In the case of the health-care exchanges, advocates emphasized how simple they’d be. “Getting insurance through the marketplace is as easy as applying for a plan, finding out if you qualify for subsidies and then comparing competing health plans,” declared ObamacareFacts.com. It was a seductive idea.
But, like other forms of glamour, it hid the tradeoffs and difficulties involved. Such artificial grace is what makes glamour so dangerous and so persuasive. By concealing anything that might break the spell, it leads us to feel that the life we dream of exists, and to desire it even more: “To provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending.” That sounds wonderful. As Captain Picard of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” would say, “Make it so.” But turning hopes into reality requires more than a command.
The health care law, the White House argues, “isn’t just a website.” True enough. But the software problems are representative of a larger rhetorical choice. Rather than argue that the new health-care law would require adjustments and sacrifices, and that the costs would be worth it to give more people health insurance, the president and other supporters assured the public that if they liked their insurance, they could keep it. There might be costs for industry, this rhetoric suggested, but individuals would be better off. It was a glamorous vision of reform, with the trade-offs — in higher costs and less choice for some people, and the hardships of implementation — concealed.