Regardless, if Obama were a tenth as good a politician as he thinks he is, he could have blamed the delay he desperately needed on his political enemies, calling them “hostage-takers” even as he secretly understood they had rescued his most beloved hostage from his own incompetence. Instead, on September 26, he went out and told an adoring audience: “On October 1, millions of Americans . . . will finally be able to buy quality, affordable health insurance. In five days.” “Starting Tuesday,” he added, Americans will be able to “compare and purchase affordable health-insurance plans, side by side, the same way you shop for a plane ticket on Kayak — same way you shop for a TV on Amazon. You just go on and you start looking, and here are all the options.”
Come on, that’s hilarious.
Okay, maybe he didn’t know then what bad shape the website was in. But how to explain the president’s remarks three weeks after
the debut of Healthcare.gov? Even if it’s true that the president only hears about bad news from the newspapers, by then the papers were full of reports that Healthcare.gov worked about as well as a Somali superconducting supercollider. Obama knew that Healthcare.gov was a fiasco, and that the “navigators” used the same broken website that consumers had spent days poking at like Chinatown chickens in an abandoned tic-tac-toe machine, desperately but fruitlessly trying to get some reward.
And yet the president strode out into the Rose Garden anyway and told millions of Americans they could buy their coverage by phone. He told them the 1-800 operators were standing by. He told them it would take only 25 minutes to apply. None of these things were true. In his mind, Obama surely thought he was putting the issue to rest, like Zeus declaring that Odysseus would make it home alive. But here’s the thing: All that Zeus needs to do to make something happen is to say it. When Barack Obama says things, reality doesn’t bend to his will. Somehow, Barack Obama has been led to believe that his job is simply to go out and say things, as if saying things alone could change facts on the ground. So while I’m sure he thinks he sounded like the voice of eternal truth, in reality he sounded like the infomercial spokesman played by Chevy Chase in the old Saturday Night Live skit:
WIFE (GILDA RADNER): New Shimmer is a floor wax!
HUSBAND (DAN AYKROYD): No, new Shimmer is a dessert topping!
WIFE: It’s a floor wax!
HUSBAND: It’s a dessert topping!
WIFE: It’s a floor wax, I’m telling you!
HUSBAND: It’s a dessert topping, you cow!
SPOKESMAN [enters quickly]: Hey, hey, hey, calm down, you two. New Shimmer is a floor wax and a dessert topping! Here, I’ll spray some on your mop . . . and some on your butterscotch pudding . . .
HUSBAND [eating while wife mops]: Mmmmm, tastes terrific!
WIFE: And just look at that shine! But will it last?
SPOKESMAN: Hey, outlasts every other leading floor wax, two to one. It’s durable, and it’s scuff-resistant.
HUSBAND: And it’s delicious!
But not as delicious as the tears of his praetorian guard. First of all, every day Jay Carney looks even more like a little boy who put on his dad’s suit. You have to wonder what goes on in his mind, as a former journalist, when he tells his former colleagues that “the American forces have been completely destroyed with minimal Iraqi casualties.” (Oh, wait, that was Baghdad Bob. I get them confused.) And what about Dan Pfeiffer going on the Sunday shows to insist that no American should believe his or her lying eyes?
On October 1, Media Matters for America — David Brock’s sweatshop for twentysomethings who couldn’t get an internship at the DNC — raced to defend the crashed website as a sign of success, in keeping with the idea that all Obama failures are further proof of his awesomeness: “Right-Wing Media Frantically Spin Obamacare Exchange Success Into Failure.” Taking their cues from the White House, MMFA insisted that the administration’s only mistake was failing to appreciate just how popular the program would be. “Right-wing media were quick to jump on the problems, declaring them a sign of the law’s shortcomings rather than its popularity,” cackled MMFA’s Samantha Wyatt. She went on to mock various Fox News journalists and, of course, Rush Limbaugh for calling the disastrous launch a disaster. Meanwhile, Ezra Klein called the initial popularity of the site exactly “what the Republicans were afraid of.” Now even Klein has turned on the White House — more in sorrow than in anger, to be sure. When the White House has lost Ezra Klein . . . well, it still has the cast of Morning Joe. No, wait — even they have abandoned the president. Heh.
To be sure, there was some apparent plausibility to the claim that the website was working only too well, because the White House lied so confidently about what was going on. Few critics grasped at first that this was going to be the Charlie Sheen of IT launches — a spectacularly mortifying failure, punctuated with desperate shrieks of “Winning!”
It wasn’t until later that we learned that, of the uncountable hordes flocking to the federal exchanges that first day, the number who actually registered for an insurance plan totaled exactly six. At that rate, Obamacare would reach its target of 7 million enrollees around the year 5013, or 3022 a.o. (Anno Obamae).