To believe that the states have in some way “nullified” or “sabotaged” the law by choosing not to do the lifting themselves is to believe that the states are merely regional departments of the federal government and that their electing whether or not to expand Medicaid or set up health-care exchanges is illegitimate. In this case, “political reasons” means doing what the people in their states wanted them to do. What next? That “if Americans had just chosen to sign up, then the system would have worked”?
A frequent criticism of this president is that he does not yet appear to have noticed that he heads up the government. Barack Obama is quite capable of saying that he is as “angry as anyone” about the mistakes of his own administration, but a little less adept at knowing when to say “sorry.” Even here, with the law that bears his name, and which he fought for years to pass and to protect, his instinct is to look elsewhere.
As the scale of the disaster they have unleashed has dawned on them, both the president and his press secretary have started subtly to conflate the shutdown and the Obamacare launch. Barack Obama made sure to float this conceit during his big speech on Monday, framing discussion of the problems with Healthcare.gov by reminding the audience that, “about three weeks ago, as the federal government shut down, and the Affordable Care Act’s health-insurance marketplaces opened up across the country . . . ” On Tuesday, Jay Carney attempted this ruse, too, answering a question posed by Fox’s Ed Henry with “Ed, over many, many days now — three weeks now — even though for several of them we were focused on the extreme damage Republicans were doing to the economy through the shutdown and brinkmanship . . . ” In truth, the shutdown and the exchanges were launched on the same day. But let’s not let that get in the way of a good distraction.
Amusingly, the president’s defiance has simultaneously inspired his base and irritated the press corps. Friendly journalists such as Ezra Klein, Greg Sargent, and Ryan Lizza have been brutally honest about the scale of the mess, while, in the alternative universe that progressive users of social media inhabit, frustrated defenders of the rollout have started to blame the usual suspects. Do a quick search on Twitter for the words “Koch sabotage” and you’ll find an astonishing number of results. The same goes for “Koch Obamacare” and “Koch ruined,” too.
This was almost certainly inevitable. Both sides have their crazies, and times of trouble only bring out the worst in partisans. But it would be nice if the people who inflicted this turbulent law on the rest of us could recognize that it is one thing for the faithful to indulge in conspiracy theory and blame and to look desperately for ghosts in the machine, and quite another for their elected officials to do so. The problems with Obamacare are of design, of leadership, and, ultimately, of hubris. It is possible that they will be fixed and the program will be back on track before it collapses under the weight of its own contradictions. Either way, though, there is a tough road ahead — and eliminating the kulaks won’t help one bit.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer for National Review.