Obama has declared Healthcare.gov problems unacceptable. Problem solved.

posted at 10:11 pm on October 21, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham

Today, after 10 minutes of sugarcoating, President Obama said he wouldn’t sugarcoat the failures of HealthCare.gov:

But the problem has been that the website that’s supposed to make it easy to apply for and purchase the insurance is not working the way it should for everybody. There’s no sugarcoating it. The website has been too slow. People have getting stuck during the application process. And I think it’s fair to say that nobody’s more frustrated by that than I am. Precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work, I want the checkout lines to be smooth, so I want people to be able to get this great product. And there’s no excuse for the problems. And it’s — these problems are getting fixed.

The “unacceptable” speech is a staple of the Obama presidency. Through gritted teeth, the president acknowledges something he’d rather not, usually something his administration has screwed up royally—Benghazi, the IRS scandal, or the push for intervention in Syria. He detaches himself from the situation and all responsibility for what he’s acknowledging while offering a stern lecture for those who caused the problem— usually someone he hired and under his direct instruction— and promising to get to the bottom of it. He might show a flash of barely contained Spock-Obama anger to send a thrill up the legs of newscasters.

In the South Parkian parlance of the underpants gnomes, that’s Step 1. Step 2: ? Step 3: Problem solved.

In his “unacceptable” speech on the rolling calamity of Obamacare’s launch, the president didn’t even evince the minute and a half of anger he generally musters for such a speech, until he got to the part about Republicans, but that’s a part of every single speech. This is his legacy! From his point of view, someone (maybe the same person always preventing him from being clear?) is ruining his signature achievement, and we got a surreal campaign speech instead of any real reckoning with the problems before him.

Many have wondered what that means. Does the president know how deep the problems run (5 million lines of code to be rewritten, according to the NYT)? Does the HealthCare.gov team even know what the problems are? Are they trying to buy time to assess? Without any sense of urgency, can this possibly be fixed in time to prevent its implosion?

The only thing Obama has ever run well is a tech-centric campaign that knows how to build a hell of a website. How could he let this happen, some wonder? Two thoughts on that. One, Obama assumed that building a tech system to support Obamacare would look like building his campaign did without recognizing that working within government, complying with its regulations, and deploying with the flexibility of peanut brittle was fundamentally different from launching tech products for a small, private organization built to be flexible from hour to hour on the campaign trail. Ironically, Obama’s very successful tech-centric campaign also further hampered the efforts to build HealthCare.gov and state exchanges by putting off setting regulations, rules, and specs until post-election, when they couldn’t be used as ammunition against him.

Two, I think Obama thinks when he says things, they just happen. There’s no small part of his entire candidacy and presidency founded on a sort of magical thinking. His presence would fix Washington even as he did nothing to fix it and exacerbated many of its worst features. His words would heal our divides and probably the ocean. It’s not surprising that his signature law would be animated by a lot of the same. He said “Travelocity for health care,” didn’t he?

He said Benghazi’s perpetrators would be brought to justice, didn’t he? He said the IRS acted inappropriately, didn’t he? Problem solved.

The pattern should make Obamacare supporters very nervous about whether this thing can be fixed quickly. Since when has something the president called “unacceptable” ever been brought to a satisfactory conclusion? Each of these things has been put into the “Keystone” holding pattern. If past is prelude, the president will perpetually be “gathering facts,” “acting deliberately,” and giving stern speeches about continued Obamacare website problems. And, by the way, firing no one.

Transparency and accountability aren’t actually just buzz words. They’re a way to make sure bad things don’t happen over and over again. The president showed no indication he wants to fix the problem with his legacy law today, and no matter what he tells you, his opponents are under no obligation to help him pick up the pieces. Unless he believes his mere words solve the problem, he did near nothing to fix things today. Of course, this would not be, as the president likes to say, “unprecedented.”

In the meantime, all of the people who’ve been calling us liars for three years will now be insistent that we stop talking about Obamacare’s problems and become part of the solution, man. If they’d stopped blindly believing in the power of big government to do big things a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, they might have actually heard some of our criticisms and been able to correct the problem. But they opted for “Attack Watch.”

Update: We’re all thinking it. “ALL IS WELLLLLL!”

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