Only now does Obamacare's namesake call the press to the Rose Garden, which is much better tended than his signature program, to acknowledge what everybody already knows: There are, well, a few problems with his signature program. Problems are now known as glitches in the specialized language used to minimize politicians' mistakes, however colossal. As if they were but technical problems. Just press 4....
Don't be concerned. Our president assures all and sundry that his administration may delay the deadlines in the law, just as he has ignored other laws that he found it inconvenient to enforce. With this president, law can be a sometime thing.
Putting off the start of Obamacare's insurance exchanges for individuals, just as he already has delayed it for businesses, was one of the proposals the president rejected when Republicans made it during their pointless fight over raising the debt ceiling. If the president had accepted it then, he might have avoided two crises -- not just the one now affecting Obamacare but the shutdown that shuttered much of the federal government for weeks.
Back then, the president denounced any suggestion that Obamacare be delayed as a Republican plot, throwing around the word "blackmail" with abandon. Now that he's considering that suggestion, the usual apologists for this administration will explain that Obamacare just needs a simple little fix that'll straighten out whatever's wrong with it in no time. Uh-huh.
On the same day the president finally acknowledged that his (not so) Affordable Health Care was in (more than) a bit of trouble, his administration also announced that it was going to have postpone its Spanish-language sign-ups for Obamacare. No habla espanol aqui.
Why? The usual "technical" problems. Technical is another one of those words that is now used to minimize presidential-sized misjudgments. And assign the responsibility for them so broadly that no one is held responsible for them. It's the updated version of Ronald Reagan's classic comment on the Iran-Contra imbroglio: "Mistakes were made." That way, there's no need to go into detail about just who made them. "The buck stops here" went out with a decidedly old-fashioned president named Harry Truman. (A man who had to answer to Bess Truman knew better than to offer any excuses.)
The president says he's going to get the "best and brightest" to fix this latest screw-up in his prized program, which sounds suspiciously like a reference to the same kind of experts who bollixed it in the first place.
The first time some of us old-timers can remember hearing that phrase about the "best and brightest" was when they were designing American military strategy in Vietnam, and we all know how well that turned out. At least no blood has been spilled in pursuit of Obamacare's golden grail. Not yet, anyway.
Here is Dr. Greenberg's Rx: No excuses, a simple apology, and lots of run-throughs and tests before this world-class junker is allowed on the road again. Maybe a complete redesign. Before it breaks down not just in part but completely, like the wondrous one-hoss shay that came apart all at once.
Lamar Alexander, senior senator and kibitzer from Tennessee, has his own prescription to offer: "Somebody ought to be accountable for this mess, and if the president isn't going to resign, it's up to him to figure out who should." The secretary of Health and Human (Dis)Services, the Hon. Kathleen Sebelius, is a leading candidate for that honor, but (a) it's not easy to determine just who was responsible for this trainwreck, if anybody was rather than the whole Rube Goldberg law itself, and (b) fixing "this mess" isn't as simple a matter as picking a scapegoat for it.
This just in from the HHS -- a message direct from the Honorable herself. It was waiting for us (as if in ambush) when we opened our emails last Tuesday: "Today, we are announcing key steps the Department is taking as part of a tech surge to continue to improve the consumer experience on healthcare.gov...."
How assuring. Almost as assuring as all the emails she's issued since senators, congressmen and just innocent bystanders began using the word "trainwreck" to describe what was about to happen to Obamacare. She dismissed all their worries and warnings. Just as she's now trying to minimize this crack-up while standing in the midst of the smoldering wreckage.
What does the engineer-in-chief have to say about this rolling wreck entitled the Affordable Care Act? "Nobody's madder than me about the fact that the website isn't working as well as it should," the president assured the country Monday, "which means it's going to get fixed."
The president's assurance may prove as solid as his grammar, but at least he's acknowledged the mess Obamacare is in. Till now, he's done his best to minimize his own responsibility for that mess. And his best has been pretty good. It ought to be, considering how much experience he's had at this kind of verbal prestidigitation. But has he learned anything from all this except how to offer more and better excuses?
At the moment, as he tries to explain away Obamacare's more-than-technical failures, our president is showing an almost Republican instinct for both political obstinacy and political self-destruction. Ted Cruz ain't got nothin' on him. Both our "great" political parties seem engaged in a policy that used to be known in Cold War times by the acronym MAD -- for Mutual Assured Destruction.
The fault here may lie not with one party or the other, or even both, but with our species, which is given to pride -- the kind that goeth before a fall. A little compromise and humility, as unthinkable as either would have been before the Great Shutdown of 2013, would have saved a lot of embarrassment. It's still not too late to try some.
Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida, has suggested a six-month delay until Obamacare's grinding gears have been checked out, the major malfunctions diagnosed, and the proposed fixes tested and duly certified before trying to get this thing on the road again. Which may take more than six months, since the administration has yet to fully explain what's gone wrong with it, if it even knows.
Could we please just back up and start all over again, Mr. President? Or would you consider such a suggestion unspeakably practical?