Monday, November 18, 2013

Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Several weeks ago, we were caught up in a game of political brinkmanship as the government went into shutdown and it looked like the United States might be heading towards defaulting on its economic obligations. Despite efforts to cast this in terms of two political sides on either side of a divide, the blunt truth was the blame for the debacle of the government shutdown rested squarely on the shoulders of the Tea Party and the Republican Party over which the Tea Party's take no prisoners, never surrender, never compromise arch-conservatives held on a short leash.  The principal target of their ill-considered plan was, once again, the destruction of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.  When it was all over, Obamacare was still in place and nothing had been gained by the reckless actions of the ideologically driven Tea Party except cost the U.S. Government $24 billion in additional costs related to the shutdown.

During the course of the shutdown and its aftermath, things looked bleak for the GOP as national approval ratings plummeted and confidence in Congress was almost non-existent. Meanwhile, Obamacare withstood yet another challenge has it rolled out to anxious citizens looking for health care coverage. Talk was how all this would impact the next mid-term elections and that maybe, just maybe, the GOP had mortally wounded itself.

I'm thinking: Just wait.

For while I've watched the Republican Party descend deeper and deeper into a tangled mess of rabidly angry, one-note ideologues, I've also watched the Democratic Party gain almost no advantage from the mess the GOP is making for themselves. Indeed, as I've observed in politics over my adult life, I've noticed that Democrats have an distinctly uncanny ability: to snatch DEFEAT from the jaws of VICTORY.

Sure enough, just as President Obama and his fellow Democratic allies could've been doing victory laps over the imploding Republicans, they have instead oversaw a situation that has spun out into chaos and Obama and Dems are the ones looking at rapidly falling poll numbers amidst a grown cloud of doubt and mistrust. When you have crazy people proclaiming, "I told you so" AND they just might be right, you've lost all control.

It's astonishing how quickly the narrative has changed.

THEN: Tea Party ideologues hi-jack the Republican Party and the House of Representatives in a self-destructive bid to accomplish a very highly improbable objective with little or no support from mainstream America.

NOW: President Obama, the Health and Human Services Administration and others have attempted a nigh-impossible task with poor planning, inadequate resources and a willful blindness to a host of problems and are now faced with little or no confidence from mainstream America AND the factions on the political hard-right who just KNEW this was all going to go down this way.

A couple of weeks ago I posted this on my blog in an edition of Broken News.

Of course, I'm sure it didn't go down like that, right?


As the story spun from government shutdown to health care roll out, the bits and pieces that spilled forth continued to paint a rather depressing picture of complete and total incompetence.

I want to address just the basic political part of this equation. For now, let's put aside the questions of the need for health care reform and if this act is this best answer to that need.

But for this, I just want to focus on the political impact for the President and his team. From that perspective, Obama really needed this work. Health care reform was the defining objective and achievement of his administration. Getting it through had not been easy. Congressional Democrats paid for their support of this program by losing their seats. But despite blow after blow after blow from opposition on the right, the Act went through. Once it was the law of the land, opposition continued to reverse it but Act still stood. Tea Party conservatives orchestrated the shutdown of the government itself and the Act rolled on.

From a purely political basis, Obamacare had to succeed. Failure could not, must not be an option.

And as President Barrack Obama stood amongst the smoldering ruins of the shutdown, triumphant over his political opposition, the single most important achievement of his Presidency...

...has become a joke.

Defeat from the jaws of victory.

And this grand initiative's first big obstacle? The website crashed. became a quick punchline for incompetence. And everything I've read on this subject points to everyone mastering that otherwise anatomically impossible trick of sticking one's head up one's ass. A lot of stuff that should've been dealt with early on and decisively were rushed to the last minute. Red flags that should've sounded the alarm that maybe, just maybe, a little more time might be needed were disregarded.

Design flaws

Less than optimal hardware

Incompatible software

Needlessly complex functions

Insufficient support systems.

Inadequate projections of system use. 

Little or no testing. 

And at the center of the storm, leadership seemed befuddled and lacking. "The problem is Obamacare is TOO successful", came one retort. "More people than we anticipated are looking forward to the benefits of this program." Well, isn't that special. This means Obama's team didn't believe their own hype and under-prepared for the large number of health insurances seekers that hey said would benefit. Or someone was seriously underestimating just how royally screwed up really was. The numbers who actually tried to sign up in the beginning were not that large. That means the website infra-structure was just that weak and ineffective. 

Heck, efforts to guide potential applicants to use the phone met with more failure and frustration.  

Was Obamacare going to have to resort to horse riders and telegraph wires to get this program up and running?

Maybe? Well, maybe not. Looks like the website might be getting better.

But even as technological woes were being addressed in fits and starts, another part of the health care reform roll out rears its ugly head.

People are getting cancellation notices from their health insurance companies.

When all this was being talked up, one thing the President made clear over and over: if you already have insurance, you're fine. Well, a good number of people who have individual health insurance were getting letters from their insurance provider because their current policy does not meet the conditions of the Affordable Care Act.

And it seems this little bit of humbug was predicted early on.

Well, no big, right? Go to the health care marketplace and find better, cheaper health insurance. Just logon to the website....

Yeah, that website. It IS getting better but...

...they still have issues. 

Even from just a purely selfish political standpoint, Obama needed this to go right. Not a little right or even mostly right but damn near perfect. Because this little program had a lot riding on it and every little hiccup was going to reflect badly on this administration. So if for no other reason than to secure the legacy of President Obama, how could so much go so wrong, particularly if it was foreseeable?

Let me say this: we need health care reform in this country. Now why should I worry about that? I have insurance through my employer. Yes, I do and my co-pay for doctor visits went up by $5.00. You can blame Obamacare if you want but I've also know I've watched that co-pay inch up every a few years. When I started at my current employer a year ago, that co-pay was $15.00 for a general physician's visit. Then it went to $20.00 and now $25.00.  Where does that end? I have my own self interest for health care reform to work and be effective.

But I must look beyond myself and to the millions of people who do not have access to health care coverage. These are men and women who are without work or have found work in low paying jobs with not benefits. They and their children are forced to either go to hospital emergency rooms or not to address their illnesses until it's too late. 

Of course all this handwringing over website crashes and regulatory mishaps is quite unnecessary.
Dave-El (David Long)@DayWayLo 17 Nov

Health care problems can be resolved with a simple 2 part process: 1) become rich 2) buy insurance. Why is that so hard?

But maybe we need a more pragmatic, a more inclusive approach. But we're not going to get that out of Washington DC, not while we have an entire contingent in Congress working against our interests so they can retain their power to say "no" to whatever Obama wants. Meanwhile we have an entire segment of government that seems incapable of winning the day.

This needs to stop or we'll always be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Have we not seen enough of that?


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