The Campaign Spot

The Obama Crisis Playbook: Deny, Delay, Distract

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

The Lesson of Monday: Obama Doesn’t Know What to Do Yet, So He’s Spinning

President Obama turned in a strikingly tone-deaf performance at Monday’s pep rally for Obamacare, even by his standards. The White House spin preceding the event promised a little bit of mea culpa, maybe even a flash of anger at the folks who had primary responsibility for ensuring the Obamacare exchange web sites functioned as promised. (We all know that buck stops long before it arrives at the Oval Office.)

Nicole Fisher, Forbes:

Unfortunately for those Americans who are really interested in signing up on the exchange sites, he glossed over the depth and breadth of the current troubles, giving a speech that sounded more like a State of the Union address with small-business examples and reading letters written to the White House.

Howard Kurtz:

Obama’s speech yesterday was not the mea culpa some had predicted. He vowed to fix what he called “kinks” in the system, but generally delivered an upbeat defense of the program.

As liberal Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein tweeted in mid-address, “So far, this seems weirdly similar to the speech Obama would’ve given if the exchanges were working fine.”

But they’re not working fine, and White House reporters pressed Jay Carney aggressively about what the president knew, when he knew it and whether the administration owes the country an apology. (During the shutdown, you’ll recall, the press corps didn’t ask the president a single Obamacare question at a news conference.)

The New York Times, which has been doing solid reporting on Obamacare’s problems, dropped this latest bomb: “Federal contractors have identified most of the main problems crippling President Obama’s online health insurance marketplace, but the administration has been slow to issue orders for fixing those flaws, and some contractors worry that the system may be weeks away from operating smoothly, people close to the project say.”

The editors of USA Today are unimpressed:

You can’t help but wonder: Where was all this frantic effort in the three-and-a-half years from the time Obama signed the health law to the day the exchanges opened on Oct. 1? Because that might have helped avoid the unforced error that is raising doubts about the administration’s ability to manage other pieces of the complex law . . . 

Denial and evasion haven’t worked, so the administration seems finally to be trying a smidgeon of candor. The person most visibly in charge of the mess, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, told The Wall Street Journal last week that the system needed five years of construction and a year of testing, but instead got “two years and almost no testing.”

Really? There were no such warnings in advance, suggesting she wasn’t on top of the situation.

On Monday, Obama argued that the dysfunctional websites are the equivalent of broken cash registers in a store filled with appealing goods. Once they’re fixed, shoppers will be happy.

So far, there’s no way to know whether he’s right because the administration remains mostly clammed up. It won’t say how many people have enrolled. It won’t fully detail the problems. And it hasn’t identified key subcontractors who botched the $400 million start-up, or the team brought in for repairs.

Of course they’re going to clam up. This is an administration whose entire national-security team went along with blaming a terror attack on September 11, 2012, on a YouTube video for a couple of days. They’ve more or less managed to wait out the IRS scandal, the NSA scandal, Fast and Furious, the Department of Justice targeting AP reporters and James Rosen, Attorney General Eric Holder’s potential perjury, James Clapper’s potential perjury, and every other scandal that’s come down the pike.

Obama has never encountered a problem he couldn’t spin or distract his way out of: Jeremiah Wright, the crappy data on stimulus.gov (bit of foreshadowing, huh?), the runaway spending of the General Services Administration’s luxurious conferences, Solyndra, Lisa Jackson’s “Richard Windsor” secret identity . . . 

Obama’s never had to say, “My team and I screwed up, and I’m sorry.”

When Obama didn’t downplay, problems, he ignored them.

For the vast majority of Americans — for 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance through your employer or Medicare or Medicaid — you don’t need to sign up for coverage through a website at all. You’ve already got coverage. What the Affordable Care Act does for you is to provide you with new benefits and protections that have been in place for some time. You may not know it, but you’re already benefiting from these provisions in the law.

Absolutely no acknowledgement of developments like this:

Health plans are sending hundreds of thousands of cancellation letters to people who buy their own coverage, frustrating some consumers who want to keep what they have and forcing others to buy more costly policies. . . . Florida Blue, for example, is terminating about 300,000 policies, about 80 percent of its individual policies in the state. Kaiser Permanente in California has sent notices to 160,000 people — about half of its individual business in the state. Insurer Highmark in Pittsburgh is dropping about 20 percent of its individual market customers, while Independence Blue Cross, the major insurer in Philadelphia, is dropping about 45 percent.

The twin promises, “If you like your plan you can keep your plan; if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” were key to passing this monstrosity. If Obama had said, “Some of you will be forced to give up your current plan and your current doctor,” this thing never would have gotten 200 votes in the House.

But there’s nothing Obama can say on that without admitting he made a promise he couldn’t keep. (“It reached its expiration date.” — the 2009 version of me.) So he’s just going to try to wait it out, and hope that the new tech guys can work a miracle.

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