So . . . Just What Is It That You Do Here, Mr. President?
No matter how shy or taciturn you are, chances are there’s some topic you can talk for hours about, and it’s a safe bet that topic is something that stirs your passions. It may or may not relate to your work, but I’m certain there’s something. You’re fascinated by it. You know a lot about it, but you want to know even more. And when you find out something new about this topic that stirs your passions, you want to analyze it and dissect it and see how it fits with what you knew previously, and what this new bit of information means.
(Readers collectively groan, fearing Jim will write about Twin Peaks for another 4,000 words.)
Here’s a fascinating lesson from the past year: President Obama isn’t really that interested in Obamacare.
Oh, he’s invested his future in it, and he speaks about it as if it’s important to him. But his behavior suggests otherwise — particularly when you see a report like this:
President Barack Obama, who has portrayed himself as surprised by technical problems with the government’s new health care website, was briefed earlier this year on a consultant’s report that warned of possible widespread site failures, the White House said on Tuesday.
There have been weeks of questions about whether Obama understood the depth of the site’s problems and let it open anyway, or simply “did not have enough awareness” of them, as the president stated at a November 14 news conference.
Monday night, however, Republican lawmakers who oppose Obamacare released a report and recommendations prepared by McKinsey & Co at the government’s request in March 2013.
It cited, among other things, a rushed process that left insufficient time for testing and a focus by officials on getting people enrolled versus making the system work right.
The consequence, it said, could be system failures that could make enrollment slow or at times impossible for consumers, which is exactly what happened.
Questioned about the McKinsey study, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president had been briefed on it in the spring.
But he said the president’s familiarity with the report and recommendations did not contradict previous statements from the White House that described Obama as surprised by the scope of flaws in HealthCare.gov.
Obama was told that the problems identified by McKinsey were being addressed, Carney said. And Obama had never claimed to be unaware of “red flags” about the site, only of their seriousness.
Now . . . think about it. If you’re President Obama, this is your baby. This is your legacy. Draw a parallel to anything big and important that you’ve done in your life in the past: a big project at work, a home-improvement project, writing a book, planning a wedding. This is vitally important, surpassed only by the needs of your family and your own health.
Suddenly someone informs you that something might be going wrong with this hugely important project.
Even if that person says, “don’t worry, we’re handling it,” . . . aren’t you a little concerned at that point? It doesn’t trigger a bit of worry? Don’t you follow up? If they say, “Eh, look, it’s technical,” doesn’t your intense concern about the project’s success get you to drill down, and get into the weeds?
How do you shrug off something like that? I know the president is a busy man with a full schedule — I can hear you chuckling about playing golf from here — but don’t you think he would have asked about those potential problems in subsequent meetings about Obamacare? Wouldn’t that have nagged at him?
Didn’t he have any interest in taking the new online exchange purchasing system for a test-drive himself, before he went out and told everyone in America that this was the future of health insurance? Did he even look at the web site before it launched?
Again, if the topic were some obscure matter, like U.S.-Albanian relations, you could understand it slipping through the cracks. But this is, allegedly, Obama’s passion. We’re told this is what he thinks about, and what he cares about, what drives him.
And yet his behavior suggests he’s . . . just not that into it; it’s just another box to be checked on the to-do list.
The article above includes the point:
Since the disastrous rollout of Obamacare, the question has persisted whether the president has been “less than competent or less than candid,” said John Pitney, professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. “This tips the scales in favor of less than candid.”
No, I think Obama’s being completely honest when he says he wasn’t “fully informed.” I think it’s entirely possible he heard the reports of serious concern and said, “take care of it,” and he believed that resolved the issue.
At an event in New Orleans earlier this month, Obama lamented his powerlessness in resolving the web site’s problems: “I wanted to go in and fix it myself, but I don’t write code.” No, Mr. President, but your job is to make sure the code-writing guys get the job done correctly and on time.
I feel like the outside consultants in Office Space. “Just what is it exactly that you do here, Mr. President?”
(Somebody actually spliced together a fake interview between President Obama — touting his health-care bill! — and ‘the Bobs’ from Office Space.)
You’ll recall current and former officials telling the New York Times that during the Syria debate, Obama “often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum” and the complaint from intelligence officials that the White House’s denial of knowledge about spying on foreign leaders suggested “White House officials have not been reading their briefing books.”
Now, the presidency, as those who have observed it up close will readily note, is a deeply fatiguing job. No one who holds the office should be assailed for occasionally buckling under the weight of its responsibilities. The description above, however, is not of a man wracked by exhaustion, but of one succumbing to adolescent ennui. One would not be surprised to find the next sentence describing an aide noticing that the president had on his earphones during an intelligence briefing.
Let’s close with this observation from Tevi Troy:
In a book on the inner workings of Obama’s presidential reelection campaign, Politico’s Glenn Thrush reports that although Obama’s biographers “have been more enamored with his complexity,” Obama himself “seeks shallower waters, especially in times of crisis.” When the going gets tough in the White House, Thrush says, the president plays sports and watches ESPN. Indeed, while Obama’s administration was beset by scandals regarding improper IRS investigations and the death of U.S. officials in Benghazi, the New York Times’s Peter Baker reported that Obama “talked longingly of ‘going Bulworth,’ a reference to a little-remembered 1998 Warren Beatty movie about a senator who risked it all to say what he really thought.” Thrush, it seems, was right that movies and TV served as Obama’s version of “comfort food.”
Vanity Fair’s Michael Lewis reports that Obama continues to watch TV regularly, spending the hours from 10 o’clock at night to one in the morning with the television and his iPad.