in her native land of Ohio, so there was an aura of competence about her. After decades of Republican occupation of the Insurance Commissioner’s office had led to the inevitable complacency and corruption of one-partly rule Sebelius had won the post, and acted with an anti-corporate bias that was widely perceived as populism, so she also had a plausible record of public service to run on. Throw in a professionally-run campaign financed largely by out-of-state contributions and the usual corporate suspects, along with the unease many of the moderate sorts of Republicans felt about the fire-breathing challenger, and Sebelius was elected by less than a landslide but more than a squeaker.
The first four years of Sebelius’ governorship were barely noticeable, which can be attributed her politically-savvy instincts and the seemingly good health of the national economy, but after that led to her re-election she seemed to be auditioning for a role in the national party. Kansas was suddenly surprised to learn that it had re-elected a rather doctrinaire Democrat as governor, and in addition to a number of liberal initiatives Kansas further enraged the state’s Republican sensibilities by using the tragedy of a tornado that virtually wiped out the tiny town of Greensburg to criticize the Iraq war. Her claim that the town had been denied necessary state assistance because of the war’s use of state National Guard equipment was baseless, and enraged even formerly supportive Republicans, but it endeared her enough to the national party to win a plum cabinet appointment during her second mid-term after the president’s first pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services fell victim to a tax-evasion scandal.
The ostensible promotion was widely expected by the state’s Democrats to be a boon to both her and the party at large, but thus far it doesn’t seem to have worked out that way. She was replaced by her Lieutenant Governor Mark Parkinson, a former state Republican chairman who had left the party as a result of his estrangement with the social conservatives and his ambition to be governor, but after two years of tax hikes and nanny state initiatives he bowed out of pubic life. For the sake of full disclosure we divulge that Parkinson is a friend of ours since high school, and that we once spent a summer painting apartment buildings together and we are also quite fond of his parents and eccentric B-movie-producing brother, but we also came to admire his smarts and they were very much in evidence when he declined to run against former Sen. Sam Brownback, also an old friend of ours and a fire-breathing social conservative and staunch opponent of Obamacare, who would have easily trounced any Democratic rival after eight years of a Sebelius-Parkinson reign.
Meanwhile, back in the rarefied air of Washington and the national scene, Sebelius is now an officially-designated laughingstock. The apparent failure of the Obamacare program that she had been chosen to implement will prove a textbook example of the failure of the “smart government” she had claimed to represent, and the big government philosophy she had so long denied, and the very antithesis of that represented by Gov. Sam Brownback seems likely to win re-election handily. As bad as the damage from Obamacare will be, a Kansas Republican can’t help feeling that some good might come of it.

— Bud Norman

Blaming the Victims

The first phase in dealing with an imminent doom, according to the famous Kübler-Ross “stages of grief” theory, is denial. The second phase, according to the Democratic Party’s playbook, is blaming the Republicans.
So it has gone with the slow, painful death of Obamacare. At first the Democrats were insistent that all was not only fine but also dandy with the health care reform law, but once even the morning newspapers and the late-night comics started kicking at the corpse that pretense has become impossible to maintain. Although the White House is still insisting that all is well, much like Kevin Bacon’s character in the climactic riot scene at the end of “Animal House,” the rest of the party has moved onto that necessary step of finding a suitable scapegoat.
The most reliable play in the party’s playbook is blaming George W. Bush, of course, but certain well-known facts make it difficult to execute in this case. Even the least informed of the low-information voters are aware that Obamacare is a creation of the Obama administration, with the very name being one obvious reminder of this fact, and the president has done too much bragging about it to deny responsibility now. The best minds of the liberal blogosphere are no doubt hard at work trying to contrive some plausible way to blame Bush, or at least Dick Cheney, but thus far the theory has not been unveiled.

There are a few other Republicans left in Washington, so the Democrats know which direction to point their fingers as they shout “j’accuse,” but the accusation requires a more fertile imagination than the average non-Democrat is likely to possess. Not a single Republican voted for Obamacare, not even a single one of those squishy RINO types from the northeast, and almost all of them have repeatedly reiterated their opposition in a series of votes to de-fund, delay, or downright repeal the hated law. To further exonerate the Republican Party, even as it enrages the rank-and-file, all of those votes have done nothing to obstruct the relentless implementation of the law.
This doesn’t prevent the Democrats from blaming Republican obstructionism for the law’s increasingly apparent problems, of course, nor does it diminish the Democrats’ indignation. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the most indignant politician ever, has accused the Republicans of “sabotage.” Former Vermont governor, Democratic National Committee chairman, and noted screamer Howard Dean has taken a similar line, saying the Republican have “thrown monkey wrenches” into the exquisite gear work of Obamacare. President Obama himself has accused the Republicans of “rooting for failure,” with a sports fan’s faith that rooting somehow affects the outcome of a game, and seems ready to fully shift the blame once he is at last forced to give up his denial.
A couple of explanations for the Republicans’ culpability are currently being auditioned before a friendly Democratic audience, which has been predictably receptive, but it remains to be seen if they will play to a wider audience.
White House spokesman Jay Carney has blamed the brief partial shutdown of the federal government, which he in turn blames on the Republicans, for the widely-reported failure of the Obamacare web site. This will no doubt seem quite convincing to any Democrats still eager for evidence that he partial shutdown of the federal government was a bad thing, but less-partisan observers will note that the web site’s disastrous launch coincided with the shutdown and it’s shoddy design by the Democratic-connected firm of Shemp, Curly, and Moe predated any thought of the shutdown by several years. Anyone gullible enough to believe this argument will need to apprised that there was a partial government shutdown, and brought up to speed on how it was the Republicans’ insane insistence on a one-year-delay of Obamacare’s individual mandate was responsible for the horrible consequences that no one noticed, and what an “individual mandate” is, and never mind that several Democratic Senators are now calling for its one-year delay, so it becomes a difficult argument to make.
The other Republicans to be blamed are the 26 governors who declined to set up Obamacare exchanges in their states, leaving the thankless chore to the federal government that had concocted the crazy idea, but this is also a hard sell. Here in Kansas the Democrats are seething that our very Republican Gov. Sam Brownback declined to create a state exchange, but they’re the same people who tell us that Obama is the most brilliant and virtuous person in the history of mankind and that Brownback is both moronic and venal, so it’s hard to see why they’d prefer to see the latter administering their health care than the former. All those Republican governors are said to be moronic and venal, but they don’t seem to have nearly the problems or done any of the damage that can be attributed to the allegedly brilliant and virtuous Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who did the job they declined.
Much of the public is predisposed to blame Republicans for anything that goes wrong, and the Democrats can always count on the supportive news and entertainment media to encourage that predisposition, but this time it’s going to require more extraordinary efforts. The Republicans didn’t design Obamacare’s slapstick web site, and were wise not to try, and even after the glitches and bugs and abysmal failures have been worked out the higher premiums, bigger deficits, decreased care, and increased bureaucratic nuttiness that was inherent in the law from the time every single Republican voted against it will become too check-writing clear to be denied or blamed on anyone but the Democrats.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World

All of the attention is currently focused on the continuing train wreck that is Obamacare, naturally enough, but it is worth noting that America’s foreign policy is also going off the rails.
The last time Americans took notice of the rest of the world was when President Barack Obama tried unsuccessfully to whip up some enthusiasm for a bigger-than-a-pinprick-but-still-“unbelievably-small” war in Syria, and when that crisis was outsourced to Russian President Vladimir Putin and receded from the headlines the country happily resumed its inward gaze. Without an imminent threat of war, even an unbelievably small one, most people assumed that except for the unpleasantness in that Kenyan shopping mall and the usual massacres of Christians in Pakistan and Nigeria all was once again well with the world. Our international relations have actually been going so badly, though, that the results are starting up in the midst of all those horror stories about Obamacare.
Even The Washington Post, which is usually loathe to report anything embarrassing to the administration, seems alarmed by America’s recent estrangement from Saudi Arabia. The paper’s veteran foreign affairs writer David Ignatius likens the situation to a car wreck, the train wreck metaphor apparently having been reserved for the Obamacare stories, and although he allots some of the blame to the Saudis he does not spare the Obama administration his criticism. He notes that in the past week Saudi Arabia has declined to take a seat on the United Nations’ Security Council as a deliberate affront to America, and notes that the former Saudi intelligence chief publicly expressed “a high level of disappoint” in America’s stands on Syria and Palestine. There’s also a great deal of Saudi disappointment in America’s weak response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which threaten all of the Arab and Sunni Islam world, and in Obama’s support for the radical Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere, and a “knowledgeable Arab official” is quoted as saying that the Saudi monarch “is convinced the U.S. is unreliable.”
The Saudi monarch is a terror-loving tyrant running a backwards and troublesome land with typical Middle Eastern brutality, but his country has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy in the region since Franklin Roosevelt started sucking up to it back in the ‘30s. Losing Saudi Arabia to the Russian sphere of influence, along with its considerable economic clout and central position in the Muslim world, is a worrisome development. Worse yet, this time the Saudi’s concerns are all quite reasonable, except for the lack of appreciation for America’s Israel-bashing attempts to coddle the Palestinians, and are shared by such essential allies as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and of course Israel, which has its own reasons to worry about Iranian nuclear bombs and American fecklessness. Throw in the reports that Secretary of State John Kerry is facing the same sort of dissent within his own State Department over the still-lingering-despite-the-news-blackout Syrian civil war, and America’s Middle Eastern policy seems in complete disrepair.
Crucial allies in other parts of the world have also been dissatisfied with America’s conduct in recent years. In Germany, where Obama was treated as a sort of messiah when he spoke to an adoring throng while campaigning there for some reason or another during the ’08 campaign, the big story if Chancellor Angela Merkel’s anger at the revelation America had been listening in on her cell phone conversations. White House spokesman Jay Carney has huffily denied that America is doing any such thing, but he conspicuously declined to deny that America has done in the past, and the omission did not go unnoticed in Germany. Revelations about the National Security Agency’s extensive data-gathering outraged many of the Americans whose phone records and internet use were being monitored, even if the press politely let the topic drop from the news, but Germans who are still smarting from the snoopiness of the Stasi secret police in communist East Germany and the Gestapo of an earlier era are understandably even touchier about such things. The rest of Europe seems miffed, too, and its Parliament has now threatened to stop cooperating with American intelligence efforts.
Obama won the presidency and wowed those naïve German crowds by promising to make America the most popular kid in the international school cafeteria, but that seems to be going about as well as the promises that Obamacare would lower your insurance premiums, allow you to keep your coverage, and be a model of bureaucratic efficiency.

— Bud Norman

In Search of Silver Linings

How bad was the jobs report released on Tuesday? So bad that the unemployment rate went down by a fraction, the stock markets went up by a percent, and Democrats openly admitted their disappointment.
None of these seemingly positive developments should be mistaken for good news, however, given the currently convoluted nature of the American economy. The unemployment rate dropped only because many thousands more Americans gave up any hope of ever finding a job and joined the record number of economic drop-outs. The stock markets surged only because the jobs report was so dismal that it will almost certainly force the Federal Reserve to continue the incessant money-printing that has fueled the deceptive rally. Even the grudging acknowledgements of failure from the Democrats offers little solace, as it’s all a set-up to blaming the “sequester” budget cuts and the temporary partial government shutdown and other Republican perfidy.
An increasingly anxious American public isn’t likely to be misled about the state of the economy by obviously obfuscated unemployment numbers or obviously overpriced stock markets, but there’s always a good chance that that it will buy the part about Republican perfidy. Both the “sequester” and the partial government shutdown had little effect on most Americans, and went entirely unnoticed by almost all of the significant number of blissfully ignorant folks who avoid reading or hearing the news, but there’s a nasty ring to both of them that can be easily exploited. Any fair-minded observer would concede that the Democrats share at least some of the blame for both the “sequester” and shutdown, and that the currently dismal numbers come long after the former and before the latter, but the fair-minded are an insignificant voting bloc these days. One could make a strong argument that Obamacare, other excessive regulations, higher tax rates, growing governmental debt, and the ever more apparent incompetence of a government that daily acquires ever more control of the country have more to do with the sluggish economy than a slight cut in misspending or paid vacations for nonessential government workers, but strong arguments are easily countered by caricatured villains.
Should the Democrats succeed in their blame game, there’s really no good news in the jobs report at all. There are 148,000 new jobs, and we’re glad for that tiny minority of newly-hired workers, but that number is lower than the already-puny annual average and doesn’t offset the exodus of former job-seekers from the work force. At a time when good news is actually bad news we try to remain hopeful that the bad news presages the good news that the people will at last become fed up and try to reverse course, but the people might just agree that what’s required is more of the same.

— Bud Norman

Sounding Smart to Stupid People

Many years ago we had a friend on our high school debate team who adopted the odd habit of adding an extra syllable to words. When devising a plan he would “strategetize” rather “strategize,” for instance, and he was adamant that “conservativism” rather than “conservatism” is the political philosophy espoused by conservatives.
He did this on the belief that most people are impressed and intimated by multi-syllabic words, and that by adding an extra consonant to a three-syllable word he could make it one-third more impressive and intimidating. Judging by the awestruck looks that would cross some people’s faces whenever he unleashed one of his new and improved coinages, and they way they seemed willing to accept whatever nonsensical argument he was making, we were forced concede there might be something to his theory. We tried to persuade him that although his highfalutin and fundamentally incorrect verbiage made him sound smart to stupid people it also made him sound stupid to smart people, but he’d laugh off the criticism by noting that because there are far more stupid people than smart people he would ultimately be more widely regarded as smart by saying such stupid things. As much as his mispronunciations grated on our sensitive ears, we had to admit there was probably something to that theory as well.
Our friend has since become a highly successful businessman, of course, and we’re pleased to hear that he’s still a staunch conservative. Perhaps he’s calling himself a “conservativist” these days, and still insisting that all the lexicographers and the rest of the English-speaking world have it wrong, but at any rate he still seems to be plying his shrewdly cynical rhetorical skills on behalf of the right causes. This is good to know, because liberalism in general and President Barack Obama in particular are especially adept at sounding smart to stupid people even when it entails the modest political cost of sounding stupid to smart people. Although they haven’t yet mastered the art of the extra syllable, they have an undeniable knack for manufacturing slogans with poll-tested mass appeal that somehow strike a more informed audience as wrong.
Two examples shouted out during Obama’s address Monday on behalf of his beleaguered Obamacare. The speech mostly extolled the great successes of the program, with some conspicuously uninspiring examples standing as props behind the podium, which will seem suspicious enough to smart people, but the president did briefly acknowledge the widely-reported difficulties with the web site that is supposed to make it all run and promised that a “surge” of the “best and brightest” professionals from the public and private sectors would soon have it all worked out. Smart people will immediately note the uncharacteristically generous acknowledgement of professional expertise in the private sector, especially on behalf of a program that seems designed to drive the money-loving bastards out of the of the health care field, but those of a certain age and a still-sound memory will be struck by the use of “surge” and “best and brightest.”
One needn’t be too old to remember when the word “surge” became associated with President George W. Bush’s military strategy — or “strategery,” if you prefer — to deal with the insurgency in Iraq. Then-Sen. Obama ridiculed the idea, and voted against its funding, but it proved successful enough in the field that President Obama uses the word “surge” with certainty that it will reassure a wary public that a sufficient outpouring of manpower will solve any problem. Smart people will savor the irony, even as they worry that a mass influx of soldiers will solve a military problem more often than a massive influx of computer programmers can fix a fundamentally-flawed health care system.
More seasoned readers will also raise an eyebrow at that “best and brightest” reference. They’ll recall that the phrase was introduced into parlance by David Halberstam’s book of same title about the Kennedy and Johnson administration stars who urged on the war in Vietnam. “The Best and Brightest” was meant ironically, of course, and as it became a cliché it was always used with sarcastic quotation marks. Anyone familiar with the phrase’s early usage will not be reassured that the “best and brightest” have been unleashed on America’s health.
Other examples abound in Obama’s political career. He once promised “peace in our time,” apparently either unaware or unconcerned that the slogan was famously associated with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s disastrous attempt at appeasing Adolf Hitler, and his apologists have created such formulations as “leading from behind.” “Hope and Change,” “Yes, We can,” “the failed policies of the Bush administration” and all the other vague slogans of his first presidential campaign had the same winning effect on the stupid and same calculated disregard for the smart, and all were delivered with a smug cocksureness and upraised chin that even our shrewd high school friend could not equal. It might not work with Obamacare, as even the stupidest among us can figure out when their health care costs are rising and grandma’s hip replacement is being put off, but most of the time it seems to work well enough. In order to counter this dangerous strategery, conservativists will have to learn to fight back.

— Bud Norman

Madison Avenue Meets Obamacare

While browsing through the television channels Sunday afternoon during one of those interminable commercial breaks in a professional football game, we happened upon an advertisement for Obamacare. Although the spot didn’t mention Obamacare by name, it was extolling the wonders of the healthcare.gov web site that was intended to bring all the bountiful benefits of President Barack Obama’s namesake health care law to a grateful public. The very perky and pretty people featured in the advertisement seemed grateful, indeed, as they excitedly chanted the ad campaign’s catchphrase of “We’re covered!”
At the risk of sounding cynically suspicious of anything that Madison Avenue and the Washington bureaucracy might join forces to concoct, we’re pretty sure those grateful people are paid actors. They’re all perkier and prettier than any real people of our acquaintance, for one thing, and their gratitude for Obamacare greatly exceeds the normal person’s. They also look quite prosperous and up-to-date and free of any noticeable existing pre-conditions, hardly the sort of involuntarily uninsured hard-luck cases that Obamacare was intended to help, and given the widely-publicized difficulties that people have encountered in slogging through the healtcare.gov web site’s endless glitches, and given how many of those lucky few have experienced sticker shock at the prices posted at the end of the frustrating process, it seems unlikely that a sufficient number of people so very grateful could have been rounded up on such short notice since the law recently went into effect. The odds that these extraordinarily lucky few would all turn out to be so perky, pretty, prosperous, and up-to-date seem staggering. If our suspicions are correct they’re probably dues-paying members of the Screen Actors Guild and are grateful their policies might yet be protected by one of those waivers the government has been handing out to unions, which would explain how they managed to seem so darned sincere when chanting the “We’re covered!” catchphrase.
Still, it was an impressive piece of advertising. The spot had the same expensive look about it as the ones the big corporations were running to make their dubious pitches, with professional graphics and brisk editing and no oleaginous pitchmen wildly swinging their arms as they scream for the viewer to come on down and take advantage of their low, low prices. A peppy and professional soundtrack and the bright lighting and clear cinematography added to the upbeat feelings the ad inspires, much like in the ads intended to make buyers feel good about their choice of dishwashing lotion or cancer treatment center, and the fact that the ad avoided the words “Obamacare” or even the euphemistic “Affordable Care Act” suggests that it was carefully subjected to the scrutiny of countless focus groups.
Even with such formidable marketing, however, Obamacare will likely prove a tough sell. Insurance premiums are going up in most states, millions of people will lose the policies they had been promised they could keep, employers everywhere are offering only part-time work rather than deal with the costs and paperwork that now come with a full-time job, and the whole scheme requires persuading healthy young people with low-paying jobs and bleak prospects to pay higher prices for more insurance than they currently need. The ad we saw seems designed to convince the middle-class people least affected by Obamacare that it’s all for the good, those deficits and unemployment numbers and the potential loss of coverage notwithstanding, but it won’t do much to get that uninsured twenty-something with the rock band tattoo to slog through a computer program designed by the Three Stooges and pay money he doesn’t have for something he doesn’t need. Better ads than Obamacare have failed to create a market for better products than Obamacare, and the ones that make their pitch to the wrong audience always fail.
Perhaps some shrewd ad man can come up with something better suited to the young and healthy and uninsured, but it is hard to for an amateur to imagine what it might be. The pig on some other insurance company’s commercials seems to be popular with the young folk, but we wonder how many of them are signing up for his product, although we’re not sure what it. That “Flo” woman who represents another of the insurance has a youthful appeal and irreverent sense of humor, and looks as if she might even sport a tattoo or two beneath her white uniform, but we’re not sure what company she’s selling. If all else fails there’s also the old honesty shtick, and we can envision an ad with a hip-hop soundtrack and fashionably unshaven spokesmen telling a young audience that they voted for Obama and his hope and change slogans so now it’s time to pay up. Boondoggles such as Obamacare don’t come cheap, the ads could say, and neither do the advertising campaigns required to make you like it.

— Bud Norman

Dancing in the End Zone

A certain amount of taunting and chest-thumping is now an almost obligatory rite of victory in America. This unfortunate trend can be seen in those silly minstrel shows that professional football players perform after every touchdown, in the anonymous trash-talking that is misspelled on the message boards of internet game sites, and lately even in remarks by the President of the United States.
In the aftermath of a perceived victory over the congressional Republicans in the government shutdown standoff, President Barack Obama was as sneering and snotty as an overly-tattooed power forward after a slam dunk when delivering a short speech on Thursday. “There are no winners here,” Obama said, but he had preceded that with a “Let’s be clear” that signaled he didn’t mean a word of it. His attitude throughout the speech was unmistakably triumphalist, albeit unaccountably angry for a putative winner, and he was not at all magnanimous toward his presumably vanquished opponents.
The president showed even less respect for the truth, peppering the speech with dizzying number of exaggerations, half-truths, and outright hogwash. He repeated the dubious claim that a government default would have inevitably followed the passing of the debt ceiling deadline, portrayed the largely unnoticed government shutdown as a major catastrophe, argued that the mere $600 billion budget deficit of the moment is proof of his fiscal rectitude rather than the restraint forced on him by his Republican antagonists in the House, then once more made the argument that unrestrained government is essential to the country’s economic heath. He spoke loftily of the need for growth, as if his policies haven’t been the main impediment to the achieving that goal, and declared that “the American people are fed up with Washington” as if he hasn’t held the most powerful position in that capital city for the past five years.
All the blame, as always, was laid at the feet of those pesky Republicans who dared to defy his imperial edicts. Although he condescended to praise the “reasonable” Republicans who eventually capitulated to his demands, he scolded the “extremes” of the party who “don’t like the word ‘compromise’” and aren’t “willing partners.” Obama is reckoned to have won the shutdown showdown because he was able to compromise less than even his most unwilling adversaries were prepared to do, and by “reasonable” and “willing” partners he clearly means Republicans willing to go along with every detail of his insane agenda, but he does seem to believe that he deserves credit for his generous willingness to work with those anarchistic hostage-taking old-folk-hating terrorists in that other party.
The president’s great victory merely postponed the same old fussing and fighting for a few months, when yet another debt ceiling will be reached and the same old argument that it would be the height of fiscal irresponsibility not to go a few hundred more billion dollars in debt is once again trotted out, but he believes it entitles him to proceed without any bothersome dissent from his vanquished foes. Not only are those Republicans in the House of Representatives are expected to stay silent, but also “the lobbyists, and the bloggers, and the talking heads on radio, and the professional activists who profit from conflict.” Including the “professional activists who profit from conflict” is an especially audacious choice, coming from a man who touted his years as a community organizer to win election, and it’s not as if Obama has demonstrated any sort of aversion to the right sort of lobbyists during his time office, but the disdain for the folks exercising their First Amendment rights to criticize his actions is also quite worrisome coming from a president.
Obama went on to taunt his opponents to “Go out there and win an election. Push to change it, but don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country’s about.” Coming from the man who promised to “fundamentally transform” the country, and was eager to vote against raising the debt ceiling when a Republican was in the White House, and apparently believes that his convoluted socialized medicine scheme is what our predecessors spent over two centuries building, this is rich. Those Republicans who bravely voted against handing yet another few hundred billion dollars of debt to the president did win elections, and they won them on a promise to get rid of Obamacare and at least slow the growth of an ever-expanding government. Such resistance might offend Ocala’s sense of entitlement, but it is very much a part of the system he claims to uphold. Elsewhere in the speech Obama indicated that he will use the next few months of increased debt to pursue immigration reform that will sign up a few more million Democratic voters and a farm bill that continues to churn out corporate and social welfare, and he seemed offended in advance by the predictable resistance.
After some blather about the selfless government employees who endured a lengthy paid vacation during the shutdown, Obama ended with some old-fashioned hope-and-change rhetoric about everyone working together to do whatever his heart might desire. He graciously allowed that there will be some differences of opinion, but with chin aloft he intoned that “It can’t degenerate into hatred.” Not like those anarchistic, hostage-taking, old-folk-hating Republicans, you know.

— Bud Norman