Paul Greenberg

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?


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.