Another Darned Deadline

Deadlines are the bane of a writer’s existence, but none have been so annoying as the deadline for enrollment in Obamacare.
Despite our best efforts to ignore it, that seemed to be all that was in the news on Monday. The right-wing radio hosts would grouse about it for most of the hour, raising all sorts of reasonable questions about the numbers the administration was touting, and then the network news feeds would fill a few minutes with a breathless recitation of the same numbers and none of the required answers, and one of the television networks was giddily announcing a new poll that shows almost half the country likes the law. On the whole, the right-wing radio hosts were more convincing.
The law’s eponymous administration is claiming that it might reach a goal of seven million enrollees, but the number is as dubious as that poll show near-majority approval. So far no one’s saying how many of those enrollees have actually paid a premium, or how many previously had insurance that was cancelled because of the law, or how many have put on Medicaid or other programs that pre-dated Obamacare, or how many of them that are the healthy young people forced to buy more insurance than they need in order to subsidize the whole boondoggle, and even the most generous assumptions of governmental honesty and the most optimistic guesses still leave them short of covering all the 20 or 30 million or however many uninsured people they were promising to help. The upbeat coverage of deadline might have left the impression that is all is well, but even the most trusting and optimistic media will eventually be obliged to report more discouraging stories.
In the meantime, we expect more happy talk from the press about Obamacare’s progress. Whatever problems prove too hard to ignore, we expect the Democratic congressional candidates will promise to fix them, and that no one on the networks will ask why they didn’t fix them in the first place. Nor will they ask what’s going to happen when the administration finally gets around to the disasters employers’ mandate, as that deadline can always be put off until after the next elections.

— 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

When the Truth Arrives in the Mail

How do you get your news? Some stubbornly old-fashioned folks still read it from the smudgy ink on the cut-rate paper that mysteriously arrives every morning on the driveway, and some are even so hidebound they continue to get it from the early evening newscasts that the broadcast networks still provide by force of habit. The more up-to-date among us now stay informed on the internet, where a variety of sites such as this one provide news and commentary suited to the reader’s preferred prejudices, or settle for the “tweet”-sized opinions of their slight acquaintances on social media. These days most people seem find the half-hourly news updates on the pop radio stations sufficient to keep them well-informed, or they try to infer what’s going on from the jokes on The Daily Show or the other late-night comedy programs, or they do their best to avoid the news altogether.
Almost all of these options tend to reiterate the liberal point of view, except to those daring souls who venture to dissident sites such as this one, but conservatives can take solace in knowing that every person still gets a heavy dose of irrefutable reality to counteract this in his mailbox. This explains the continuing and increasing unpopularity of Obamacare, which sounds great when reading about it in the newspapers or hearing about on the newscasts, but no longer seems as appealing when the costs at last show up in an official envelope. The President of the United States continues to assure the public that health insurance costs will go down as a result of the law, and that everyone satisfied with their current arrangements will be able to keep them, but no matter how many times he repeats the claims nor how many times the various media corroborate them millions of Americans will be more inclined to believe the bottom line of the bill that has arrived in the mail.
So many people have lately received contradictory information about Obamacare in the mail, with hefty payment demanded by the end of the month, that the cold, hard facts have begun to seep into even the most Obama-obeisant news reports. It’s gotten to the point that such an impeccably liberal publication as The San Jose Mercury News, a newspaper that still survives by its steadfast effort to shield its liberal Bay Area readership from any facts that might challenge its most cherished assumptions, was forced to acknowledge that not everyone will be pleased with Obamacare’s results. In an article headlined “Obamacare’s Winners and Losers in Bay Area” the newspaper struggled mightily to find a few sympathetic winners, but could not avoid interviewing some formerly enthusiastic losers.
The San Jose Mercury’s tiny minority of right-wing readers will have to be forgiven the schadenfreude they no doubt felt when reading about two die-hard Obama supporters admit that their health care costs will rise and their health care services decline as a result of the hilariously-named “Affordable Care Act.” One of the interviewees will see her health insurance costs increase by $1,800 a year, which she considers a significant amount for someone of her modest income, while another more affluent liberal will be forced to cough up an extra $10,000 per annum, which is a sizeable sum even by the standards of a well-heeled Bay Area liberal. Neither are yet willing to recant their devotion to the president or his historic legislative achievement, but both begrudgingly admit to nagging doubts with some quotes that conservatives will cherish.
“I was laughing at (House Speaker John) Boehner — until the mail came today,” said Tom Waschura, the 52-year-old self-employed engineer who received notice of the $10,000 price hike. “I really don’t like the Republican tactics, but at least now I can understand why they are so pissed about this. When you take $10,000 out of my family’s pocket each year, that’s otherwise disposable income or retirement savings that will not being going into our local economy.” An even more satisfying quote came from Cindy Vinson, the 60-year-old retired teacher stuck with the extra $1,800 deduction from her fixed income, who said “Of course I want people to have health care, I just didn’t realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally.”
To compound its journalistic heresy, The San Jose Mercury News also quotes a couple of health insurance experts who confirm that these are not mere anecdotes but examples of a much larger trend. One of the experts assures that “There’s going to be a number of people” receiving such rate shocks, and another explains that “The upper middle-class are the people who are essentially being asked to foot the bill, and that’s true across the country.” With 60-year-old retired teachers in the pricey Bay Area now included among the “upper middle class,” it will likely be a very large percentage of the country finding that the presidential promises will go unfulfilled.
The president and his press will continue to repeat those promises, but even Bay Area liberals are more likely to believe what they find in the mail. Any congressional Republicans thinking of going wobbly on the shut-down battle because of the negative would do well to remember this.

— Bud Norman