CNN has been pondering what they call “a particularly tough few days at the White House.” “Four out of five Americans have little or no trust in their government to do anything right,” says chief political analyst Gloria Borger. “And now Obama probably feels the same way.” Our hearts go out to him, poor wee disillusioned thing. We are assured by the headline writers that the president was “unaware” of Obamacare’s website defects, and the NSA spying, and the IRS targeting of his political enemies, and the Justice Department bugging the Associated Press, and pretty much anything else you ask him about. But, as he put it, “nobody’s madder than me” at this shadowy rogue entity called the “Government of the United States” that’s running around pulling all this stuff. And, once he finds out who’s running this Government of the United States rogue entity, he’s gonna come down as hard on him as he did on that videomaker in California; he’s gonna send round the National Park Service SWAT team to teach that punk a lesson he won’t forget.
Gloria Borger and CNN seem inclined to swallow the line that the president of the United States is not aware that he is president of the United States: For the media, just a spoonful of bovine manure makes the Obamacare medicine go down. It remains to be seen whether the American citizenry will be so genially indulgent. Hitherto, most of what the president claims to be unaware of, they are genuinely unaware of: Few people have plans to vacation in Benghazi, or shoot the breeze with Angela Merkel on her cell phone. But Obamacare is different: Whether or not the president is unaware of it, the more than 2 million Americans (at the time of writing) kicked off their current health-care plans are most certainly aware of it.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been opposed to government health care because, as I’ve said in at least two books, it fundamentally redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state into one closer to that of junkie and pusher. But that’s a philosophical position. Others prefer constitutional arguments: The federal government does not have the authority to do what it’s doing. Dear old John Roberts, chief justice of the United States, twisted himself into a pretzel to argue that, in fact, the government does. But he might as well have saved himself the trouble and just used Nancy Pelosi’s line: Asked by a journalist where in the Constitution it granted the feds the power to do this, she gave him the full Leslie Nielsen and said, “You’re not serious?” She has the measure of her people. Most Americans couldn’t care less about philosophical arguments or constitutional fine print: For them, all Obamacare has to do is work. That is why the last month has been so damaging to Big Government’s brand: In entirely non-ideological, technocratic, utilitarian terms, Obamacare is a bust.
The Canadian and British health systems get by on the principle that, as bad as they are, for enough people they’re good enough, and you don’t have to think about it. Obamacare doesn’t even meet that modest standard, and it’s not clear it ever will. You have to think about it constantly, alert to every potentially catastrophic regulatory tweak that might scuttle your next prescription refill. On Day One, the junkies were eager for their fix: As the administration crowed, the site received 4.7 million unique visits. By the following morning, the HHS “war room” was informed that “six enrollments have occurred so far.” That’s six as in half a dozen, as in fewer people than in just one vehicle of Obama’s 40-car motorcade. Kathleen Sebelius had successfully enrolled one American for every assistant secretary of health and human services. Oh, no, wait: She has seven assistant secretaries, so there was one free, waiting for that seventh enrollee. One in every 783,333 visitors managed to close the deal: Dr. Obama could make house calls to every one and still have time for a round of golf.
In order to meet its target of 7 million enrollees by March 1, Obamacare needs to enroll approximately 46,358 Americans per day. So on its opening day it fell 46,352 short. Were it to maintain that enrollment rate, Obamacare would reach its target of 7 million enrollees in the year 5209. That’s longer than waiting for a hip replacement on the Scottish NHS.
At the same time as dozens of Obamacare enrollees were being signed up, millions of other Americans were having their health insurance canceled — including so many pundits of left (Kirsten Powers), right (Michelle Malkin), and center (David Frum) that the Pulitzers should introduce a prize for Best Suddenly Uninsured Writing. Among their number was Matthew Fleischer, who wrote in the Los Angeles Times:
Most young, middle-class Americans I know are happy that millions of previously uninsured people will receive free or heavily subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
We just didn’t realize that, unless we had health insurance at work, we’d be the ones paying for it.
The reason he didn’t realize it is because the president lied to him, not just once in a casual aside, but on dozens of occasions, and very bluntly: “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan. Period.” But the entire premise of Obamacare was that, in order to cover (some of) the uninsured and (in many cases) uninsurable, other Americans were going to have to pay significantly more. Obamacare was always intended to be the Great Disruptor: Avik Roy reports that, by 2010, administration officials knew that 93 million Americans would lose their current plans under Obamacare. Small businesses are cutting back on full-time workers; medium businesses are dumping employees’ spouses and children from their plans; and the largest businesses are eating nine-figure bottom-line increases. Delta Airlines claims that it will spend an extra $100 million on health-care expenses next year: Even with cutbacks on complimentary mini-pretzels, a tenth of a billion is a big sum to recover. Meanwhile, the Obamacare plans won’t recognize your preferred doctor, and major hospitals won’t recognize the Obamacare plans.
My old comrade David Frum was somewhat insouciant about the extra $2,400 a year he’ll have to find for his new Obama-approved health arrangements. These days, comparatively few Americans are that liquid, and for most an extra $200 a month will have to be clawed away from real things of value. “Not only will I pay more,” grumbled Mr. Frum, “but I have had to divert many otherwise useful hours to futzing around with websites and paperwork.”
But that’s life in the Republic of Paperwork, isn’t it? The remorseless diversion of time and energy to “futzing around.” That’s why so much of American life seems to be seizing up, why so many routine features of human existence require time-consuming bureaucracy-heavy painstaking navigation (to borrow a term from Obamacare’s “customer-service representatives”). America would benefit from an opposition party that offered a serious de-futzing of the nation: a platform on the scale of Mrs. Thatcher’s privatization program in 1979 or Sir Roger Douglas’s in New Zealand in the Eighties that offered to make ordinary life comprehensible to non-wonks once more. Instead, the Obama crowd have bet that, after the usual whining, you’ll settle down and get used to it: higher co-pays, higher premiums, higher deductibles, higher mountain of paperwork, higher futzing. But the fact remains that nowhere in the Western world has the governmentalization of health care been so incompetently introduced and required protection by such a phalanx of lies. Obamacare is not a left–right issue; it’s a fraud issue.