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
Add to Briefcase
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 »
ANOTHER GOP MODERATE TO HER SIDE
John Warner to Endorse Clinton
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will score another high-powered Republican endorsement on Wednesday, according to a campaign aide: retired senator John Warner of Virginia, a popular GOP maverick with renowned military credentials."

Source:
AUTHORITY OF EPA IN QUESTION
Appeals Court Hears Clean Power Plant Case
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday "heard several hours of oral arguments" over the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan rules. The 10-judge panel "focused much of their questioning on whether the EPA had overstepped its legal authority by seeking to broadly compel this shift away from coal, a move the EPA calls the Best System of Emission Reduction, or BSER. The states and companies suing the EPA argue the agency doesn’t have the authority to regulate anything outside of a power plant itself."

Source:
$28 MILLION THIS WEEK
Here Come the Ad Buys
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Spending by super PACs tied to Donald Trump friends such as Ben Carson and banker Andy Beal will help make this week the general election's most expensive yet. Republicans and Democrats will spend almost $28 million on radio and television this week, according to advertising records, as Trump substantially increases his advertising buy for the final stretch. He's spending $6.4 million in nine states, part of what aides have said will be a $100 million television campaign through Election Day."

Source:
UNLIKELY TO GET A VOTE, LIKELY TO ANGER GOP SENATORS
Obama Nominates Ambassador to Cuba
6 hours ago
THE LATEST
GOP REFUSED VOTE ON FCC COMMISIONER
Reid Blocks Tech Bill Over “Broken Promise”
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Monday night's debate may have inspired some in Congress, as Senate Minority Leader has decided to take a stand of his own. Reid is declining to allow a vote on a "bipartisan bill that would bolster U.S. spectrum availability and the deployment of wireless broadband." Why? Because of a "broken promise" made a year ago by Republicans, who have refused to vote on confirmation for a Democratic commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission to a second term. Harry Reid then took it a step further, invoking another confirmation vote still outstanding, that of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Source:
×