History Will Forget the Obamacare Website’s Bungled Launch

The media has written a cruel first draft, but it won’t last.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
Dec. 10, 2013, midnight

Na­tion­al Re­view‘s Ramesh Pon­nuru says Obama­care — like George W. Bush’s Ir­aq War — should per­suade Amer­ic­ans that “the grand designs of gov­ern­ments, left or right, can go wrong in many more ways than they can go right, than any­one can fore­see, and than even the ‘best and the bright­est’ … can fix.”

It’s not an ori­gin­al thought, it’s not ex­clus­ive to con­ser­vat­ive com­ment­at­ors, and it’s not ex­actly news to the White House. From The New Re­pub­lic to the West Wing, pro­gress­ives are wor­ried that — as TNR‘s John Ju­dis put it — a failed Obama­care will “re­in­force for a gen­er­a­tion the ar­gu­ment against any gov­ern­ment ini­ti­at­ives.”

So call it a con­sensus, and one that res­on­ates in the Oval Of­fice. But don’t call it right.

Be­cause his­tory sug­gests it’s wrong.

Pon­nuru and oth­er Obama crit­ics are spot-on when they say the Bush years of­fer a ready ana­logue to Obama­care, but it’s not Ir­aq. It’s the rol­lout of Medi­care Part D in 2006.

Like Obama­care, as Ezra Klein re­cently poin­ted out, it was a massive med­ic­al ex­pan­sion with ad­min­is­trat­ive com­plex­ity. Like Obama­care, the Medi­care Part D web­site didn’t work upon launch. And like Obama­care, people saw their plans can­celed and sup­posedly bet­ter al­tern­at­ives rendered in­ac­cess­ible.

Then as now, the me­dia jumped to doc­u­ment the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s every mis­step fol­low­ing the rol­lout of the web­site. NPR and The Wash­ing­ton Post de­tailed the mount­ing en­roll­ment dis­aster, while The New York Times re­por­ted that Medi­care Part D might cost the GOP sup­port among the eld­erly. “Older voters, a crit­ic­al com­pon­ent of Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al vic­tor­ies for more than a dec­ade, could end up be­ing a ma­jor vul­ner­ab­il­ity for the party in this year’s midterm elec­tions, ac­cord­ing to strategists in both parties,” Ceci Con­nolly wrote in The Times.

Pun­dits were even more un­spar­ing. Mi­chael Kins­ley wrote in The Wash­ing­ton Post, “The hideous com­plex­ity of Pres­id­ent Bush’s pre­scrip­tion drug pro­gram has re­duced eld­erly Amer­ic­ans — and their chil­dren — to tears of be­wildered frus­tra­tion.” And Paul Krug­man wrote in The Times, “We are ruled by bun­glers. Every ma­jor ven­ture by the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, from the oc­cu­pa­tion of Ir­aq to the Medi­care drug pro­gram, has turned in­to an epic saga of in­com­pet­ence.”

And now, how many voters re­mem­ber the Medi­care Part D rol­lout?

It’s the nature of the news in­dustry to fo­cus on what’s gone wrong as op­posed to, say, what’s work­ing or what’s mov­ing in the dir­ec­tion of pro­gress. It was true in 2006. It’s true today. It will likely be true in the fu­ture.

That’s not, however, how his­tory gets writ­ten — or how people think over the long haul.

Demo­crats know this and are count­ing on the me­dia’s nar­rat­ive be­ing tossed.

“The Dec. 1 dead­line was im­port­ant, but there won’t be chapters in the his­tory books writ­ten about Dec. 1,” said Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee spokes­man Mi­chael Czin. “I think it’s im­port­ant to look at this hol­ist­ic­ally.”

That’s what you al­ways say when you’re los­ing on the par­tic­u­lars. Look at the big pic­ture, the long arc of his­tory! But this isn’t just wish­ful think­ing. Yes, Health­Care.gov may well have con­sequences for Demo­crats in 2014. But any­thing much bey­ond that is hy­per­bole. Amer­ic­ans and the me­dia have already for­got­ten the sup­posedly “hor­rendous” rol­lout of Medi­care Part D, and it happened just sev­en years ago, when most seasoned mem­bers of the Wash­ing­ton press corps were already in Wash­ing­ton.

If the White House is alarmed by the out­land­ish­ness of the vari­ous “Obama­care is as bad as”¦.” com­par­is­ons — Ir­aq, Kat­rina, the sink­ing of the Ti­tan­ic, the Battle of Wa­ter­loo, the ex­plo­sion of the space shuttle Chal­lenger — it should be heartened by the fact that the me­dia can’t even re­mem­ber the more re­cent and ger­mane ex­ample.

If the me­dia can’t re­mem­ber 2006, will voters a dec­ade from now, con­fron­ted with the pos­sib­il­ity of some new gov­ern­ment pro­gram, really stop and say, “Re­mem­ber how that web­site didn’t work right in 2013?”

What We're Following See More »
BACKING OUT ON BERNIE
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
2 days ago
THE LATEST

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

AKNOWLEDGING THE INEVITABLE
UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Source:
AP KEEPING COUNT
Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Source:
TRUMP FLOATED IDEA ON JIMMY KIMMEL’S SHOW
Trump/Sanders Debate Before California Primary?
3 days ago
THE LATEST
CAMPAIGNS INJECTED NEW AD MONEY
California: It’s Not Over Yet
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.

Source:
×