That the administration knew [of the cancellations] and failed to anticipate the inevitable outcry is political malpractice of the highest order. That policyholders who received cancellation notices didn’t have a functional Web site on which to seek alternatives makes that preexisting condition exponentially worse…

Listening to the president Thursday was painful. He acknowledged the need “to win back some credibility.” He “fumbled the rollout” of health care. He is “letting . . . down” congressional Democrats who took the risk of supporting Obamacare. Although he’s sometimes been “slapped around a little bit unjustly,” the president said, “This one’s deserved, all right? It’s on us.”

Can he recover? I’m sorry to say: I’m not at all confident.

***

Obama’s latest claim will be just one more unmet expectation to be thrown back in the face of a leader who likes to tell his own worried aides when things are going badly, “I got this.” Except when he doesn’t.

“At every single point, they’ve over-promised and under-delivered” on Obamacare, said Matthew Dowd, George W. Bush’s former pollster who grew so disillusioned with his old boss’s performance that he voted for Obama. “And at every single point, they’ve chosen a short-term communications strategy, as opposed to a long-term governing strategy. And the short-term communication strategy was to put out the fire by saying ‘It’s all going to be OK.”’…

“They’ve endured far more long-term pain from their happy talk than they would have short-term pain from telling the truth,” [former speechwriter Daniel Pink] said. “I fear this is going to go into the annals with George H. W. Bush’s ‘no new taxes,’ and Bill Clinton’s ‘I didn’t have sex with that woman.’ It strikes me as something very sticky.”

“There’s a piece of me that says this thing is just so complicated that God couldn’t have implemented it,” said Tom Peters, the veteran management guru and co-author of “In Search of Excellence.” “Every time you make one little adjustment, there are probably 150, if not 1,000, regulations that have to be taken into account. Would it be doable if it was inside a Google, with all the things the private sector allows you to do? But presumably at the top of the administration, I have to assume there was de facto no oversight of this thing.”

***

Democrats are fully aware of how their “fixes” are potentially fatal for the most expansive liberal reform in generations. They do not care. The political threat is that grave. Initially, they warned the president that he must do something to stop the bleeding. After President Bill Clinton admonished the president for failing to honor his “commitment” to voters, Democrats stopped asking…

This is a tale of misfortune and woe so Shakespearean that only history’s greatest bards could have ever dreamed it. So many liberals sacrificed so much to bring this creation to life. As it has become clear that their creation is a monster, they are struggling against the increasingly inescapable realization that they may have to kill it in order to save themselves, and their party, from an age in the wilderness.

***

Obamacare’s success would’ve affirmed the theories underlying Obama’s presidency — theories that could then be picked up by future presidents. Instead, Obamacare is systematically blowing apart the very premises it’s based on.

The reliance on Republican policy proposals did nothing to generate Republican support. Instead of showing the falseness of partisan divisions, Obamacare has proven how deeply entrenched they truly are.

Far from introducing innovation and efficiency into the system, the decision to build a complex, 50-state public-private hybrid has introduced towering complexity into the project, and seems, potentially, to be beyond the government’s capacity to do well.

And protecting individuals from the predations of the market has mostly led to complaints from those benefitting from the predations of the market. Even the most unjust system has winners, and those winners cling tightly to what they’ve won.

***

The continuing problems with the Healthcare.gov website can be fixed—at least theoretically. What can’t be repaired is the 37 times Obama said Americans could keep their health insurance if they liked it. No amount of fine print about grandfather clauses and the small individual market and who really likes their health care plan anyway erases the fact that the president deceived the public. The damage such deceit can wreak on a presidency is why Obama issued his directive to state insurance commissioners to allow canceled plans to be reinstated until after the 2014 election. It was the first episode in a long series called Damage Control.

The ramifications of Obama’s lie will continue to haunt him. Republicans can now blame every negative piece of health care news on Obamacare and the president who signed it into law. And there will be plenty of bad news to come: the status of the lost individual plans remains unclear, the website remains broken, there is no guarantee that the administration will meet its enrollment targets, the employer mandate hasn’t gone into effect, and just wait until the first security breaches, privacy violations, and fraudulent subsidies hit the exchanges. By passing Obamacare on a party line vote, Democrats welcomed the politicization of the health care market, or 18 percent of the economy. They’re going to get it.

The Obama Revolution, which came to office with plans to expand dramatically the role of government in our lives and restore America’s reputation abroad, has come to a halt.

***

At stake, however, is more than the fate of one presidency or of the current Democratic majority in the Senate. At stake is the new, more ambitious, social-democratic brand of American liberalism introduced by Obama, of which Obamacare is both symbol and concrete embodiment.

Precisely when the GOP was returning to a more constitutionalist conservatism committed to reforming, restructuring, and reining in the welfare state (see, for example, the Paul Ryan Medicare reform passed by House Republicans with near unanimity), Obama offered a transformational liberalism designed to expand the role of government, enlarge the welfare state, and create yet new entitlements (see, for example, his call for universal preschool in his most recent State of the Union address).The centerpiece of this vision is, of course, Obamacare, the most sweeping social reform in the last half-century, affecting one-sixth of the economy and directly touching the most vital area of life of every citizen.

As the only socially transformational legislation in modern American history to be enacted on a straight party-line vote, Obamacare is wholly owned by the Democrats. Its unraveling would catastrophically undermine their underlying ideology of ever-expansive central government providing cradle-to-grave care for an ever-grateful citizenry.

For four years, this debate has been theoretical. Now it’s real. And for Democrats, it’s a disaster.

***

The second, and more far-reaching, effect will be on Americans’ support for government social and economic programs. Since the country’s founding, Americans have always had an abiding distrust of the federal government. In the country’s first fifty years, that probably had a progressive effect by accelerating Westward economic expansion, but after the Civil War, business and banking leaders exploited this sentiment to block attempts to protect workers and consumers; later, the appeal to state’s rights was used to oppose civil rights laws.

It has taken panics, depressions, wars and social upheaval to get Congress to adopt social and economic reforms. At all other times, the publics’ distrust of government, as reinforced by business, has carried the day. Bill Clinton discovered that out in his first term when he tried to pass a national healthcare program. Obama succeeded in passing a health care bill in 2010 in the wake of the Great Recession. But if Obamacare doesn’t work as promised, then its failure will have reinforced for a generation the argument against any government initiatives. Reform will be dead – whether it’s to fix immigration, healthcare, or the growing gap between rich and poor.

***

Kettl says no major federal initiative has failed so thoroughly upon its unveiling since the ballistic-missile program’s first years in the 1950s produced a succession of explosions and failures to launch. “The last time something blew up on the runway like this,” Kettl says, “things were literally blowing up on the runway.”…

As the health law teeters, the stakes are so great because the struggle encapsulates each party’s core argument. It embodies the Democratic belief that society works better when risk is shared—between young and old, healthy and sick—and government intervenes in private markets to try to expand both security and opportunity. The fury of the Republican resistance reflects the party’s insistence that markets work best unfettered, that centralized government programs cannot achieve their goals, and that Democrats are unduly burdening the “makers” to support (and politically mobilize) the “takers.”

If most Americans conclude Republicans are right about the health care law, that judgment would inevitably deepen doubts about other government initiatives. In this world, Democrats could still hold the White House in 2016 around cultural affinity, but they would likely struggle to achieve much if they do. If the president can’t extinguish the flames surrounding Obamacare, this runway explosion could reverberate for years.

***

Most of them had no idea what they were voting for. They’re as surprised as anybody at what’s happened. And it’s not only because so many of them are idiots. They believed what they were told and, more important, they wanted to believe it. And, I suspect, they had a magical and almost touching belief in the ability of the U.S. government to do anything. It’s done anything in the past, why wouldn’t it now? (Because in the past it wasn’t asked to construct huge, sprawling, incoherent Rube Goldberg machines? And because government hasn’t always executed brilliantly, but often just well enough not to make everybody cry?)

One thing about the progressives of Congress: They really drank the Kool-Aid. They really did think government could do anything. They were sincere! They really thought there were no limits.

I wonder if this will sober them up.

People are wondering if we are seeing the end of liberalism. We are not. Liberalism, a great and storied American political tradition, will survive this. But progressivism—liberalism without blood—has been badly, deeply damaged. We are seeing the end of its first major emanation, ObamaCare.

***

That, to my mind, is what Thursday’s announcement really signals, and why I think it’s so significant. Prior instances of reckless presidential expediency in the debate over Obamacare have involved efforts to get past some immediate obstacle and just get the system into place, in the hope that once it was working the criticisms would fade away. This latest instance, however, involves roughly the opposite impulse: to sacrifice the prospects of the new system itself in the service of avoiding immediate political pain and embarrassment and without some larger goal in view.

It suggests that the administration is giving up on the long game of doing what it takes to get the system into place and then trusting that the public will come around and is adopting instead the mentality of a political war of attrition, fought news cycle by news cycle, in which the goal is to survive and gain some momentary advantage rather than to achieve a large and well-defined objective. It suggests, in other words, that the administration is coming to the view that Obamacare as they have envisioned it is not really going to happen, that they don’t know quite what is going to happen (and no one else does either), and that they need above all to keep their coalition together and keep the public from abandoning them so they can regroup when the dust clears.

***

[I]n this country we don’t change bad laws by presidential fiat. We change them by having Congress rewrite them or by starting from scratch. Obama doesn’t want to reopen this law for fear that Republicans and some Democrats will substantially rewrite it. But that’s what has to happen.

We understand why the president and leaders of his party want to rescue whatever they can of Obamacare. On their watch, official Washington has blown the launch of a new entitlement program … under the schedule they alone set in early 2010.

What we don’t understand is their reluctance to give that failure more than lip service. Many of the Americans who heard their president say Thursday that “we fumbled the rollout of this health care law” would have been pleased to hear him add: So we’re admitting it. This law is a bust. We’re starting over.