NYT: Obama, WH rosy claims belied "open secret" of poor ObamaCare performance

What did the President know about ObamaCare, and when did he know it? The New York Times raised that question yesterday, offering a video montage of pre-rollout claims about the Healthcare.gov exchange from White House officials, including Barack Obama himself at the Clinton Global Initiative one week before the launch.  However, behind those rosy predictions were big red flags being raised — and now the question is whether the White House didn’t see them, didn’t want to see them, or purposely ignored them:

That kind of enthusiasm wasn’t just for public consumption, reports Michael Shear and Sheryl Gay Stolberg. The same kind of cheerleading went into briefings on Capitol Hill among lawmakers and staffers. The expectation was that initial consumer enthusiasm would create “a few bumps,” but that the website was solid and Healthcare.gov was ready for launch.

But is that what the Obama administration really believed? Contractors working on the system told Congress that they repeatedly warned senior administration officials that the system had serious problems — and some of those people wanted to delay the rollout:

The executives testified that “end to end” testing of the Web site did not take place until two weeks before the site made its debut — about the same time that the briefings by Mr. Simas and Mr. McDonough were taking place. And they said problems with the software that powers the Web site were communicated to senior officials in the president’s administration. …

According to some accounts, the project’s managers at the Department of Health and Human Services assured the White House that any remaining problems could be worked out once the Web site went live, but other senior department officials predicted serious trouble and advised delaying the rollout.

The tech sector already knew this would be a huge failure, even according to one of Obama’s Presidential Innovation Fellows — a man who set up Obama’s 2008 online campaign systems:

But among technology experts, the federal government’s poor performance in developing Web sites was an open secret.

Clay Johnson, a founder of Blue State Digital, the company that ultimately developed Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign Web site, turned down a chance to work on HealthCare.gov last year, when he spent six months as a Presidential Innovation Fellow.

“It was a project I wanted to steer clear of,” he said.

Why didn’t the administration listen? Politics, according to Harry Reid’s former chief of staff Jim Manley:

Some Democrats said that, given the Republican assault on the measure, the White House was right to deliver upbeat presentations promoting it.

“To downplay expectations would have fed into the Republican narrative,” said Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, who attended a session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House with other allies of the administration.

In other words, “some Democrats” would prefer to hear lies for political purposes than to find out the truth about incompetence in the Obama administration.  That’s not exactly a confidence builder for the ObamaCare project rolling forward.  It’s also a good indicator of the level of honesty we can expect from the White House on the status of this program at any time, too.

Margaret Carlson understands the crisis. She agrees with my argument this week that this is an existential moment for big-government progressivism, and that the incompetence and prevarications threaten the entire agenda of the Left (via Instapundit):

The rollout of Obamacare had to be absolutely perfect. Obama needed to treat it like a 21st-century Manhattan Project, full of 20-something geeks pulling all-nighters and managed by geniuses from Apple Inc. and Google Inc. who can fill in that blind spot between the techies and end users. Instead, he took the pedestrian route and spent $400 million on a Canadian company that our Good Neighbors to the North once fired for incompetence.

That brings us to those determined to stop Obamacare and, by extension, Obama himself (that’s why they call it Obamacare). They’re happy to watch the president making excuses. They’re gloating now, just a few days after the president did his own gloating over Republican incompetence during the government shutdown.

The website failure gives credence to those who warn that government can’t be trusted to get big things right, and that the market, not bureaucrats, should fix health care. It’s not just the crazies who doubt government now. According to the Pew Research Center, the competence of officialdom is on shaky ground, with only 19 percent of Americans saying they trust in government “just about always” or “most of the time.” …

This was supposed to have been Obamacare’s moment of truth, when the president disproved bitter Republicans and showed that government could do something great. According to Bloomberg News, HealthCare.gov went live without a dry run, and just last week the computer code — 500 million lines of which might have to be reconfigured — contained place-holder language that is used in preliminary drafts. Yet contractors have been paid as if they performed.

Republicans may yet get their delay, not because they shut down the government, but because the president didn’t use his power to make his hard-fought legislation work.

It’s worse than that.  It’s that the President couldn’t care less about exerting the kind of leadership needed to ensure success, and contented himself with listening to yes-men so he could spout a bunch of happy talk in public rather than be honest with the American people.  This is a crisis for the progressive agenda to be sure, but at its core it is a crisis of leadership. We have none.