It's simple. Or so they say. Amidst the dismay over the continuing debacle known as Obamacare, the growing frustration in the country prompts a simple, widespread reaction: "Whaddya expect? It's a government operation."
Even those responsible for designing this latest government wonder say it will soon have "private-sector velocity and effectiveness." That's the word from healthcare.gov. Officials in Washington sound almost wistful for the kind of private enterprise they used to spend so much time badmouthing. ("You didn't build that!") These experts were going to make everything work so much better for all of us, thanks to all-wise, all-beneficent government.
That was a while ago, back when our social planners felt confident they could remodel a sixth or so of the national economy -- all of health care -- without too much trouble. It'd be a snap. So far they haven't even got past the first stage, designing a website that lets Americans buy health insurance, and they're already bogged down. The free market never looked so good.
So it's only natural that so many of us, especially conservatives, would assume that the basic issue here is government vs. private enterprise, the inefficiency of Big Brother compared to the speed and service of FedEx, say. Or Amazon.com.
It's not so simple. There are plenty of CEOs in the private sector, too, who manage to screw things up on a grand scale. Their specialty? Making excuses, blaming others and promising things are about to get better even as they get worse. And they keep their jobs. At least until the stockholders and maybe even the board of directors finally get wise to them.
Conversely, who doesn't know public employees who do a fine job -- the smiling lady at DMV who straightens out your hopelessly snarled application for a driver's license, the public school teacher who takes your confused and angry kid in hand and sets him on the right path, the cop that even the most stalwart advocate of the Free Enterprise System calls as soon as he's in any real trouble....
No, the real issue isn't whether private or public operations are superior, but which can do a better job -- for customers or taxpayers, investors or just people who want their old insurance back, thank you. The basic choice isn't between public and private, but between competence and incompetence.
Does anybody think there'd be this much fuss over Obamacare if it ran as well as Romneycare does in Massachusetts -- a system that, at least originally, was designed for individuals in a highly individualistic state?
All the American people want is a government that works, one that respects both polar stars of American society, liberty and equality, and we couldn't care less about all the ideological frippery that our politicians and intellectuals and, yes, newspaper columnists keep serving up in irrelevant detail.
Consider the ways of a CEO who really is a chief executive officer, that is, one who executes policies. He -- or she -- takes care of business. Or finds subordinates who can. Here's an account of how one by now almost legendary CEO, Jeff Bezos at Amazon.com, operates. His biographer, Brad Stone, tells this story in his book about Amazon, "The Everything Store":
Bill Price, chief of customer services at Amazon, had claimed that hold times on Amazon's phone lines came in at less than a minute. His boss was suitably impressed. And curious. So at a meeting during the holiday season of 2000, Mr. Bezos put the speakerphone in the middle of the conference table and called Amazon's 800 number. Then he "took his watch off and made a deliberate show of tracking the time. A brutal minute passed, then two. ... Around four and a half minutes passed, but according to multiple people at the meeting who related the story, the wait seemed interminable."
Mr. Price is no longer vice president for customer services at Amazon. He was out within a year. Kathleen Sebelius is still secretary of Health and Human Services. That about sums up the difference between a chief executive who is one and a chief executive who's still a community organizer.
By now Ms. Sebelius' chief function appears to be applauding like mad at presidential news conferences when her boss assures the country (again) that Obamacare is working just fine. "This law is working and will work into the future." --Barack Obama, December 3, 2013.
Do you believe that? Did you ever?
One of the reasons Chris Christie has emerged as a presidential hope is that he sounds (and acts) like a chief executive, not a walking compendium of talking points. New Jersey's straight-talking governor will work with a president of the other party if that's what it takes to start fixing all the damage a devastating hurricane left behind. At the same time, he can balance a government budget in the most orthodox Republican way, outraging his state's labor bosses and other vested interests.
It doesn't hurt that Chris Christie's language has a Jersey bounce. During the (not so) Great Government Shutdown earlier this year, he was asked what he'd do about it. "If I was in the Senate right now," he said, "I'd kill myself."
As for all this talk about his presidential prospects, Governor Christie calls it "meaningless." Which it is this early.
At his most endearing, which is regularly, Chris Christie doesn't sound like a politician or pundit, but somebody from Jersey who makes things work. It's about time somebody did.