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 »
BIG CHANGE FROM WHEN HE SELF-FINANCED
Trump Enriching His Businesses with Donor Money
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "nearly quintupled the monthly rent his presidential campaign pays for its headquarters at Trump Tower to $169,758 in July, when he was raising funds from donors, compared with March, when he was self-funding his campaign." A campaign spokesman "said the increased office space was needed to accommodate an anticipated increase in employees," but the campaign's paid staff has actually dipped by about 25 since March. The campaign has also paid his golf courses and restaurants about $260,000 since mid-May.

Source:
QUESTIONS OVER IMMIGRATION POLICY
Trump Cancels Rallies
1 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump probably isn't taking seriously John Oliver's suggestion that he quit the race. But he has canceled or rescheduled rallies amid questions over his stance on immigration. Trump rescheduled a speech on the topic that he was set to give later this week. Plus, he's also nixed planned rallies in Oregon and Las Vegas this month.

Source:
‘STRATEGY AND MESSAGING’
Sean Hannity Is Also Advising Trump
2 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump's Fox News brain trust keeps growing. After it was revealed that former Fox chief Roger Ailes is informally advising Trump on debate preparation, host Sean Hannity admitted over the weekend that he's also advising Trump on "strategy and messaging." He told the New York Times: “I’m not hiding the fact that I want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States. I never claimed to be a journalist.”

Source:
THE SHAKE-UP CONTINUES
RNC’s Spicer to Work from Trump HQ
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump's campaign and the Republican party will coordinate more closely going forward, with the GOP's top communicator and chief strategist Sean Spicer increasingly working out of Trump campaign headquarters, the campaign confirmed Sunday."

Source:
MORE PALACE INTRIGUE
Manafort Resigns from Trump Campaign
5 days ago
THE LATEST

In a statement released Friday morning, the Trump campaign announced that Paul Manafort has resigned as campaign chairman. The move comes after fresh questions had been raised about Manafort's work in Russia and Ukraine, and Trump brought in Stephen Bannon "as a de facto demotion for Manafort."

Source:
×