Now Playing: Obamacare, A Tragicomedy

Posted: Oct 31, 2013 12:01 AM

Step right up, folks. Immediate seating. Orchestra, mezzanine, balcony, it doesn't matter. There's not a bad seat in the house. Hear every crash and clunk and lightning-fast excuse for it. No need to rush. This is an indefinite run. But you won't want to miss it. It certainly won't miss you sooner or later or now. A thrill, a chill, a spill and splash a minute, if not faster. See the impossible before your very eyes: trying to buy insurance in this wacky game that everybody is talking about....

Over the weekend, the whole marvelous contraption, the magnificent centralized and streamlined Immense Univac-style Data Center, so long and so many millions in the making, blinked and shuddered and stalled and crashed and went out before your very eyes, ladies and gentlemen and suckers galore. Now that it's coming back, it'll be something else that goes wrong next week, and it'll be just as astounding, electrifying and edifying! A sight you'll never forget -- however hard you try.

Ziegfield had his Follies and Rube Goldberg his inventions, but there's never been a zany comedy, tragedy and trainwreck all in one like Obamacare. And it's coming soon to a theater near you, ready or not. There'll be no avoiding it. As the artistic genius behind it all never tires of telling us, it's the law! Till he says it ain't and issues a waiver, now available to all and sundry at the small box office over there to your right. Just tell 'em Barack Obama sent you....

So hurry, hurry, hurry, get your tickets now. It's a crash, bang, and crack-up a minute. (But always call it a glitch.) Not since Springtime for Hitler has a flop been so carefully, lovingly, perfectly designed to fail. There years and millions in the making!

You'll love it once you find out it what's in it. That's the word from Nancy Pelosi, the greatest unintended comic of the age. She conducts personal backstage tours of every nook, cranny, scandal and rationalization involved in this Historic Production. It's a laff riot! Bring a box lunch and spend the day. You won't want to miss a single thrilling breakdown. New explanations, justifications and fabrications daily!

Rest assured; all these little catastrophes/glitches will be fixed and out of the way by December. The big brains say so. No need to specify which December of which year.

Not since the demolition derby has American showbiz brought you both tragedy and comedy all in just one impossible-to-open package. It's a show to tell your children about, even your grandchildren! If they're not too busy paying their penalties/taxes for not signing up while they try to find a doctor for grandma once this show really gets going nowhere.

What fun! Lolapalooza and Hellzapoppin! In the planning since 2010 by the smartest intellectuals and slickest politicians in the land, this spectacular pageant with a cast of thousands and costumes from the East could go on forever, or at least feel like it. Like the last time you found yourself in your doctor's waiting room for eons. Now everyone can have that same soporific thrill! Like one of those marathon dance contests in the Twenties or a baseball game today, this show could theoretically go on forever -- till everyone keels over and needs medical attention that never comes.

Unfortunately, all the critics seem to be concentrating only on the comedy part of this tragicomedy. The tragedy goes largely unnoted. But attention needs to be paid to it, too.

And what is the tragedy of Obamacare? To borrow a line from the late great Marlon Brando as the punchdrunk pugilist in "On the Waterfront," it "coulda been a conten-dah" for the most popular and acclaimed reform since Social Security. If only....

If only this president's "signature achievement" hadn't been pushed through on a purely partisan basis, passing by only one vote in the U.S. Senate, which made every vote for it in that chamber decisive. Come election year, those senators who supported it may be able to run from their vote but not hide from it. It may haunt them like old Marley's Ghost issuing warnings from beyond the grave.

If only this president had avoided the temptation to cover everything from an abortion to a hangnail in one creaking and groaning insurance system with the lowest deductibles and therefore the highest premiums....

If only he had forged a solid consensus behind the undeniable need for universal catastrophic coverage at the lowest, most economical price instead of this mandatory monstrosity....

But then it wouldn't have been Obamacare, and Barack Obama wouldn't be Barack Obama, that is, hubris personified.

If only this president had been as candid as he was tricky. "Let me be exactly clear what health care reform means to you. First of all, if you've got health insurance, you like your doctors, you like your plan, you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan...."--The Hon. Barack Obama, July, 2009. Does anybody still believe that, especially the millions about to lose their health-insurance plan courtesy of Obamacare?

If only Obamacare had been carefully thought through, it could have been not just a contender but a champion. It could have been ... Romneycare, which embodies an approach that remains both effective and popular in Massachusetts.

When it was proposed and adopted overwhelmingly in 2006, Romneycare drew support from Republicans and Democrats and independents, liberals and conservatives and everybody else. It wasn't designed behind closed doors but openly debated and negotiated. It was designed for one state and one state only with all its unique strengths and weaknesses and eccentricities, its likes and dislikes. Romneycare passed the Massachusetts House by a vote of 154 to only 2, and that state's Senate approved it without a dissenting vote or discouraging word -- 37 to 0.

What's the difference between Romneycare and Obamacare? Maybe it boils down to the difference between competence and incompetence in a chief executive. And in political leadership. It's the difference between lasting success and continuing confusion, between plain English and a super-salesman's spiel.

Whether classical or Shakespearean, great tragedy must have certain great themes. It must involve a noble hero whose fatal flaw -- like hubris -- brings about his downfall but leads to a new awareness for him and catharsis for the audience. Unfortunately, our president has not reached that last stage and, given his nature, may never reach it. Which may be why Obamacare doesn't rise even to the level of tragedy.

What a pity. But the show must go on! And, alas, surely will.

Oh, if only it were just a show.

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