Re: About That Lost Opportunity

by Jonah Goldberg

It’s pretty rare for me to disagree with Ramesh. It’s even rarer when he fails to persuade me he is right. But I think Ramesh soft pedals the missed opportunity on Obamacare’s disastrous roll out. He writes:

I don’t think this is something that conservatives should be too concerned about. Either the administration is going to be able to fix these problems by the fall of next year, healthy people are going to sign up for coverage, and people will be happy with their premiums — or not. If the administration’s preferred scenario comes about, then the early problems will be mostly forgotten — and would have been mostly forgotten even if the press had been talking about nothing but those problems in October 2013.

I agree that the underlying policy issues are more important. I also agree that if the program ultimately fails that will be dispositive. But I’d add two caveats. First, we don’t know if the results will be so binary or zero-sum. Obamacare could be an overall failure (and I believe it will), but still generate enough benefits for media-friendly poster-children (as I suggested here) to be deemed a success by a press corps very eager to cast it as a success. Indeed, no matter how badly Obamacare fails it will still generate winners among some groups and institutions. Those winners will want to protect their gains. If there are enough winners — hospitals, orphans, puppies, whatever — the overall failure may well be cast as just another set of glitches that need to be fixed. Or maybe not. My point here is that even if Obamacare is an objective failure, there will be many forces out there eager to impose subjective ambiguity on the issue. 

Which brings me to the second point. If there was no other story out there on October 1, the failure of probably would have still been a tale of those terrible “glitches.” Ditto on October 2, 3, 4 . . . maybe even October 7. But eventually the calamity would get its due. And it would be a much bigger story than what we’ve seen so far. First impressions matter a great deal. And there’s something to be lamented that the first impression of Obamacare has been as muted as it has been. It also would have come on the heels of several other bad news cycles for the president, including the Syria debacle and the Democratic revolt against Obama’s choice for the Federal Reserve. 

Now, if you think the Cruz strategy was the right one (which I did not) you can still agree that it came at the expense of diluting what would have been much worse press for the website’s roll out. Cruz & Co. have never denied that theirs was a high risk/high reward approach. Moreover, I doubt anyone thought the website debut would be this much of a debacle.

Still, it was one, and in retrospect it would’ve been nice if that debacle had taken center stage.