Once a president loses his credibility, it's hard to get it back

The president is no doubt receiving lots of regular updates now, but as the public evaluates his ability to speak accurately about the issues of the day, has he lost something by not appearing to be at the center of his own administration? In his new book about John Kennedy, Camelot’s Court, Robert Dallek describes how important retaining that image was to JFK’s conception of the presidency: “When Kennedy took responsibility for the Bay of Pigs, it was not simply a courageous move to protect subordinates, but also a statement of his conviction that if he were to establish himself as a historical figure, he needed to be seen as at the center of all his administration did— the achievements and the failures.”

Obama’s credibility challenges won’t stop when his incompetently mismanaged health care website is finally repaired. Once that gets fixed, the president will ride another credibility roller coaster: truthfully describing whether the Affordable Care Act is working as designed. All the attention on his law’s launch-pad disaster may have distracted people from the fact that the underlying pursuit is a very tough one. If healthcare.gov had launched perfectly, there still would have been a huge debate over whether Obamacare was working as promised. Were younger people signing up? Were the risk pools in various regions of the country filled with the right kinds of policyholders necessary to keep premiums in check? This was the original brain surgery the president was undertaking before the earthquake. Once the patient is lifted back off the floor and the generator is patched up, you still have to do brain surgery.